MELISSA BLOCK, host:
We've all been there: You're at a restaurant; you've finished your meal and you really want to pay your check and leave, but the waiter is nowhere to be found. Well, a new service allows you to speed things up by text.
From our member station WBUR, Jessica Alpert reports.
JESSICA ALPERT: It's a Thursday night when I walk into Charlie's Kitchen, a dive bar and cafe in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Charlie's is one of the first restaurants in the country to try TextMyFood, a new service that allows you to communicate with your server via text. I slip into a corner booth and see a sticker on the wall: Can't find your server? Just text.
I'm at table three. I want a tossed salad with ranch dressing.
It's a lot of typing. Send.
In less than five minutes, my meal has arrived.
Charlie's server Kristina Henry watches me navigate the system.
Ms. KRISTINA HENRY (Server, Charlie's Kitchen): You know, there's pros and cons to it. You know, it's great for like, a night like Friday night, when we're really busy. It's packed, and you're running around. People text like, can I have my check, please?
ALPERT: While Kristina acknowledges that TextMyFood may make her job easier, she finds the service impersonal.
Ms. HENRY: As a server, I would rather go to the guests and talk to them face to face, and ask them what they would like - instead of getting it through a computer.
ALPERT: When I visit Bob Nilsson, the president of TextMyFood, he makes it clear that the service doesn't actually replace the server.
Mr. BOB NILSSON (President, TextMyFood): It's not eliminating human contact. There's always a server at the other end. You just want to have that contact sooner. You want to - if you can't see them and can't make that contact, rather than waving your arms or getting up, just use the natural communication and let them know what you need.
ALPERT: Nilsson explains that the goal of the service is to increase the amount a guest will spend. For example, guests are more likely to order another round of drinks if they text the request in the moment. If they can't find the server, they often pass.
Back in the dining room, customer Zach Brickett is not impressed.
Mr. ZACH BRICKETT: I guess it seems kind of pointless because I can tell my waitress to her face what I want to drink, so...
ALPERT: But John McSweeney has a different view. While he calls the system interesting...
Mr. JOHN McSWEENEY: I wonder if there's going to be a lot of abuse of this kind of thing. It sort of occurred to me to maybe, just as soon as we ordered our beers, take out my phone and be like: Beers, stat, now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOSHUA DeCOSTA (Server, Charlie's Kitchen): I've gotten: Glasses are sexy. I've gotten: Two of us need something, and three of us needs your number.
ALPERT: That's Charlie's server Joshua DeCosta.
Prank texting is a problem. In response, some heavy drinking establishments turn off the service after a certain hour. But other managers say they appreciate the ability to monitor guests. If too many inappropriate texts come in from one person, it's time to cut them off.
So I'm sitting with my check and credit card, ready to pay. It's been a while so instead of waving, I decide to send a little text.
OK, T3, my credit card is waiting. Send.
A few seconds later, the server comes over, produces a smile, grabs my credit card, and heads back into the kitchen. We've barely exchanged a word, but I find texting extremely alluring. I message, she arrives.
But don't worry. I left her an in-person tip.
(Soundbite of music)
For NPR News, I'm Jessica Alpert.
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