Monday, February 15, 2016

Robotic Robbery

If you've eaten out lately at a casual restaurant such as Applebee's or Olive Garden, an electronic gadget probably was a guest at your table. Language on its small screen cheerfully invites you to play a game, order extra items, or speedily pay your bill.

At first we thought the machines might be a tricky way for management to replace waiters and waitresses. But no, they don't allow you to order your main course, just add-ons. And at Applebee's, the server arrives at your table to slide your credit or gift card at bill paying time.

That automatic bill printer may deliver unwelcome surprises

We've learned that the little machines actually are kin to the infamous "one-armed bandits" familiar to casino patrons who enter with high hopes and leave with lighter pocketbooks. Our first hint was when we accepted the invitation to play a computer game on the device. It was fun, but our bill came with a surprise $1.99 charge included for the game. We don't do the games anymore.

We usually tip 15 percent at restaurants, and go to 20 for extra-good service. When an image of your bill pops up at Applebee's as your server stands at your table, it automatically shows a 20 percent tip. The server then points to the total and advises you may push buttons to increase or decrease the amount. It's hard to imagine a customer mean enough to go for a decrease with the server watching you make the adjustment. Although tempted once, I've been unable to bring myself to retreat to my 15 percent comfort level.

The advent of robotic service at some of our favorite places so far has been only slightly annoying. We must remember that progress has its price. Let's hope this is not the start of bigger cost increases as technology advances.

13 comments:

Tom Sightings said...

We don't go to Applebee's. For some reason B doesn't like Applebee's. So we go to Chili's instead. (What's the difference? I say. But apparently there is one.) Anyway, we've seen these gizmos at Chili's as well. But as I recall the server didn't stand over us while we paid, and we had the option of 18 percent.

Rummuser said...

These machines have not yet put in an appearance in our land!

Dick Klade said...

Tom, we may learn to like Applebee's less if our gratuity habits continue to get close scrutiny!

PiedType said...

Not likely I'll have to deal with one of these gadgets since I rarely eat out by myself. But I don't welcome the idea of the server standing over me while I'm trying to figure out how to deal with one.

Jhawk23 said...

I haven't seen these particular machines in any actual restaurants, but I find the "suggested" tip is showing up in all sorts of places, including many where you wouldn't probably expect to tip -- e.g. for counter service at coffee shops, take-out restaurants, etc.

In restaurants, if choices were limited and/or if my server stood over me, I'd probably let the manager know I didn't care for it.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

This is a kind of robbery for sure. Very annoying and a good reason to avoid the chain restaurants. BTW, taxis in DC have the ame machines. We have a choice as far as tops, however. The drivers really scowl as you leave a fifteen percent tip.

joared said...

I haven't encountered any of these robots, but don't think I'll appreciate using them from what you describe.

Alan G said...

I don't eat out much any longer but when I did I considered myself a pretty good tipper, especially if I got good service. But no, there will be no standing over me while I make my tipping decisions.

I think all this tipping business has gotten a bit out of hand. Customers are somehow these days treated as though they are responsible for part of the yearly 'cost of living' increases for food service and bar employees. The restaurant employees should be paid proper wages and leave the customer out of their salary loop. If my tip is the only incentive a waiter has to do their job, they need to find another line of employment!

Big John said...

I've not seen these in the UK, but I bet they are about somewhere.
As for tipping. I dislike the US 'rule' about always tipping. I've heard stories about American waiters 'demanding' a bigger tip than the one offered. I know what I would do !

Dick Klade said...

Couldn't agree more, Alan. What once was an option now has become a dictate. The whole tipping situation has become unpleasant far too often.

Dick Klade said...

John, there are some Americans who don't tip. My son worked as a bus boy not too many years ago and knew of many. A neighbor who became a close friend shocked us when he absolutely refused to ever tip more than one dollar no matter how large the bill or how excellent the service. However, there is a lot more pressure in the U.S. to tip than we experienced on trips to Europe.

PiedType said...

Back when my son was in high school, I learned that his friends who worked in pizza shops were paid less than minimum wage because their employers expected their tips to make up the difference. I thought it outrageous and exploitative. I've been a generous tipper ever since (15-20%), especially with young people in food service.

Dick Klade said...

That's correct for many states, Pied. Here in Michigan it is legal to pay servers pitifully small wages. We started tipping in the same range you do years ago when our son pointed out the discrepancy in Wisconsin. With all the agitation for increasing the national minimum wage, which I support, almost no one mentions actions to remedy this wage inequality that causes our youngest workers to be exploited.