Are You Ready to Order?

I’ll have the Combo, please:
crepes with mixed berries.

I pause before specifying how I want my eggs; before choosing sausages over bacon. On Shrove/Fat Tuesday, this pancake house is full. I’m trying to be considerate by optimizing my use of the server’s time, but there’s only so much information a guy can take in at once.

I glance up at the young server. I mean, they’re all young these days, but he’s high-school young. Right now, he’s head-down over his iPad. His fingers are not flying. He’s looking for something. He speaks slowly, mostly to himself.

You want . . . the Combo . . .

Ah. He’s still finding the overarching category for my order. I sit still. I sit quiet.

He looks up: Success! He’s found the button for the Combo. On to the next screen or drop-down menu!

Which Combo do you want?

Peripherally, I can see the Big Guy watching me with a carefully neutral expression.

The crepes, please.

I wait for that to be entered. On to the next screen/drop-down menu!

Do you want the strawberries, the raspberries,
the blueberries, or the mixed berries?

It takes most of my small quota of patience to wait as he reads that list: clearly visible in large font on the menu lying open on the table. I focus on not letting any I-already-said-that into my tone. Or any excessive cheeriness, by way of overcompensation. Just the matter-of facts, ma’am.

Mixed berries.

Excellent. As a team, we’re now back to where I started. In short order, hah, he asks for and receives my choice of eggs and breakfast meat. We repeat the painstaking process for the Big Guy’s order.

As Young Buddy moves on to some other part of the restaurant, the Old Guy says quietly,

Read the room.

I know, I know.  I am frequently admonished to slow down when imparting information. I don’t think I have ever been admonished to speed up. I think I’m not reading the room, but my own preferences instead.

I’d find it excruciatingly boring to ask the same questions a hundred times in a shift, and would welcome any relief from that.

With a full house of customers to get to, I’d be frustrated to have to wait for a slow talker, an indecisive orderer, or an idiot who hadn’t checked the dagnabbed options before I got there. By someone who Wasn’t Ready.

And so I try to help by going faster. Who was it who said, “Speed is the curse of the Age“?

I like to think I’m getting faster where it might actually help: at recognizing when I’ve blown past the reception rate. I like to think I’m getting better at recalibrating: at letting the server guide the rest of the interaction, both its speed and the order of the information. That’s especially important when it has to be entered into what is essentially a digital form with a fixed, screen-by-screen or drop-down-menu-by-menu order.

It’s not enough for me to *want* to help: Help has to be in a form that the hap/help-less receiver can, well, receive. Not that it’s all bad news with order-takers: Sometimes, it goes swell. Sometimes, I can do better than just Being Ready.

I listen carefully as the two people ahead of me in line give their orders and answer the cashier’s questions. When it’s my turn, I’m ready. I pause after each burst, but not excessively. Just enough–I hope–to pre-empt the otherwise-necessary question.

I’ll have the #1, please,
just the sandwich,
with the house sauce.
Unsweetened iced tea, please,

Her fingers fly across the cash-register screen and she looks up and grins. Briefly: She’s busy, you know?

All right!

And she’s on to the next order.

The Big Guy notwithstanding, it’s not about me; it’s not really about them. It’s about a lucky fit, made possible by enough knowledge of the process in that time/place to be able to merge with it, seamlessly.

If I say that fast enough, do you suppose he’ll believe it?

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10 Responses to Are You Ready to Order?

  1. barbara carlson says:

    Hell is other people…

  2. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – I have found that trying to save time for busy or really busy wait staff is generally….wait for it…..a waste of both our times.

    Wait staff have the mantra they follow when taking orders and trying to take shortcuts (like already knowing what you want) just confuses things.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I do wonder sometimes which kindergarten businesses rob, to get staff who will deal with their customers.

    Granted, I wonder too how recently my doctor graduated from high school.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – 🙂 Yes, they do look awfully young, don’t they? I expect the flip side of that is that we look awfully . . . mature.

      • John Whitman says:

        Isabel & Jim – if it weren’t for teenage high school students, most fast-food restaurants and big box stores in the Ottawa area anyway, would fold due to lack of staff to run the counters and tills. Generally, I’ve also noted that the really smart ones quickly go on to be shift supervisors and sometimes managers.
        On a final thought, what were you doing and capable of doing when you were between 18 and 20?

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – I have no criticism of young and inexperienced workers, as such – what gets me is how many now *look* so young to me. I suspect that anyone under 25 looks like a high-school student to me! Maybe under 30… 🙂

          • John Whitman says:

            Isabel – re: “now ‘look’ so young”. Isn’t that ageism in reverse. Seems like it to me.

          • Isabel Gibson says:

            John – Hm. I’d say it depends. I can’t stop myself from seeing 20-somethings as surprisingly young – that’s a function of the 50 years between us and my belief, somewhere in there, that I’m 35. OK, 40 at most. I can stop myself from thinking they’re children (just because they look like kids to me) and from treating them like that.

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