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Someone's Got to Pay...

February 22, 2011 By: Jack Robertiello

Highly involved, multiple-ingredient, carefully-measured cocktails have, by their very nature, extended the average wait for a drink these days. No problem, really, because those of us who willingly wait at the bar - patient and true - count on quality, know it has its price in time and effort and will pay it, thankfully, if the drink is good or regretfully if it's the opposite, perhaps never to return.

But I will never understand the chronic understaffing so many high-volume restaurants seem to enjoy keeping in place, making low labor costs the symbol of a well-run operation. I’m here to tell you it ain’t. Recently, I lingered at one of the bars of such a place after a small event, having a drink with a friend. We’d ordered food and were forced through the credit card hostage ritual in which the barkeep takes the order and keeps your card for safe keeping. The food long gone, the drinks dry, the bar two deep in clamoring customers, we decided to exit. But there was still the matter of that hostage card and the unsigned check.

For 10 or 15 minutes (counting only makes it worse), we sought relief. But the two bartenders were dancing as fast as they could, and we were made to pay in time as well as coin for the stingy staffing. It wasn’t the fault of the bartenders (though many similar customers would and do satisfy their unhappiness by reducing the tip amount), but there we were, soured on the place and, worse for the establishment, we were taking up valuable bar space doing nothing – not ordering drinks nor enjoying ourselves – that benefited them. We, in fact, kept other customers away who wanted to pass their money along as we expanded our square footage at the long bar, hoping to make contact and retrieve my card. More revenue sabotaged.

Put aside the staffing problem; surely there’s a better way to expedite credit card transactions? How about swiping the card and getting a signature each order? POS too cumbersome to handle it? Then there’s something wrong with your POS. Now that credit cards are routinely swiped for $5 and $10 transactions at every retailer from Mickey D’s to Dunkin’ Donuts, there’s no excuse for bars not to make a change, unless holding on to those transaction fees is just too important, in which case then why not just call your bar H&R Blockheads?

These guys - www.tabbedout.com - have a potential solution - one that from the outside seems perfect - but I somehow doubt most operators think much about this problem (I haven’t tried the app, but will report back soon). Paying the bill in a timely and efficient manner has long been the bane of the American restaurant customer, and when it’s bad, as in this instance, it’s enough to sour an otherwise nice interlude. If you’ve got a good method to speed payment, please pass along, and I’ll feature it next time. Meanwhile, I’m paying in cash whenever I can from now on.


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