Last week I had an experience here in the US, that isn’t imaginable in Italy. I was reserving a table for dinner. At the completion of the reservation process they asked, “Would you like to pre-order your meal, to save time?” What? It’s dinner, at a place nice enough to need reservations. It’s not supposed to be rushed. The reservations were for a dinner that was several days out. How would I know what I would hunger for then? I was confused.
Sure, it would make our dinner faster, but at what expense? It minimizes the human contact and diminishes the experience.
Some people may love the convenience of it. For my restaurant experience – I want more. I enjoy entering, taking in the aromas, looking over the menu, watching what plates others are getting, hearing about what is fresh or special today, asking questions about a preparation, etc. None of that would happen with a pre-order.
That they’d ask me to pre-order implied to me that I should think about moving a little quicker through their place of business. Pre-ordering isn’t about providing me with a better meal, but maximizing their throughput and profitability. How many times can they turn the table? Once you start on that slippery slope, aren’t you moving away from providing the best food experience to an automated delivery system of standardized comestibles?
Across the ocean – I had a restaurant experience that exemplifies Italian eating. A large group, probably 20 or more, went out for a meal. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner. Everyone was casually conversing and enjoying our beverages – wine and other digestifs. The other guests had finished and left. We were comfortable and having a wonderful evening of conversation. It was well past closing and getting very late. As the owner approached, she saw that we were enjoying ourselves. We could see that she was tired. She explained that there were children at home that would need to be up early for school. I thought for sure we were going to be asked to leave. However, she did something unusual. She offered us the keys and asked us to lock up when we were finished. She pointed to where the keys should be stashed and implored us to enjoy the rest of our evening. Would that happen in any restaurant you know?
Thinking about these experiences tells me a little about each culture. One is about efficiency, churn and short-term profitability. Get in, eat, get out. How much money can be made. With Eatalianos – the customers and restaurants are both focused on the same thing – savoring the experience of a meal. Everything else is secondary.
I hope this trend of driving a fast-food ethos into sit-down restaurants and cafes isn’t spreading. I want to enjoy my meal.