Arise, America!

03.28.13

Are You a Restaurant Lingerer?

I wrote a short and light-hearted piece for Newsweek this week about why it takes so damn long to get a restaurant check in this country:

It happened again not long ago. We went out to dinner and had a perfectly pleasant meal. We were sated. Ready to go. Then we sat. And I wondered what I always wonder: Who among my fellow Americans enjoys this ritual? You ask for the check. The waiter walks away. He brings it. He walks away again. You put your card in the little sleeve. You wait. The waiter picks it up. He walks away again. Eventually, after reciting the specials at one table and opening a bottle of wine at another, he returns. And finally, 20 minutes after you were ready to leave, the restaurant is ready for you to leave.

Now I admit that I'm a bit of an extreme case. I take a strictly utilitarian view of dining out, and when I'm done, I'm done. I want to leave. I get a perverse kick out of shocking waiters, especially at sightly higher-end places, when I ask for the check while they're clearing the dishes. When they return with the bill I have my credit card out and just hand it to them.

As I said I'm extreme, I know. But most people I talk to are generally on my half of this parking lot--not as antsy as I am, but not into lingering. Then came this tweet this morning from a certain Shannon Murphy who evidently works as a waiter:

From a server's perspective it's more like bring the check, wait 30 mins for person 2 pay, wait 20 more for them 2 sign.

I replied, really? These people live in a different universe than I do. She said yes, many diners like to sit and sit and sit.

This is totally beyond my comprehension. Why would anyone want to do this?

My little essay was a plea for the industry to introduce the hand-held credit-card machine that we find...well, basically everywhere in the world except America. I know many of you think you know the reason, that it has to do with the difference between US and European credit cards, that chip business, which prevents fraud. But that's bullshit.

A, my US credit card has worked in cities on three continents. I've also canvassed (American) friends and not found one who had a card refused at an overseas restaurant because it didn't have a chip in it. So that's bogus. B, if fraud is the issue, riddle me this: Why is it more likely that, with our un-chipped credit cards, fraud would be noticed at a restaurant's credit-card terminal rather than by a hand-held device? Answer: It isn't more likely.

The chip business is just an excuse. The fact is that restaurants don't want to invest in the technology, and they don't because Americans aren't clamoring for it. I guess because people at the Cheesecake Factory just like to sit there and sit there after consuming those 5,000-calorie meals. The NRA (not that NRA--the National Restaurant Association!) has polled the question and found out that 52 percent of Americans would avail themselves of table-side check-out. Again, these 48 percent just confuse me to no end. Maybe now that Americans have embraced gay marriage, we can move on to restaurant efficiency.