I know that newspaper headlines have an important job to do in terms of engaging readers in an increasingly crowded media environment, and that is perhaps why headline writers sometimes have a habit of using hyperbolic language which can over-dramatise the actual news story in question.

I was reminded of this last week when I read an article about what was described as a ‘furious’ customer who had ‘stormed out’ of a Norwich restaurant.  

When you read the actual story, you realise that the diner in question had actually left the restaurant disappointed, because they had gone out in search of some hospitality - and found it sorely lacking.

The disappearing diner left the restaurant in protest at having to order their food via an app, by scanning a QR code on the table.  I have a great deal of sympathy for them.  Who wants to eat out at an establishment which so obviously doesn’t want to talk to its customers?

These kind of apps were developed during Covid as a way of minimising the contact between customers and staff, for sound health-related reasons.  

Sadly, they are now too often used as an excuse for skimping on staff numbers, by making customers do the order-taking themselves.

Next thing you know, these restaurants will be asking us to cook our own food, and no doubt wash up afterwards too.

The only time I want to use an app to order food is if I want a takeaway.  If I am going out to eat, I am after more than just the food.  I want to be looked after, I want human contact, I want a server who is enthusiastic about the food, who can answer my questions, who can make personal recommendations, who knows their way around a wine list.

It is not for nothing that the restaurant business is called ‘hospitality’;  those who think they can remove the human element don’t understand the concept, and don’t deserve to stay in business.

The owner of the Norwich restaurant in question was reported as being ‘shocked’ that the diner in question chose to take their customer elsewhere.  The excuse given was that ‘we did have some menus behind the bar – all they had to do was ask’.

This comment demonstrates a complete lack of understand of what hospitality is all about.  It is not my job as a customer to work out your systems and second-guess how things are done.

It is your job as host to make life easy for me, to offer me whatever options are available, and not to alienate those who might not be comfortable using QR codes (or who simply may not have a smartphone with which to read them).

And don’t get me started on the fact that most places using this method of ordering ask you to pay and add a tip up front.  Why would I even give a tip if you are going to ask me to do the server’s job myself?

I have nothing against technology, and recognise that there are people who prefer to use it rather than actually have to interact with another human being.  That’s fine, provide this as a choice, but don’t scoff at people who choose to leave if that is the only choice (or you don’t make other options openly available).

This whole story reminds me of another Norwich restaurant which insisted on only having one copy of the menu, which was sellotaped to the bar.  Because of this, the only time I ate there, I had to stand at the bar while reading the menu.  The owner then complained that I was in the way.  Well, it wasn’t me that glued the menu to the bar, was it?  

You won’t be surprised to learn that this particular restaurant is no longer in business.  

I’ll end by giving credit where it is due.  The owners of the restaurant featured in the article last week had the good grace to post online and hold their hands up that they had messed up, and they are now offering customers paper menus as a matter of course (instead of just on demand).  

‘It is definitely not on the customer to work out they can request a paper menu,’ they wrote. ‘We got it wrong here, and we’re not afraid to admit that, but we hope that making the right changes will convince you to give us another chance.’

As an independent establishment, I wish them, and others like them, well.  But never forget that the customer has a choice, and if they don’t like the way you do things they may not ‘storm out’, but they certainly won’t come back.