Can’t We Get An EZ-Pass For Restaurants? Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

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A reader writes:

I was going to save this topic for my own blog but this thread at the Dish has compelled me to write in. Other countries have already solved this “waiting for the cheque” problem years ago and they did it with a very low-tech solution.

In the past five months I’ve traveled to Australia once and the UK twice. One thing I noticed about some of the restaurants / pubs I visited was that they make you pay at the bar. Each food / drink purchase is a discrete transaction. You go to the bar where you give and pay for your order. You then take your drinks right away and if you ordered food they give you a marker and when it’s ready they bring your meal to your table. You repeat the process if you want more.

What I like about this approach is that it scales very well. The bar is optimized for taking orders and the customers transport their own drinks. One or two guys drop off the food and collect the empty glasses. Compare this with back home where servers in most restaurants and pubs will keep track of drink and food orders throughout the evening and give individual cheques when one or all of the patrons are ready to leave. The North American system only works well if it’s a small group where everyone is sitting in a fixed location for the whole evening and everyone has a car to get them home.

I’m the organizer of a social group that meets every Wednesday for a cinq-à-sept (five-to-seven), which is French Canadian for “happy hour” (note to all you Dishheads who think you’ve just improved your foreign language skills: be careful. In France it means something completely different.) On any given week between 30 and 60 people will show up. I’ve organized over a hundred of these evenings at a dozen different pubs / restaurants and I can say without hesitation that a system like they have in the UK / Australia would greatly improve our Pub Night events.

The North American system doesn’t just waste 20 minutes at the end of your evening; it’s the source of a bunch of other problems too. Orders for large groups take much longer and sometimes people forget to pay (intentionally or not). Sometimes customers don’t have enough money (this can’t happen if you have to pay before you order). It’s also hard on the servers who have to keep track of everything. And it breaks the rhythm of the evening if you want to move locations. You can’t just get up and leave; you have to wait for everyone to pay and this can take a long time depending on the size of the group.

Tabbedout looks promising but it only speeds things up if everyone in your party is using it which is unlikely to happen if you’re more than four people. What I would like to see is more restaurants adopt the UK / Australian model.

Another broadens the discussion:

When someone suggests that there’s an app for that, I wish the blog post or article would say how many people have smart phones, how many people have cell phones that aren’t smart phones, and how many people have land lines.

An app won’t help my father-in-law, who doesn’t have a cell phone. He eats out pretty regularly. An app won’t help my mother, because she only has a regular cell phone, not a smart phone. OK, they’re in their 80s. An app wouldn’t have helped one of my kids until recently, because of their phone contract. Thankfully, the contract expired. I’m in my early 60s. I would like to convert my cell phone to a smart phone, but if I do that, the monthly cost will have to come out of my restaurant budget. If I had to use an app to get efficient service, I couldn’t afford to eat out.

I spend too darn much on technology. There’s television, broadband and land line phone bundled into a big package with a big bill, plus a cell phone bill every month for just one person. Being a single person is expensive; I’m a widow, but I am a lot more sympathetic to the comments of single friends these days. I could get rid of the land line phone, but that would save almost nothing. I can’t do without the broadband because I work from home some of the time. I don’t watch much television and don’t get HBO, so I don’t feel I’m being extravagant even though I only spend a few hours a week in front of the set.

If I only had to pay for a phone, I’d have a smart phone. But I need other services, too. They cost money and they don’t seem to be included in consumer price indexes. When I was growing up, television was free and in our geographically difficult area, a good signal was hard to get. My husband grew up in a region with good signals and access to more than one metro area, and he heard a much wider selection of music on the radio and saw more television than I did as a kid – when I got a transistor radio in high school, there was only one station that really came in clearly. Now I have to pay to have things come in clearly, and I also have to pay to have Internet access. I’m dreading the day when a smart phone becomes a necessity, because then my monthly budget will be more expensive even though my income isn’t increasing.

Technology is making our lives very different, but it is a heck of a lot more expensive than writers from the national media acknowledge. Let’s take a sort of Suze Orman moment. Not saving for retirement? How much would you have in that retirement account if you relied on an antenna for television and never got cable? Kids need a college fund? How much could you have saved by not buying computers or paying for broadband? (Yeah, that brings up the issue of how the kids could get into college without access to computers and the Internet, so why aren’t those costs considered part of the market basket of essential expenses?) You know a senior citizen who needs more money for medications or a poor family that needs more cash for medical care? What would Suze say – “Ditch those cell phones and save, people”? Maybe the 47 percent have just had a hard time keeping up with the additional cost of supporting Microsoft, Apple, Verizon, among others, along with the cell phone and cable companies.

While I know it is possible to do without television, I think the time has come to agree that Internet access and basic cell phone service are, well, basic requirements. But a smart phone to pay a restaurant bill quickly is not a basic requirement. Find another way to serve all the credit card customers, not just the ones with pricey phone plans.

I wish I wasn’t turning into a curmudgeon, but money is a dimension often left out of discussions of technological solutions. Figure out the cost of the shiny new app and the equipment it runs on before recommending it to all of us.