Customer Flow in a Modern Bistro

Apr 21 2008

A local Asian bistro organizes its flow of people in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before.

You enter on the left side of the restaurant. Along the left wall are giant menus, so while you’re waiting you can choose your food. The menu is made up of proteins and sauces, so you choose, say, “chicken” along with “sweet and sour sauce.” In front of you, in the corner, is a counter where you order your food and pay for it. You’re then given a large red disk with a number on it, along with your drinks.

Next to the counter, and along the back wall, is the kitchen, separated from the rest of the restaurant by a low wall. So you can see the food as it’s being prepared.

The rest of the bistro is made up of tables. Each table has a cylinder with chopsticks in it, and in the center is a thin pole with a clip at the top. You find a table, sit down, and clip your red disk here. When your order is ready, it’s brought directly to your table.

This is admirably efficient. The restaurant needs only one server; you take your own drinks to your table, so the server’s only job is to take food to tables. There’s no need to print up menus, either.

The problem is cultural dissonance. You walk in, and there’s nobody to guide you. You stand in a line next to a giant menu, then you get up to a counter where you’re expected to remember your combination of protein and sauce. Then you’re handed a disk and told to go sit down.

This is uncomfortable for a first-time visitor, and nothing will make it seem familiar. Even after the food has been delivered, the visitor will still remember the discomfort of ordering. The logic of it won’t erase the emotional feeling.

It rarely does.

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