Not the waiter’s fault! Why restaurant service is slow

Noyes Street Cafe in Evanston. Photo: Gerald Farinas.

Noyes Street Cafe in Evanston. Photo: Gerald Farinas.

Ten years. That’s the timeframe a busy New York City restaurant looked at to figure out why customers were leaving so many bad reviews and complaining about slow service. The firm that was hired sped through video footage of those ten years and figured out what the problem was. The startling discovery is quite certain a problem felt at eateries across our own Chicago cityscape—and the nation, too.

Someone at the Midtown East restaurant posted a fascinating play-by-play of what was going on at the eatery on a typical day. The summation on Craigslist ended up pointing the finger at present-day American culture and the bad habits we’ve picked up.

Here is the post in its entirety—with a few minor style edits for our publication.

We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike. Having been in business for many years, we noticed that although the number of customers we serve on a daily basis is almost the same today as it was ten years ago, the service just seems super slow even though we added more staff and cut back on the menu items.

One of the most common complaints on review sites against us, and many restaurants in the area, is that the service was slow and/or they needed to wait a bit long for a table.

We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training, and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers.

Like most restaurants in New York City, we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it’s a digital system, ten years ago we still used special high-capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time, we had four special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for 90 days, just in case we needed it for something.

The firm we hired suggested we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved ten years ago versus how they behave now. We went down to our storage room, but we couldn’t find any tapes at all.

We did find the recording devices, and luckily for us, each device has one tape in it that we simply never removed when we upgraded to the new digital system!

The date stamp on the old footage was Thursday, July 1, 2004. The restaurant was very busy that day. We loaded up the footage on a large monitor, and next to it on a separate monitor, loaded up the footage of Thursday, July 3, 2014, with roughly the same amount of customers as ten years before.

I will quickly outline the findings. We carefully looked at over 45 transactions in order to determine the data below.

2004:

Customers walk in.

They gets seated and are given menus. Out of 45 customers, three request to be seated elsewhere.

Customers on average spend eight minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.

Waiters show up almost instantly and takes the order.

Appetizers are fired within six minutes. Obviously, the more complex items take longer.

Out of 45 customers, two sent items back.

Waiters keep an eye out for their tables so they can respond quickly if the customer needs something.

After guests are done, the check is delivered. And within five minutes, they leave.

Average time from start to finish: 1:05.

2014:

Customers walk in.

Customers get seated and are 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 wi-fi activity.

Seven out of the 45 customers had waiters come over right away. They showed them something on their phone and spent an average of five minutes of the waiters’ time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this. They explained those customers had problems connecting to the wi-fi 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 their menus and ask the waiters to wait a bit.

Customers open the menu, place their hands—holding their phones—on top of it, and continue doing whatever on their phones.

Waiters return to see if they are ready to order, or have any questions. Customers ask for more time.

Finally, they are ready to order.

Total average time from when customers are seated until they place their orders: 21 minutes.

Food starts getting delivered within six minutes. Obviously, the more complex items take way longer.

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of three minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other, with the food in front of them, or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another four minutes, as they must review and sometimes retake the photos.

Nine out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously, if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone, the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiters to take group photos. 14 of those requested the waiters retake the photos, as they were not pleased with the first photos. On average, this entire process between the chit-chatting, and reviewing the photos taken, added another five minutes. And obviously, they caused the waiters to not be able to take care of other tables they were serving.

Given, in most cases, the customers are constantly busy on their phones, it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore, once the check was delivered, it took 15 minutes longer than ten years ago for them to pay and leave.

Eight out of 45 customers bumped into other customers, or in one case a waiter—texting while walking—as they were either walking in or out of the restaurant.

Average time from start to finish: 1:55.

We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant. After all, there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate?

Before I stumbled on this thoughtful study and summation, I never thought to consider our collective habits in the entertainment and hospitality world. By our immersion into our smartphone realms, we have not only affected our personal lives, but also the larger societies of which we are a part.

And yes, knowing the effects of our immersion into our smartphones, I will heed the request and be a bit more considerate.

Gerald Farinas

About Gerald Farinas

An Edgewater Beach resident, Gerry is managing editor and interim editor-in-chief of Chicago Phoenix. He is concurrently an Evanston-based social services professional and media consultant. For more info: www.geraldfarinas.com.

There are 8 comments

  1. Giacomo Puntel

    After working in restaurants and hotels for the past 18 years I remember the old days. No phone allowed in the retaurant, to be put on silent and calls to be taken out of the dining room. Some restaurants still applying this rules. Taking pictures, answer phone calls, be loud doesn’t pay respect to other diners. Restaurants should be an enjoyment, not an office!

  2. IshitaUnblogged

    Amazing read. And I have to admit here, that I did feel that I could be one of the *inconsiderate* customers of 2014. Time for introspection.

  3. MMB

    Robson – about the only thing they could do is to be Wi-Fi free or request cell phones to be turned off.

    Dorian – phones aren’t necessary at meal time. I find it to be rude and selfish for people to be dining out and play with their phones, especially when with a group or date.

    1. chalmzer

      The conclusion is: we have become a self-indulgent, narcissistic society, unaware that each of us is not the center of the universe. IOW, show respect for others and the value of their time, just as we value our own.

  4. Dorian

    The reason why this restaurant got so many bad reviews is because they have a arrogant restauranteur who thinks their customers should adapt around him.

    He didn’t need to carry out surveillance on his customers to find out what was going wrong. A quick selfie would have solved that problem.

    1. chalmzer

      Dorian, you apparently are another of those self-entitled narcissists who think/believe you can do whatever you want while out in public because you’re so wonderful. You should turn the camera on yourself, fool.

    2. omar

      No dear. You didn’t get the point, despite it being so simple…

      The complaint : Slow service, long waiting times to be seated.

      The cause : People wasting time of the waiters asking for help taking photos, asking to reheat food, taking photos of food, taking photos of each other, all using SMARTPHONES.

      The solution is in the customers hands, not the restaurant. Yes, they can disable wifi or institute a no smartphone policy, or no phototaking policy, or a no-bothering-waiters-to-assist-in-photo-taking policy, or a no wifi-helpdesk-service policy etc….but that would lead to bad reviews that directly implicate them.

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