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You Could Starve to Death in this Restaurant!

July 6, 2022
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So yesterday we took my mother in law out to lunch for her birthday.  Let’s just say the demographic of our group was skewed to the Boomer range.  I tell  you this only because it will help explain why only half of us had our phones with us and those who did have varying levels of tech tolerance.  Note the use of the word “tolerance.”  Not “savvy,” or “smarts.”

We settled into the essentially empty restaurant and waited expectantly for something like service to happen.  After a discreet interval, one of our party waved to the waiter who was insouciantly leaning against the desk. 

“Could we have some menus, please,” we inquired.

She pointed to a QR code on the wall behind our table.  Insouciance turned to impatience when we said something like, “that’s very pretty, but it doesn’t look like a menu.”  She explained, largely with finger pointing,  that we were to use our phones to scan the code and the menu would magically appear!  

She walked away, leaving us to figure out who had a phone with a QR code reader and who wanted to be bothered being our waiter du jour.  My brother in law, who actually has a tech business and is therefore both tolerant and savvy, took it upon himself.  It required him to basically read the menu to us and that just wasn’t working.

We asked the waitress if actual menus still existed and if so could we have one and her exact words were, “What I can do for you is bring you one menu.  Just this once.”  She said it like a cop deciding to let us off with a warning.

She actually brought a few menus and we spent time doing what normal people do at any Asian restaurant where the menu has lots of pages and the plan is to share dishes—flipping pages, referring each other to interesting dishes, discussing various options, and—God forbid—asking the waiters’ opinion before reaching a consensus.  We waved to the waiter and said we were ready to order.

She indicated the QR code with her chin.  “Use the app.”

My brother in law, who isn’t afraid of Paywave and even does banking on his phone, tried at least three times to enter our order.  But the app kept kicking him out and forcing him to start over.  Gnawing on my napkin, I suggested we try another restaurant. 

We informed the waiter that we weren’t able to use the app and were tired of trying and at length, she agreed to take our order using a pencil and paper.  Which, incidentally, she had in her pocket all the time.  I’m just saying.

This regression to the 20th century was successful and we finally got our food. And it was really good.  Under normal circumstances, I’d want to go back to that restaurant.

I have since come to learn that the QR code/phone method of ordering is a well-established technology thing around the world.  It got started during Covid on the grounds that people handling menus was a potential vector for spreading the virus.

Now if you believe that, you probably also believe that the Pfizer vaccine was developed from stolen fetuses by gravity-immune lizard people living on the bottom of the flat Earth.  How would I be safer by not touching the menu while sitting in a crowded restaurant with maskless people eating and talking?  Everyone knows Covid is spread by air, not menus. And aren’t we past all this Covid countermeasure stuff, anyway?

Call me an aged Luddite, but I don’t consider that the human condition is being improved by this technology.  Can’t there be a place where we can put our phones away and interact human qua human?  Or do dates have to be like this: “I’ll have the chateaubriand and a Lafite ’59 and since I’ve got my phone out, excuse me while I check my emails.  Oh and just let me see how my portfolio is doing.  And I forgot to do the Wordle today.  Give me a sec.”

It makes you wonder who the hell dreamed this up?  I’ll tell you who.  A couple of techie types were at a restaurant on a Friday night and of course they didn’t have dates.  So the conversation defaulted to their favourite topic—what would be a cool app they could develop that would make them rich, regardless of how many lives it made miserable.

In their world, splitting the bill in a restaurant is what you do.  It didn’t occur to them that a family might go to a restaurant and one person would pick up the tab.  Or it’s date night and one person is treating.  But their reality is everyone else’s.  Only their problems need to be solved, even if the solution creates problems for other people.  This is how the conversation probably went.

Eric:  Hey man, I’ve got it.

Shawn:  Got what?

Eric:  How we’re gonna be rich.  You know how, like, when we all go out someplace and everyone orders something different?

Shawn:  Yeah.

Eric:  It’s such a pain then when they bring the check and we have to figure out who got what and what they owe.  I mean it’s so hard to calculate.  And no one ever has the right change.  People get screwed.

Shawn:  All the time, man.

Eric:  Well think about this!  What if everyone ordered from their phone.  You know, like their own personal menu.  And they get their own personal bill.  You could even Bluetooth the orders to the kitchen.  Restaurants would love it.  Less need for waiters.

Shawn:  Yeah, but you can’t have every menu on your phone, man. 

Eric:  I know.  Just the one  you’re at.

Shawn:  But we never know where we’re going till we get there.  How would you know.

Eric:  I got it!  Each restaurant has a QR code.  Everyone scans the code, gets a bespoke menu and orders.

Shawn: OMG Eric that’s so cool.  Just thinking about it is giving me a funny feeling, you know, down there.

Eric:  Like when you look at my Laura Croft poster?

Shawn:  Better, man.

And the next thing you know, QR codes are showing up in restaurants like salmonella in the mayonnaise and waiters are getting stroppy because the thing that is putting them out of work is also making their job harder, at least when Boomers come in for a feed.  No one wondered what happens if people don’t have a phone.  Or choose not to carry one.  No one wondered if there is a human component to dining out which includes interaction with the staff.  And each other. When you are a techno geek and food is fuel and eating is something that gets in the way of playing Minecraft, those questions might not occur to you.  But I’m not sure the rest of us want to live in that world.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2022 2:23 am

    Oh, don’t get me started on the people who expect you to have your cell phone up your ass at all times and use it to interact with virtually everything.

  2. Gail Robertson permalink
    July 7, 2022 10:37 am

    Tom, I now love it when I walk into an establishment and see the sign “we will attend to you after you have finished your phone call”. In my aged opinion a phone is for talking to people, a camera is for taking photos. My grandchildren are my go-to ones to solve a tech problem—they used laptops from foundation grade. Any wonder they ate tech savvy before their teens. Like you, Tom I will be considered a ludite, cheers Gail.

  3. July 7, 2022 7:22 pm

    I’ve got no problem with this article, but I am compelled to point out that the menu is much dirtier than some toilets, because lots of people touch them, and they are rarely cleaned.

    The problem is ignored, because getting sick from a menu is rarely given as a reason. But ignoring such an obvious risk during a pandemic is stupid to say the least.

    I wouldn’t want that waitress in my restaurant though. Her treatment of you guys was appalling to say the least.

  4. July 9, 2022 8:57 am

    Good to hear from you again Thomas. I get really upset when having lunch, dinner or brunch with somebody and they answer their phone. And I would certainly never go to that restaurant or any restaurant that encourages using phones at mealtimes.

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