Eat Your Food!

Okay. Would someone please explain to me why you’re taking pictures of your food?

What is up with this? What possible purpose does it serve? Are you filling albums – reminiscing someday about that fabulous stack of pancakes you had way back in 2014? No.

I know that it’s all about posting your “status” to Facebook or Instagram or whatever other social internet site you’ve got to update every thirty seconds – because everybody knows that simply experiencing something just isn’t good enough any more; it’s like it never really happened unless some peripheral stranger likes it.

I know, I know, I’m old. I’m from the generation that didn’t get cell phones until our thirties. So I’m willing to concede that some of this social/online behaviour is just a current adaptation of cultural sharing: like rock concert t-shirts used to be maybe, or even when compact home video cameras first came out and we felt compelled to document every move our kids made. I get it. I like Facebook. It’s a great way to keep in touch with people, and I’m not above tossing the odd selfie up there, or sharing some photos of what happened on the weekend.

But the day I snap a picture of the salad I had for lunch is the day that I sincerely hope someone pries the phone from my hand and throws it at my big dumb head.

If I’m at Spago someday, and Wolfgang Puck himself sallies over to my table and insists upon holding my meal up for the camera, then, maybe, I might oblige him and take that photo. But otherwise, just go ahead and throw the phone at me.

I read an article today that claimed one restaurant in New York City had hired an investigative consultant to find out why they were receiving a lot of bad reviews about poor service and long wait times, when they felt they hadn’t dropped their standards at all in the last decades of doing business. In the process, the consultants found some old security cameras with surveillance footage that the restaurant owners had never looked at, date stamped 1997. Using that old tape, they tracked things like how long it took the server to get to the table; how long it took customers to order; the time it took for the food to come out, and how long customers stayed at their table. Then they applied the same metrics to the restaurant’s current typical days.

I won’t rewrite that article here, and quote all the time differences, but wait times had indeed increased, and this is why: people come in, get seated (in exactly the same time it took fourteen years ago), then they scroll through some stuff on their phones. The server approaches the table (just a quickly as fourteen years ago), and they’re sent away because no one’s even looked at the menu yet.

This is the point at which this article got very familiar for me. I currently work as a server in a local restaurant. Tons of people come in, sit across from each other, and then stare at their individual phones, usually chuckling to themselves, totally engrossed. Sometimes I say something like: “it’s okay to talk in here, you don’t have to text each other, ha ha ha…” That is most often met with a tolerant half-smile just before they send me away because they haven’t looked at the menus yet.

Then, just like the article said, the following course of events plays out.

They order. Moments pass. I’m informed their food is ready. I stack burning hot plates all over myself in some voo-doo magic display of balance, and head for the table. Arriving at the table I wait until someone notices I’m there – phones are lifted to make room. One plate goes down – there is a murmur of pleasure – I’m asked to just wait a sec while they style a magazine-ready layout of their meal before snapping the precious picture. Everyone leans in to approve of the photo, and I’m allowed to put down another plate for the process to continue. In the meantime, I’m just standing there trying to remember where the burn cream is because my forearm is starting to blister under the weight of that sizzling plate of strawberry crepes. Once all the plates are down I am sometimes asked to take a group photo of everyone with knives and forks poised. Sometimes I’m called back to the table because somebody’s meal is considered too cold. I suspect it is because they’ve let it sit there while they posted all the pictures and thought up witty comments like: Pancakes! Yum! But, of course, I do not say that, I just go and have their food warmed or re-made.

Once the food is consumed, and I’ve cleared plates, many customers will remain at the table for quite a while – checking out the likes and comments that each other’s pictures of their meals garnered.

The New York City restaurant’s research detailed this phenomenon almost exactly, and they found that the general turn-around for one table had increased over the last fourteen years by over a half hour. It’s an exponential build-up of moments at each table that increases wait times, and decreases table turnover – which is the only way restaurants and servers make money.

Fascinating, no?

Now, obviously, this whole routine doesn’t play out with every group of customers that come into the restaurant. Quite a few people still talk to each other, and not everyone makes me juggle plates while they document their meal. But it happens. It really does.

I assume that this mania for sharing every move we make will wane at some point, like all weird social trends, and people will go back to enjoying the moments they are in, in real time, not later, once everyone they’ve ever known has had a chance to express an opinion about it. Until that day, I will try to remain tolerant, and take it as a compliment if someone wants to share my artful garnishing skills with the whipped cream.

And I’ll stock up on Aloe Vera. Because those plates really are hot.


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