Why a New York restaurateur is arming employees with Apple Watches

ShakeShack founder has announced that the managers and sommeliers at his new Union Square Cafe 2.0 eatery will wear devices to take better care of diners



Danny Meyer, the keeper of the golden flame of hospitality, did the unthinkable this week. He invited even more digital screens into his dining rooms.

When it was announced that all the managers and sommeliers at his Union Square Cafe 2.0 would be sporting Apple Watches when it reopened this month, there was a palpable sense of panic among both patrons and pundits that the glow of organic bonhomie would be replaced by the cool inhuman luminescence of smartphones.

As the founder of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), whose domain includes upscale restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, Maialino and Untitled as well as the publicly traded fast-growing, fast-casual burger joint Shake Shack, Meyer is the smiley, hard-nosed Obi-Wan of restaurants.

Meyer was one of the first and biggest New York restaurateurs to eliminate tipping in his restaurants, which he did last October. Because of Shake Shack’s success – it was valued at $1.6bn at its initial IPO last year – we live in a two-track world. Chefs such as David Chang of Momofuku, Mario Carbone of Carbone and Daniel Patterson of Coi have Michelin stars for prestige, but fast-casual diffusion for cash. Meyer is also one of the first to offer four weeks paid parental leave, which he also did this week. Now, he represents the first wave to break on a new shore of screens at dinner.

But nothing scotches a meal faster than a dining room full of diners lit from below, like Lugosi in Dracula, and staring into their screens. Not only do smartphones reportedly decrease empathy but their presence can result in a meal mitigated by their unseeing lenses. An entree becomes only as delicious as the number of likes it receives on Instagram or views it gets on Snapchat.

But at USHG, said Maureen Cushing, vice-president of technology, such concerns were unwarranted. “Human interaction in hospitality is the grounding foundation of USHG,” she assured me. “We would never want to compromise that.”

The technology, she insisted, will be felt, not seen. Each sommelier and manager will receive an Apple Watch. These watches will be connected to an app developed by Resy, a tech-forward reservation system startup, and integrated into the restaurant’s point of sale system.

This technology, she said, will allow the restaurant to take better care of its guests. Managers will be able to monitor with statistical precision how long a table has been seated and thus when their order should be taken. Managers will also have the ability to trigger underground coat room attendants to fetch outerwear. Sommeliers will be able to more efficiently grab bottles of wine from the cellars. As for the danger of screen contagion, Cushing said fears were overblown. “Servers will not be wearing the watches,” she said, “and somms and managers wear long sleeves anyway.”

But even if the technology is invisible, the data is there. And, like a baleen whale, it’s always collecting. When she partnered with Resy, Cushing was looking for a partner to help her restaurants capture what she calls “guest metrics”. “We knew how many reservations we had,” she said, “and we know how many steaks we served. But we didn’t know who ordered steak. It was insane.”

Each guest using the Resy app will have a profile wherein preferences, allergies and past orders can be noted. The restaurant can also create profiles for every member of a party, not just the reserver. “That’s huge for us,” she said. “We used to be able to know only one person. Now we can truly know all our guests.”

But the dangers are twofold. With every step, every search, every phone call and text, how much do we really want the world to know about us? And at what cost is this efficiency?

As for the former, it admittedly isn’t the collection that’s changed, merely the container. Before, data was collected on paper slips called chits that were passed physically from servers to managers to sommeliers.

But what is lost as technology offers efficiency? The hallmark of a good restaurant wasn’t primarily its chef, but the vigilant restaurateur or maitre d’. Legendary men such as Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque or Robert Meyzen of Le Pavillion, whose observational powers rivaled Sherlock Holmes, collected the old-fashioned way, by ceaseless observation. A manager might notice when a table needs to order not by a vibration on their wrist but by a patron’s subtle cues. Allergies and preferences might not be annotated on a digital profile, but in the memory of a career host.

But these are fast fading vestiges of a pre-phone past. They’re human, and like humans are inefficient and fallible. The future is coming to dinner and it’s accompanied by the notification of an Apple Watch.
Why a New York restaurateur is arming employees with Apple Watches Why a New York restaurateur is arming employees with Apple Watches Reviewed by Mouad Brody on 11:11 AM Rating: 5

Ads