Generation Y

Applebee’s and Technology: How convenience is eating away at our soul and economy

I was recently at an Applebee’s in Napa, California for a birthday dinner with my family. Our party of 7 went in, we were seated by a hostess, and a waitress came over to take our drink orders. Pretty standard, right? Except, when the waitress came to our table, it wasn’t to take our drink orders- she came by to set an iPad-like device on our table and told us there was a new way to order. All we had to do was use the app on this device and we could send food orders straight to the kitchen from our table- even drink orders straight to the bar.

It was new, and there wasn’t so much confusion. Using it, however, was obnoxious.

First of all, the table has to designate someone to manage the device. Immediately, hands go flying up and everyone’s fighting over it. We put it to a vote, I won. Feelings were hurt, people were bitter. Democracy wins again. Then I had to place the orders, starting on my left I started asking people what they wanted, what kind of sides they’d like, sauce preferences, dressing on the side, etc. If they didn’t want pickles I would check the ‘no pickles’ box and viola, 25 minutes later their orders had been taken.

Yes, 25 minutes. How, you ask? Let me tell you how. Let me tell you about how my family, and other people generally interact with each other when out at a restaurant. They talk with each other, look at the menu and discuss the options, they have side conversations, they look at the TV by the bar with baseball game on, they get distracted and then they talk some more. Then, usually, the waitress comes over and everyone shuts the fuck up for a second as the tune to The Final Countdown plays in the head while they quickly decide what they want to order before the waitress gets to them. Except of course, without an actual waitress taking their order, people feel no obligation to their friend and family member to be quiet so that the orders could be properly taken. At one point after I had placed my entire family’s orders I forgot to hit the ‘send to kitchen’ button and when my dad flagged a waitress 30 minutes after we thought we had sent in the food orders, she politely pointed out my mistake.

My mistake. She’s right, it was my mistake. I ran for the position of being in charge of my family’s food orders and in the end the pressure was too much. I had one job to do and I failed. I didn’t know walking into Applebee’s that this was my future. I guess that explains why I didn’t get a fucking tip.

That brings me to my next point- who exactly are we tipping at the end of the meal? It’s your typical sit-down restaurant, but the service structure is no more than your average fast-food chain. I mean, when I thought about it, it was no different than walking into Burger King where a cashier takes your order via a computer that sends orders to the back kitchen to be made, and then they bring your food to the counter. Except of course I was in charge of the orders and I suck, so my table was without food for a least an hour under my reign.

I wanted to pull one of the waitresses aside and ask them how much they hated these new devices. I’m sure they did. I’m sure they were scared. They were becoming obsolete. Who would have thought that waitress’s would become obsolete? I’m sure this was reflected in their tips, their already bare-minimum wages and work hours. Several other locations have similar apps and online ordering available where your order could be ready for pick-up in under 15 minutes. This convenience at its finest.

This is also problematic.

Replacing hard-working (mostly) waiters and waitress, even cashiers (did I mention the Applebee’s app let us pay from our table?) with iPads and apps is not helping anyone. Not the customers at Applebee’s who just want a nice, timely, birthday dinner, not the people who run Applebee’s who got a mouthful and then some when I complained about their new service structure, and certainly not the servers who are taking the pay-cut for these decisions.


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