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  • seb fogg

Technology or Bust

Over a fantastic meal at Red Rooster the other day, with a dear and long standing friend and restaurant owner; I heard a funny story. Although, within a minute the realisation that the joke was on me became all too apparent.

He said a customer had silently requested their check by miming a tap to the back of their hand. He was about to go over and ask directly what they wanted, before he stopped, thought and chuckled that this is to be the new bill request.

All it shows is that technology is moving so fast, that certain things we have been used to for so long are now becoming redundant. It won’t be long before the concept of signing a check will be a memory, a bit like writing out a cheque, remember those…….?

It got me thinking about changes, good or bad, also about what might not change for a long time.

We used to offer a newspaper to diners whilst they waited for their guest to arrive, although I occasionally see this practice, it does now seem archaic. One of my clients still offers a selection of international newspapers at breakfast. There is a timeless feeling, when I walk in, read the headlines from Le Monde and The New York Times, then help myself to the breakfast buffet.

The reality is that once sat, out comes the phone.

Way back when, we had a no photography rule at The Ivy, I fondly remember telling an Australian-born Hollywood star that she had to stop taking pictures. Her response was less than fond!

This policy, recently experienced at an Oxford countryside-based members club, seems at odds with how we live our lives today. In the end we went outside and took a group selfie, wanting to capture the sense of togetherness and fun. I know of one long-standing group that asks for no flash or intrusive photography, which I think works effectively within the parameters of today.

How do you feel when you are in a place that has no public WIFI, or worse, a closed system and when you ask for the code, are told it is not accessible? Would you go back even if the experience promises to be good? These days I advise clients to ensure the WIFI is the best it can be, allowing upwards of 100 people great speed and bandwidth, to not do so, alienates not just the latest generation, but all those who have a phone as an extra hand.

Likewise, plugs (or outlets for those of you across the Atlantic), are something I actively look for. As someone who doesn’t have an office yet and works from a briefcase, I will alter my refreshment destination to where I know I can access power. The concept of working without an office was unconscionable before, now it is the norm for many. The first time I saw plugs under a bar top designed to allow everyone power, I realised the owner was a visionary. No one wants to give their phone/laptop/iPad away to be charged. I mentioned a third hand earlier, try working with one hand tied behind your back, this is a normal feeling now when the phone is out of reach.

Will we still need waiters and chefs or are these the next roles to be robotised? There was a restaurant that tried to almost remove the waiter from the equation. You could order from your phone and food and drink was brought to you. Eliminating the order process, also you could pay the bill using the phone, so all that was required was a table provider, serve it and clear it away. That the place didn’t last is more to do with the quality of the offer, I can see that returning. Walking past a McDonalds shows you that the front-line people are being removed in place of order posts.

I am not bemoaning this, merely highlighting it. We can mourn the loss of driver-controlled cars all we like, but my 2- and 6-year-old nephews, I feel, will never have to learn to drive and will equate diesel as I do to hay, something that used to power our transport.

We opened The Monkey Bar within a month of Lehman Brothers going down and the financial darkness enveloping New York City. I remember asking Graydon Carter what his thoughts were on the sort of business levels we should expect given the impending crisis. His response was that people like to be together, the feeling of togetherness breeds a supportive environment and makes you feel better, regardless of the circumstance.

Given the level of technological change, I do believe that what won’t change is our need to be together. A large part of that is the person who looks after you, the other who cooks your meal and all the others who make it happen. Robots could do that but not with the sass, attitude and chutzpah that change it from a transactional experience to a hospitable one.

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