In many places in Asia, it is not necessary to be able to read when you wish to order food in a restaurant. The majority have menus which require dozens of pages as each page only has two or three items. The reason? Each entree and item must have an accompanying photo. Apparently, there are people out there who do not know what french fries look like. Or a bowl of soup. Or a coconut. Or a can of coke. Literally everything needs a photo. The menu pages have also become cardboard thick. Have we lost so much dexterity in our hands that we cannot turn the pages on regular size paper?
A new dim sum restaurant opened last week on my block. Out front, two six foot tall sandwich board signs are plastered with photos of the menu items. Inside, each wall is covered with enlarged photos of entrees and various dim sum items. Above the counter is yet another three by six foot backlit sign with food photos. You see all that before you even lay eyes on the menu itself, which of course has even more.
A chimpanzee would easily be able to walk in and place an order there. Some day soon, I’m going to do my best chimpanzee imitation and walk into one of these restaurants and not say a word. I will be hunched over and dragging my arms along the ground. I will make high pitched screeching noises and point excitedly at the picture that I like. I will press my stubby fingers on the menu picture that I like and wait for my food to arrive. No doubt this will work.
This past weekend I made my first trip to Kuala Lumpur. My girlfriend and I sat down to eat in a fairly nice but not too expensive restaurant in a downtown shopping mall. The young, fresh-faced server, who was somewhere between late teens and early twenties, came to take our order. He arrived not with a pen and order book, but with an iPad computer. He asked for our orders and then proceeded to enter them into the iPad with his thumbs. I couldn’t see the screen but I feel confident that all he had to do was press the corresponding picture on the screen.
We have now come full circle. First, they made it unnecessary for customers to be literate. Now, even the servers need not be able to write. They can merely listen to the order and find the accompanying photo on the screen. Restaurant owners, like owners of many other businesses, are quick to respond to current trends and even quicker to cater to the lowest common denominator. My dear readers, do you see where all of this is heading? Right now, orders to the kitchen are spat out on a ticket which the chef has to read before he starts to prepare the item. Soon, large flat screens will be installed in restaurant kitchens and a light will flash with a photo of an entree whenever an order is placed.
I observed this young kid fumbling with his computer at our table while taking our order. Instead of being focused on us, the customers, he was focused on the screen which he was holding up to his nose. His face was bathed in that eerie computer screen glow. I’m sure the pencil -necked geek owner who thought of the idea of giving all servers an iPad thought he was being clever and efficient. All this cute technology however did not prevent the kid from bringing me the wrong order. Sigh….