How has the restaurant experience changed in the last ten years?

by on July 12, 2014 at 7:28 am in Data Source, Food and Drink, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

This is from a New York Craigslist post, from a restaurant owner who apparently viewed tapes of customers from 2004 and 2014, here is part of his account of the more recent behavior:

2014

Customers walk in.

Customers get seated and is given menus, out of 45 customers 18 requested to be seated elsewhere.

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

7 out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of 5 minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded the waiters try to help them.

Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.

Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.

There is more here, interesting throughout, and for the pointer I thank Jacqueline Mason.

dearieme July 12, 2014 at 7:39 am

Would there be a sufficiently big market niche for a restaurant that banned the use of phones?

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Z July 12, 2014 at 9:51 am

I’ve often wondered about this too. A lot of people complain about idiots on their phones. Think about how many times some dick head is holding up the checkout line while chatting on their phone. Similarly, I’m told politicians now have their body men sweeping rooms for mobile phones to avoid being embarrassed by some idiot recording their private conversations.

I’m a bit surprised the state has not required cars to be fitted with jammers that prevent use of mobile phones while driving. The technology exists and is not expensive. I suppose wireless carriers would block it, but “saving one life” has over road all sorts of powerful interests in the past.

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anon July 12, 2014 at 10:56 am

If cars required cell phone jammers:
Passengers would not be able to use theirs either
The car would cost more to make
It would be nearly impossible to enforce
No one would fix them when they break
A precedent for 70mph speed limiters would be created
Extra weight would worsen climate change, killing even more people
Existing anti-phone laws are not being enforced
Existing penalties are too soft

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Z July 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

And managing all of that would require thousands more people in the leviathan. That trumps any of your silly concerns over efficiency.

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Glenn Mercer July 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I don’t disagree with your idea about jamming phone usage while driving. But as an interesting tangenetial factoid, a researcher on vehicular safety (Ian Savage, at Northwestern) has found that the NET impact of mobile phones on car safety has been positive. The big negative is of course distraction while driving, which causes accidents. No argument there. But once an accident has occurred, mobile phones have a huge positive impact, in that either people driving by the crash or people in the crash can call 911, and get help much more quickly than otherwise would be the case. (In the past, a very common mode of dying in a car was to bleed out while crashed on a remote rural road.) Now, of course the results would be even more positive if we could reduce accidents caused by distraction, but I was stunned to see that (at least according to IS), the net effect so far has been to REDUCE deaths. Amazed me….

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Sylvester McMonkey McBean July 12, 2014 at 11:13 am

Now that you mention it, all the Sneetches DO have bellies with stars now!

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popeye July 12, 2014 at 11:57 am

Heh!

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J1 July 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Depends on what you mean by “use of phones”. Lots of restaurants have a ban on the use of phones for conversation already, albeit not always enforced, but this piece involves use of data capability. As fashionable as it is to complain about people absorbed in use of their phones’ data capabilities, few people would put up with such a constraint; a restaurant restricting that type of use wouldn’t survive long, especially if you had to drive to it. In essence, a restaurant that won’t let me make phone calls is fine. A restaurant that won’t let me use the MP3 player, camcorder, camera, video game or internet connected computer I brought with me probably isn’t.

The question here is whether the changes described are good or bad. In a restaurant with a high demand for tables, it’s bad. In one with extra space, where it doesn’t really matter how long customers stay, it’s neutral at worst, and having free Wi-Fi probably brings more customers in. Given the near ubiquity of free Wi-Fi at large chains, I’m sure their research initially indicated Wi-Fi brings in more customers, and now indicates lack of it will hurt business. Customers who think they’ll be around a while are also slightly more likely to order a beverage (aka the most profitable item on the menu).

Bottom line: Good for IHOP, bad for Masa wannabees.

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Matt2 July 12, 2014 at 4:53 pm

That is one of the big reasons I joined a club. Although there are better restaurants in town, there is usually only seating per table per night, so you can sit as long as you care to without staff trying to hustle you out and in the main dining room phones are not supposed to come out of pockets or purses. When we want to celebrate an anniversary or something or just enjoy a decent meal without looking to the next table and seeing diners in t-shirts and jorts, it is nice to have the option. Based on the numbers I’d say there is demand, maybe not enough to see many public restaurants operate in a similar way.

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Sam July 12, 2014 at 7:54 am

This is almost certainly made up. 26 out of 45 customers spend on average of 3 minutes taking photos of their food?

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KLO July 12, 2014 at 8:06 am

How many restaurants with waiters offer WiFi? I can’t recall the last time I saw one that promoted this. Perhaps those few restaurants that do attract a different sort of clientele. Also, if 27 out of 45 asked the waiter to take a group photo of them, I would guess that most of the customers are tourists. This is not a standard NYC restaurant.

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Peter July 12, 2014 at 9:46 am

Panera offers and advertises free Wifi, but in some respects it’s as much of a social gathering place as a restaurant. Sort of like a Starbucks with a more extensive menu.

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Z July 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

Social gathering place for jerks, apparently: http://tinyurl.com/olmzctc

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Brian Donohue July 12, 2014 at 11:27 am

What? That link was about the company.

Seriously, dude.

“Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.”

Z July 12, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Brian, you should not try so hard to be a humorless scold.

Brian Donohue July 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Cripes, is that how I come off? In all seriousness, I’m a barrel of laughs. Ask anyone. See that Sneetches zinger up thread? My sock puppet.

I do think the advice is good for everyone, maybe you especially.

Brian Donohue July 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Cripes, is that how I come off? In all seriousness, I’m a barrel of laughs. Ask anyone. See that Sneetch zinger up thread? My sock puppet.

I do think the advice is good for everyone, maybe you especially.

DMS July 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

“restaurants with waiters”

I have never seen a Panera with waiters.

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zbicyclist July 13, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Eating alone, it helps to have something to read. Newspapers are good, but smartphones are better.

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prognostication July 12, 2014 at 10:44 am

Many don’t advertise it but do have it. There’s a line item for this on Yelp, you’d be surprised how many have it.

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J1 July 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Olive Garden, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Red Lobster, IHOP, CPK, Golden Corral (for drinks anyway), Longhorn, Cracker Barrel, Dennys, Chilis…

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CD July 12, 2014 at 1:06 pm

26 of 45 is high but not impossibly high. I was in NYC the week before last, and saw a lot of this in restaurants.

The phone-checking before ordering is certainly routine, and a key takeaway from the writeup is that smartphones change people’s experience of a space – any comfortable table and chair become a place to get work done. So the restaurant, which doesn’t charge for time, faces an interesting problem.

The urge to memorialize yourself and every moment of your life is a distinct thing as it’s certainly not work. It’s a kind of compulsive narcissism. But lower the marginal cost of a photo to zero, and it turns out a lot of folks want to do that.

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Mark Thorson July 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I wonder if there’s an opportunity for a restaurant in certain areas of NYC to implement a “free” WiFi for capturing unencrypted communication that would be useful for insider trading. Maybe that would pay for the restaurant operation.

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sam July 13, 2014 at 12:34 am

I would be very surprised if this doesn’t already happen… http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/06/20/323343036/episode-548-project-eavesdrop

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sansfoy July 12, 2014 at 7:56 am

Depressing on many levels.

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Edward Burke July 12, 2014 at 8:34 am

But be of good cheer: use of wireless phones does NOT interfere with drivers driving. At all, whatsoever: doesn’t even impede traffic flow, much less contribute to collisions.
(Alternatively: if a wireless phone driver takes down a wireless phone pedestrian, someone might argue that some kind of net gain is realized thereby.)

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Roy July 12, 2014 at 7:57 am

If 18 requested to be seated elsewhere, I suggest you look into it. Are tables distributed differently? Has the decor changed? In ten years I bet something has.

Why do you have so many bad tables? And is your host/hostess the sort who distributes lousy tables first in an empty restaurant? I have some experience it restaurant management and have noticed this sort of thing has proliferated in the past decade as staff has become convinced they are super special.

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Z July 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

The reason for the request is mobile phone reception and maybe screen glare. I know people who would take their supper in an outhouse if it meant getting proper mobile phone service.

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NathanP July 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

What a gross exaggeration. Requests for new tables I’ve seen are mostly due to noise, proximity to the entrance (especially during winter), and proximity to busy aisles.

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Z July 12, 2014 at 12:30 pm

No one believes you.

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byomtov July 12, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I do.

rayward July 12, 2014 at 8:16 am

How does the college economics professor feel when he looks over the class and realizes that few are focused on his lecture, the rest multitasking, or whatever, to pass the time away.

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Mort Dubois July 12, 2014 at 11:31 am

Good question. I was guest teacher for a friend of mine at Wharton last year, lecturing to three sections in one day on how the credit card acceptance system works. Two sections, both graduate students, were interested, paid attention to what I said, asked frequent questions, and got a lot out of it. Saw very few people on devices at beginning of the class, all had stopped within 10 minutes of my lecture starting, and paid attention the rest of the time. The undergraduates: 85% on devices at beginning of class, 80% on devices at the end. Notable lack of interest in same subject that had been fascinating to their older peers, very few questions. I finished my material 35 minutes faster. Not sure what this means: general lack of maturity in sub 20 set? Was I seeing the cell phone divide, between those raised with them in their hands from an early age vs. those who grew up without? Or did I just get more boring as the day went on?

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Marie July 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm

“Or did I just get more boring as the day went on?”

You joke, but I do think people have less self-control as they get more tired later in the day. I wonder if smokers smoke more in the afternoon? I know the energy drinks use this factor in advertising, get your caffeine jolt at 2 p.m.

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Julian July 12, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I suspect that graduate students are more interested on learning, undergraduates usually just want to pass so they can earn a degree.

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andrew' July 13, 2014 at 5:16 am

Undergrads are required to take the class. Grad students are only nominally required to take the class. This is part of it.

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Nathan W July 12, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I used to teach a non economics field.

I found that periodic pop quizes like “what did I just say?” or “conversation fragment 1 [now do your part quick]” worked quite well.

I marked 2-3 random students each day for participation. It was worth 10% of their mark. They paid attention. Also turned a monolingual class of 7th graders into a chatty bunch of bilingual 7th graders in very short order.

So in economics, for example, “pop quiz: Johnny, why did r just go down? I.e., repeat what I just said.” Then note down if Johny said anything.

Because I was teaching English and mostly wanted to motivate them to WANT to learn the language, I accepted all manner of BS answers. As long as they were talking and thinking, that’s all that mattered to get the points.

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David Zetland July 14, 2014 at 9:41 am

I don’t allow phones OR laptops — on pain of a 10% loss in course grade. Most students get over it.

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Peter July 12, 2014 at 8:45 am

Cell phones should pretty much never appear at the table, and I think this rule is catching on, at least among my friends.

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Timothy July 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

YHBT YHL HAND

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Norman Pfyster July 12, 2014 at 10:13 am

I must be showing my age…I had to look that up. I don’t speak texting LOL.

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Timothy July 12, 2014 at 10:27 am

Actually I was showing my Internet age by posting that, it’s basically an antediluvian saying in Internet years.

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Jim July 12, 2014 at 9:25 am

Everything about this reeks of being fake.

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Ian July 12, 2014 at 9:46 am
The Other Jim July 12, 2014 at 8:00 pm

>Everything about this reeks of being fake.

That has never been a big hurdle here at MR.

“Fake but interesting” is good enough. Dan Rather would be proud.

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ummm July 12, 2014 at 10:25 am

hard to blame them. Eating out tends to be boring with lots of waiting either for the food, the bill, and the waiter before and after eating.

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John July 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

ummm – you could order and eat in your car, since you apparently eat alone a lot.

Funny, when I go out to eat, it is usually with others, and we spend the waiting time talking, oftentimes about inconsiderate cell phone users, and drinking.

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Nathan W July 12, 2014 at 1:42 pm

That’s doesn’t say much for the company you choose to go out with.

Perhaps you could use those precious minutes to spend some time with them. (Presumably that’s the reason you went out for dinner in the first place.)

I’m no stranger to going out for dinner solo, but I think phones should be relegated to roles as dictionaries, fact finders etc. when out for dinner. Even then, they can be annoying. I don’t care what Wikipedia says. I want to know what you think. Sometimes the mystery is better food for the mind/soul.

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zzk July 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

Why does the restaurant offer public wifi? This is not a common thing [in NY at least] unless its a coffee shop.

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Marie July 12, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Six minutes from ordering to delivery? I think it’s a coffee shop.

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jseliger July 12, 2014 at 11:33 am
chuck martel July 12, 2014 at 11:49 am

If the waves of the electromagnetic spectrum that delivers cell phone information could cure acne there wouldn’t be a pimple on any US college campus.

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(Not That) Bill O'Reilly July 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm
anon July 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

+1

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Stu July 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

I just don’t believe this post is at all legit. It reads like the distillation of a Mike Barnacle/Stephen Glass piece. I doubt it is even from a restaurant owner. I get the sense it’s from someone who read a recent article about people taking pictures of their food, thought it was silly, and decided to overdramatize what they believe is ill-behavior.

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JIm July 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

It should be written in comic sans and start with FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD…

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extramsg July 12, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Likely untrue, unless it’s about a tourist trap like Carnegie Deli. However, the most true part of it is that customers today have a strong tendency to blame restaurants for their own choices. All you have to do to see this is read Yelp.

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DMS July 12, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I want to eat at that restaurant; I responded to ad so I can go, assuming that tourists are allowed.

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yang July 12, 2014 at 2:37 pm

This is clearly a fraudulent story.
This did not happen.
It’s just an entertaining clickbait lie.

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KM July 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I’m joining the crowds that this just isn’t true. No way that many people asked to be seated elsewhere, unless this is a place with an amazing deck on a nice night vs a gloomy interior space, and if that’s true the maitre d should be asking ahead of time. I’ve never been at a restaurant where anyone has asked how to get the Wi-Fi to work – the cell network works perfectly fine for texting. When I’ve been at restaurants where we don’t know what to order the first time the waiter comes over (this is a silly complaint anyway), it’s always because we’re so engaged in a conversation that there isn’t a good moment to stop talking and look at the menu.

Also, for what it’s worth, the NYC food scene has exploded over the last decade. Even if this is true, which I doubt, restaurants as a class are doing great. That’s no excuse for rudeness , but the idea that this new attitude is destroying restaurants is clearly false.

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andrew' July 13, 2014 at 5:21 am

The more friends you shoot the less friends you have using cell phones?

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andrew' July 13, 2014 at 5:23 am

Oops. Dumb phone.

Anyway I’m not so sure. Recent trip to [insert bs chain faux nice restaurant] wife requested a booth. They sat us in booth shaped chairs that I had never seen the likes of before.

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libfree July 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I agree that this seemed fake. Next I thought the owner of this fictional place had the wrong take aways. If people are asking to be re seated, head off the problem before you seat the people. If they are having a hard time using the wifi, figure out why. Most of the time, you can’t use a restaurant wifi because they made a complicated password and the wait staff don’t remember it.

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Scott July 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Is there a permalink for this? It’s been flagged for removal on craigslist.

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anon July 13, 2014 at 6:58 am

How does the distraction of other patrons using their phones compare to the distraction of being in a place with many beautiful women?

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Jon July 13, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Post was flagged for removal on Craigslist; here’s a cached version: https://web.archive.org/web/20140712154835/https://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/rnr/4562386373.html

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