I remember listening to the song “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band (and later Tesla) when growing up. It speaks of the tribulations of a hippie trying to get a job or into a country club without a membership card. It was a scream at the state of society in the early 70s and reminds me of what it’s like trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant in 2012.
The rules have changed in food service and establishments since the Five Man Electrical Band but remain as outdated as they were back then. Currently, establishments will have you believe that their rules are not an expression of pretension but in fact a matter of improving efficiency and adhering to good business practices. I call bull shit. Here are the some of the most ridiculous rules in food service today:
1. No Reservations with No Regret
I question any establishment who informs me that at this time “we regret at this time we are unable to accept reservations”. Open Table provides online reservations for over 25 000 restaurants across North America. Each one of these restaurants is “able” to accept reservations. Last time I checked the combination of a phone number, a hostess and a paper calendar is another way to ensure that people reserve a seat. I commend any restaurant whose success warrants an exclusion from the need to make a reservation, but it doesn’t help when meeting friends you haven’t seen in years or trying to impress a girlfriend, spouse or customer. “Hey, honey, I knew you’d enjoy standing in line for 45 minutes for the privilege of eating here” sounds much more romantic rolling of the tongue than “I knew you’d like this place so I made a reservation a month ago to make sure we could get in”.
As an example, the Mandarin, one of the busiest buffet restaurants in Ontario, willingly takes reservations although they don’t really need to so you don’t have to leave Gramma standing in the front door waiting for her chicken balls.
2. “As a result of our policy, we won’t seat you until your entire party has arrived”.
I’m puzzled by this one. I recently went to a restaurant where I was footing the bill for 9 people who were in various meeting during the day. I made a reservation (see it works!), let everybody know and was informed at the door, despite 8 of the 9 of us arriving, that we would not be seated until the whole party showed. I suppose I understand the fact that it makes much more sense to clog the doorway with people waiting to eat than just sitting them down and letting them start on overpriced cocktails and appetizers. I guess I could of loaded up the clown car and have us all roll in at the same time so as not to create any inconvenience for the restaurant.
3. “We can’t give you separate bills”
I challenge anybody to ask the poor waiter or waitress the reason for this policy. I guarantee you will be 25 different answers ranging from “It’s just our policy” to “our system doesn’t allow us to separate the bills”. I can’t argue with the first one since the answer is so clear and logical. Policy is policy. The second is amusing. I mean, you have a system that allows you to hit a computer screen with your finger and spit out a ticket to tell the kitchen that you want a medium well burger with extra pickle, no mayo and onion rings instead of fries but it can’t split a bill. You are also suggesting that your system is unable to take a $180 bill among 6 people and split it evenly. I’m sure any ten-year old has this same question on a math test and can figure out using a Texas Instruments calculator.
4. Cash Only
I understand that credit card companies are greedy, money-grubbing scum but they’re damn convenient. They let you spend what you want on a meal without having to do the calculations in your head based on the money in your pocket. I’d hate to skip out on the key lime pie because I ordered a side of grits with my brisket and only have 40 bucks in cash. There are surcharges that restaurants endure to carry Visa/MC/AMEX which increases business costs, but in many cases they are absorbed when pricing the menu.
I guess what I don’t understand is the fact that the “cash only” concept is now considered hip by some. I’ve been in a few restaurants where the server has proudly informed me of the policy with or without a phony apology. Others raise their eyebrows as passively stare at the “Cash only” written on the blackboard while clearing their throat. Don’t get me wrong, there are some helpful places. Some are kind enough to install an ATM in the establishment so you can absorb all the costs including whatever service charge they program into the machine. Another was kind enough to tell me that I could order first and that the nearest bank machine was about 500 metres down the road. I left and it felt good.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not adverse to paying cash, especially at food trucks, bars and hot dog carts. However, I don’t like being forced to do it, especially when I’m racking up a decent bill with drinks, entrees etc. It’s not like I see a significant cost savings passed to me especially when I’m sitting in a near condemned house at a formica table with mismatched chairs eating $14 eggs bennie off corningware plates I saw at a yard sale last week.
So, things really haven’t changed much since 1970. Whereas then you had to have a tie and a membership card to get inside, today you just need patience, your whole group and a big wad of cash.