You’re sitting in a restaurant and suddenly you realise you’ve become invisible. You’ve politely tried to beckon a waiter – and then another. You think you’ve caught someone’s eye at last, but though they are looking your way, they seem to be seeing right through you.
Short of being a total tosser and rudely calling out “I say, garçon! Service!!” across the restaurant, frightening the polite people, and offending the tut-tut brigade, about all you can do is wait until the miracle happens. Or maybe get out your mobile, phone the restaurant and quietly request a bit of service on table 22.
Epitaph for a dead waiter: God finally caught his eye
— George S Kaufman
Sometimes extreme situations call for extreme measures. According to Daniel Rogov writing in Haaretz in 2001, service seeker Buffalo Bill fired six shots into the ceiling at London’s Goring Hotel in 1912 while Jack Kerouac set fire to the tablecloth at a Greenwich Village establishment.
Creating a disturbance like that might get the waiter’s attention – or it might traumatise the whole staff.
Overt attempts to summon a waiter’s attention usually end up attracting everyone else’s instead. One then becomes even more invisible to wait staff.
Nearly 100 years ago, a metropolitan restaurant in the USA came up with a reasonably subtle attention-seeking device for their diners. It provided each table with a small ornamental lighthouse.
To gain attention patrons had only to turn the button on top of the lighthouse and a red light would show in the window, indicating service was desired.
Reporting on the invention, the August 1917 issue of Popular Mechanics noted there were holders for matches at either side of the lighthouse base. The bottom of the tower was “fashioned and suitably coloured to represent a portion of a cliff or a reef”.
Hindsight reveals this invention didn’t catch on and become a part of standard restaurant equipment.
However, one US inventor, Brian Darby, has dreamed up his wireless TMS100 restaurant table management system whereby diners can push a tabletop button to request service whenever they choose, and be served with the correct priority. There’s no sitting fretting over being ignored.
At the end of the day, restaurant satisfaction invariably boils down to service. No matter how brilliant the food, if the service is patchy, disorganised or just plain non-existent, that is how the business will be remembered.