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Are cell phones slowing restaurant service?

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There’s been much ado about a recent anonymous Craigslist post concerning rude customers on cell phones who greatly interrupted restaurant service. The post is allegedly from the owner of a Manhattan restaurant who claims that negative online customer reviews about slow service are the fault of customers and not the restaurant.

Sour grapes? Not if you believe the anonymous poster. He/she claims the restaurant studied surveillance footage from 2004 and compared it to footage this year. The number of customers the restaurant serves has changed little over the last 10 years, the post says, but service has slowed considerably even though the restaurant has added more staff and cut back on menu items.

Here’s some of what was discovered from watching the footage, says the poster:

In 2004, customers took an average of 8 minutes before ordering.

In 2014, customers took an average of 21 minutes before ordering because they were on their phones talking, taking photos and asking waiters to help them connect to WiFi.

In 2004, food takes 6 minutes to be delivered after an order. Out of 45 customers, two send items back.

In 2014, food took about the same amount of time to be delivered. But out of 45 customers, nine sent their food back to be reheated. Their food required reheating, says the poster, because 26 of the customers spent an average of three minutes taking photos of their food, while another 14 customers took pictures of each other. Another 27 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo, and 14 of them requested the waiter retake the photo.

In all, the average customer time spent in the restaurant in 2004 was 1:05.

In 2014, the average time from start to finish was 1:55.

I’m relaying this to you for a few reasons. First, as restaurant operators, you know that the above story is likely true, even if it may be exaggerated. The faster you turn tables, the more money you make. Second, as a restaurant customer, I’ve seen it, been part of it and am equally annoyed by it. I am a bit guilty, though. I am very quick about ordering food, but once it comes I do take photos. I like to keep track of what I’m eating for professional reasons, but I don’t dwell. I do eat with people who think they’re Ansel Adams. “Alright, take the damn picture!”

This is a bit tricky since it’s your job to make customers happy. When a group comes in to celebrate, they often like to take pictures. How do you tell them that they’re slowing service and possibly intruding on the experience of other customers? Or do you dare? Tell me about your experiences with customers and cell phones. Is it as bad as the anonymous poster suggests? How do you deal with self-involved customers who hold up service? Is anybody posting signs about cell phone use? Is there a smart way to deal with celebrating customers who want group photos taken? Please email me with your thoughts and possible solutions.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
e-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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