Why Doesn't the U.S. Care About Convenience?

For a number of years I’ve been impressed with the wireless credit-card machines with which many European restaurants equip their wait-staff.

This substitution saves workers time (and also that of their customers). This technology is now adopted more widely in the U.S.

But on this trip I’ve noticed yet another innovation.

In several restaurants wait-staff have wireless devices that also allow them to punch in the customer’s order and send it directly to the kitchen — again saving labor time (walking back to the kitchen) and cutting costs.

Why is this device less prevalent in the U.S.? My guess is that it’s because labor costs are higher in Europe, so there’s a greater incentive for European restaurants to make this capital-labor substitution than for American restaurants.

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  1. Charles D says:

    This is a counter to the normal thoughts of immigration, but is this a hat tip to cheap immigrant labor preventing the US from integrating better technology?

    It certainly is an interesting thought.

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  2. Nick says:

    After several month long stints in Norway on business, I found myself disliking the wireless card readers immensely. After enjoying a nice meal in a fancy restaurant, it felt jarring to pull out a little key pad an start swiping, calculating and printing right at the table.

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  3. Rob says:

    You misunderstand the purpose of the wireless credit card machines: to reduce fraud. In Europe and elsewhere, they use “chip and pin” cards, where to use your card, you enter a PIN code in lieau of singing a form. The card is never supposed to leave the customer’s sight. The staff bring wireless readers to you.

    As for the wireless order-taking systems: where in Europe do you see this? I live in the UK, and in the past year have travelled around England, Scotland, Italy, and France. I think I’ve only seen wireless order-taking systems in a couple of restaurants.

    I think there are other factors that might encourage the use of this beyond employment costs: whether the employees are likely to not charge/undercharge/overcharge for meals, or maybe whether some factor (e.g. due to hugh ratio of migrant workers as employees who are less fluent in the language) makes technology to prevent mistakes in the order worthwhile.

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  4. amit says:

    in most restaurants the floor staff punch their orders into a station and the kitchen staff get a printout at their station.

    waiters always have to return to their station for supplies anyways (you can’t wireless transmit cutlery yet), so transmitting the order from the floor to the kitchen vs. from the waiter’s station isn’t a huge labour saver.

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  5. Rob M says:

    If anything, I think we Americans are too wedded to convenience. But I suppose that’s another discussion.

    The biggest problem I see is that those swipable credit cards are a huge security risk. From a technical standpoint, the authorization (if any) is all wrong and done at the Point Of Sale. Instead the authorization should be done at the server. This is akin to locking the gates at the road but leaving the houses behind the gates all unlocked.

    The result is that I could walk around with a device in a backpack in a crowd of people (Subway, concert, airport, football game, etc) stealing micro payments of 1 or 2 dollars at a time. Most people won’t check and of those that do, most people won’t dispute a dollar. If I come in contact with 1500 people over the 5 days I take the subway/bus to work, I’ve got a pretty handy little side business.


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  6. Danny says:

    Depends on what kind of restaurants. Most places do not “walk back” to the kitchen. Maybe at a Waffle House, yes. But if you go to an Applebees or the likes, they usually have what they call POS systems which stand for “point of sale” or “piece of ….” depending on how you like it. They punch up the order there after they write it up on the pad they have, and in the kitchen a ticket comes up.

    So the only time savings is between writing it down on a pad and walking to a POS. The question is whether wireless POS systems cost less than stationary POS systems.

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  7. Morten says:

    I still remember my first experience with this. At the beginning of taking the order, the waiter asked what we wanted to drink. And then our drinks arrive while we were still ordering our meals. I was amazed…

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  8. Alistair says:

    Actually, the wireless credit card machines aren’t about convenience. Most European credit cards don’t use signatures any more — a PIN is required instead. And you can’t really expect diners to get up out of their seats to go to the front of house, just to enter their PINs on a machine there. (OK, that’s convenience, I guess, but still.) So the waitstaff brings a PIN pad instead. And the culture was always that you signed the slip under the gaze of the waitstaff so that they could check the signature — now they just hang around while you enter the PIN instead.

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