Technology

The Latest Restaurant Trend: No Phone

I suppose we should have seen the writing on the wall. The growing number of restaurants using restaurant reservation services should have been a big tip-off. Globally, there are now about 33,424 companies in the restaurant reservation industry, with 28 producing technologies in this sector.

But this writing isn’t about this growing technology trend. This post is about the lost communication system known as the phone.

The Lost Lines of Communication

I live in a small town with few restaurants. The local pizza spot is hopping most nights with calls for takeout and pickup. You can’t call in without being put on hold, and one or two employees spend most of their night taking orders over the phone.

It must be tiring. I’m sure they imagine what it would be like to set down the phone and never pick it up again. Do you want to place an order? Do it online. You don’t live in the 21st century and own a smartphone or computer? Oh well.

I’ve been in the industry for some time. You can tell because I call restaurants for reservations and to place orders for pickup. I never envisioned that one day that luxury would be denied.

In a recent post in the New York Times, Victoria Petersen wrote about several restaurants that are going phoneless.

Restaurants Abandoning Their Phones

The Hotel Greene in Richmond, VA; the Lion Dance Café in Oakland, CA; the Ugly Baby in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; the Bell’s and Bar Le Cote in Santa Barbara County; and Horses in Los Angeles all have one thing in common—they are restaurants with no phones.

So, how do you get a hold of these establishments? Reservation apps, online ordering, and reservations through a restaurant’s website, email, and direct messaging on social media are standard lines of communication.

The Benefits to Restaurants

Why have restaurants taken this drastic measure? Well, if our local pizza place wasn’t inundated with phone calls, they would probably have a lot more time for customer service, which is often lacking. In fact, the owner could probably cut back on labor costs, no longer needing two front-of-the-house employees. That can be pretty tempting in the midst of our current labor crisis.

Jim Gottier, co-owner of the Hotel Greene, was quoted as saying pretty much just that. When talking about the many calls to the front desk asking about how long the wait for a table was, he reported, “It was the constant barrage. To pay someone $15 an hour, or whatever, to do that is just outrageous.”

Now, he deals with people who are angry because there is no phone number to call and no direct line of communication.

Petersen also reported on a Thai restaurant called Ugly Baby. Their line of communication with customers is through Instagram. Period. If you’d like to see a menu, ask a question, or reserve a table, you must do it through Instagram. According to the owner, this enables them to respond very quickly.

Gregory Ryan, the owner of the two restaurants in Santa Barbara County, also mentioned similar response times using Instagram direct messages and email to connect with customers. According to Mr. Ryan and many others, a large number of phone calls are simply a waste of time.

Our Contactless Society

While the pandemic may not have directly caused the disconnected restaurant phone lines, it has led to the touchless and contactless revolution. The human touch is something that now requires an immediate spray down with a disinfectant.

Instead of receiving a menu and hearing about the latest specials from our servers, we scan the QR code. We may even be asked to place an order on a restaurant’s website and pay online, essentially eliminating the job tasks for most servers. Then, because our phones are already out, we check our messages and emails instead of conversing with our friends and family at the table.

Of course, some welcome no longer needing to talk to a person to make a reservation or order a meal for takeout. But, even for them, there must be moments when conversing with a live human would offer better customer service.

I recently tried to make an appointment with a dog sitter. While text messaging was their form of communication, I quickly realized that the typed word was not coming across clearly, and our communications were being misconstrued. I asked if we could talk on the phone. He said no. I called someone else.

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