Catering to the Uncommitted Diner

By | August 19, 2005

Here’s an idea for restaurants. It’s hard for us walk-in customers to get a good sense of what the restaurant’s food is like and whether it’s worth staying. Silly, really, because the people best positioned to help on this are sitting all around us actually eating the stuff: the other customers.

So why not encourage the prospective customers to wander around looking at people’s food and asking them whether they’re happy or not?
‘Excuse me, that looks nice, what is it? Any good?’
‘Yeah, it’s not bad, but I wish I’d ordered the fish. I heard some guy over there say it’s excellent.’
That kind of thing. Arm the prospective customers with a fork too and they can go around the restaurant not just requesting information but also soupçons from diners.

Of course, customers may not be happy to be interrupted by complete strangers prodding at their food and questioning them about it mid-mouthful, but if the maitre d’ had made it clear when they arrived that this might happen they can’t really complain. Well, maybe they can; there’s no guarantee the customer will say nice things about the food.
‘This steak tastes like a car drove over it. Don’t eat here. Get out while you can. There’s a McDonalds across the piazza.’

I can see all sorts of beneficial side-effects from this: complete strangers chatting with each other, whole colonies of inter-table conversations breaking out. People would come from miles around just for the ambiance. Chaos for the waiters, of course, but at least prospective customers get a chance to figure out whether it’s worth taking a table.

While I’m at it, here’s another solution to a similar restaurant problem: the ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ issue. You’re looking at the menu, you’re looking at the dish the diner at the next table is eating, and you can’t find it to order. You don’t feel comfortable asking the diner what it is they’re eating, but you also don’t want to confess that to the waiter.

Restaurateurs: Why not put little signs on the tables when your waiter serves the dishes? The signs could be as unobtrusive as all the other junk you put on people’s tables. It could say something like ‘I’m having the red duck curry. It’s on page two.’ You could even leave a place where the diner could give it points out of 10 (that might keep prospective diners wandering in off the street from prodding your food, as well as help prevent the person at the next table lean too far out of her chair trying to guess what you ordered.)

How about it?

One thought on “Catering to the Uncommitted Diner

  1. Mike Masnick

    There’s a chain of “family style” Italian restaurants in the US called Buca di Beppo, and the first time I went there, they told us to do exactly that. Our waitress specifcally said, “Please walk around, and see what people are eating, and feel free to ask for a taste.”

    However, we didn’t do it, and I didn’t see anyone else doing it. I’ve since been back three or four times, and have never been told the same thing, so maybe it was just one kooky waitress, but it does fit with the general theme of the restaurant.


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