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Idea of texting for faster service insults state’s restaurant owners, and it should

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

Ask Mississippi restaurant owners what they think of the new, hip idea of texting your waiter or waitress for faster service, and you may hear words I cannot print in this publication.

In fact, I guarantee it, but I was able to cobble together a few comments we could print.

“Just give her a holler as she walks by. In Doe’s, nobody is very far,” said Don at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville.

“We like the small tight spaces that the restaurant set-up entails.

“Texting your waitress for faster service? No, don’t like the idea. Less personable, not friendly.”

You want a beer at Doe’s? Go get it yourself. You’ll see four or five tables  full of people you know on the way. That seems like more fun anyway.
Right?

Well, even with cool, quaint places, Fridays and Saturdays can be difficult in regard to customer service.
Your waiter gets busy, and getting an appetizer or even the check can prove aggravating. But don’t expect restaurants in Mississippi to buy into the latest technology that has been introduced.

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

Doe's Eat Place in Greenville

TextMyFood is a new service that allows customers to communicate with their server via text messaging.

A story on National Public Radio last week highlighted a restaurant in Massachusetts with the service and detailed why many would or should opt in.
Bob Nilsson, the president of TextMyFood, told NPR the goal of the service is to increase the amount of money customers will spend. For example, guests are more likely to order another round of drinks if they text the request in the moment. If they can’t find the server, they often pass.

But Mississippi restaurant owners were more than a little offended by the mere mention of texting for service.

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

John Currance, owner and chef at City Grocery in Oxford

“I honestly cannot say how discouraging this is,” said John Currance, owner of City Grocery in Oxford. “Dining is about an overall experience. All an electronic service like this threatens to do is move us more in the direction of becoming more of a fuel stop…

“I find this service patently insulting because I believe that the dining experience is one which should remain as personalized as possible.”

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good of Bravo, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery

Jeff Good, from Bravo!, Sal and Mookies and Broad Street Bakery in Jackson, was in agreement.

“Have we really come to that?” an indignant Good asks.

“Are we there now… That’s where we are now? We have to text our waiters to get good service?

“In my world, I could not ever imagine having a waiter looking down at his hands on his phone to be checking if Table 54 needed more iced tea.”
But Nilsson argues that his service doesn’t eliminate human contact.
“There’s always a server at the other end,” he told NPR. “You just want to have that contact sooner. If you can’t see them and can’t make that contact, rather than waving your arms or getting up, just use the natural communication and let them know what you need.”

Sounds like it’s losing human contact to me, as well as Good.

“The very definition of service and hospitality is to be one-on-one,  engaged… and responsive to the needs and the nuances of people.

“So you won’t be seeing any texting in our world,” Good continued.

As for Currance, he would rather see all of us, as busy folks, slow down and enjoy a nice meal in a good atmosphere.

“We, as a people, need to stop focusing on what we can do to speed life along and impersonalizing our surroundings, and this is exactly what this service facilitates,” he said. “(It’s) both dehumanizing and potentially puerile.

“It occurs to me, also, that this becomes an intermediate measure for poor management. If when a place becomes too busy for staff to keep up, shouldn’t management step in to adjust? This seems to be a simple and ineffective side-stepping of that area of responsibility.”

Currance walks the walk to go along with the talk.

At City Grocery, almost 20 years after it opened, waiters still hand-write tickets to turn into the kitchen because, Currance says, it maintains an elemental relationship between the front and back of the house. It matters how the servers write the tickets and how the kitchen ultimately responds. It personalizes each of them and establishes a line of communication that is absolutely irreplaceable.

“And I would really wonder what the priorities were of any organization if texting were to become the methodology for service delivery.

“I think that is the antithesis or service,” Good concludes.

“ With each tick of the clock, it seems, we are pulled farther from that as a reality, but if all you are concerned about is speed and efficiency, eat in your car,” Currence says as we wrap up.

I wish that had been my line.

Well said, John.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.