Eating Out

Having been in the TV News business for about 20 years before my move to Virginia, I ate out more than a lot of folks. When you’re darting all over the place to cover a story, or hoping into a plane to cover this story or that, you eat on the run, a lot. Often times if wasn’t great and was the drive thru of the day. So when you finally are some place overnight and you get to sit down in a nice restaurant and have a good meal, it’s a big deal.

That’s me (left) back in the the mid 90s with my friend and fellow news guy, Steve Hayslip. Back then we were covering a visit by President Clinton and VP Gore to a rural West Tennessee church.

Fast forward about 20 more years I still eat out a regularly. It’s more or less my social interaction with buds. There’s three of us that meet just about every weekday for lunch at the local Mexican restaurant. There’s me (SROMEO – Semi Retired Old Man Eating Out), a dentist, and a transportation man with a nearby university. They talk sports, I listen. But we then talk about other things too. Just ask us, we have solved most world problems in about an hour.

When I go out to eat and spend my money, I don’t go out wanting a flow chart on how to order and how to pay. I go for the experience, the interaction, and not having to do it myself. Eating out should be an experience between you and the wait staff, the kitchen, the owners, etc.

That’s Phil D’Ambola! We loved eating at his restaurant. He knew what personal service meant, and he made sure you enjoyed the meal. Every, single, time.

My wife and I used to eat at this Italian restaurant after first moving to Virginia. It was called D’Ambolas. You never wanted for anything. It was a tad pricey, but you didn’t care. We knew the owner and all of his. staff. There was a waiter there named Bill. No matter how difficult your request for a drink or meal might be, his words were always, “Excellent choice!” He made you feel special. One of the food runners there was a recent grad from high school. Our nickname for her was Sassy, well, because she was. We got to know her well, and years later after she graduated from college she became a writer and photographer for our magazine. My point, it’s about relationships.

About two years ago I began seeing a trend in the restaurant and hospitality industry. QR codes. Look, I am more technologically advanced than most out there. Especially at age 60 I am light years ahead of some 20 years younger. I love technology and use it all of the time. Generally I have the latest technology, phone, cameras, security systems, computers, and on and on. But when I go out to eat I don’t want technology waiting on me. If I am spending money to go out, I want the experience of going out to eat.

My first encounter with Mr. QR was in the summer of 2019. I’d taken the kids to a resort restaurant nearby and walking up there was a sandwich board. “Order your meal from our QR code here.” Huh? This wasn’t a top notch restaurant, but it wasn’t a Sonic Drive-In either. It was a legit sit down place that had a beautiful patio/deck overlooking a nice golf course with a breathtaking mountain views. I asked if I could get a paper menu? The waiter, a bit frustrated, said, “Sure.” Once I got the menu, he said I could order via the QR code with their app and the kitchen would bring it out. Huh?  I also asked for a kids menu, “We did away with that.” Huh? A family resort, no kids menu. Ok. I then said “I’ll just order from you if that’s ok, otherwise why am I tipping you?” He got it, and was frankly embarrassed by the whole ordeal. I never went back to the restaurant. Incidentally, it closed permanently not long after that. New owners will reopen it this summer. Hopefully without that sort of nonsense to order. It’s worth noting the average age of their clientele was probably 70-75+, I can’t imagine what they were thinking.

It’s happening a lot now. Covid years seemed to give all sorts of businesses an excuse to let sloppiness grow and insert in these little technological surprises. It’s happening everywhere. No cash, some even want payment to be all via a smartphone only. Look I get it. Staffing is a big issue post Covid. Know what we did in our magazine when we didn’t have staff? We did it ourselves. Through my wife birthing two kids, sickness, blizzards, and more, 193 issues. We never missed a one. Never missed deliveries, deadlines, etc. Corporate chains have become the worst now. They are betting people won’t notice, or care. I suppose some won’t. But I am betting most will. When someone goes out, they like tradition, relationships, the experience. Mr. QR isn’t an experience.

Now, can I have another drink and dessert please? No QR.



About tommystafford

Recovering from life as TV news reporter. Airplane & helicopter pilot. Weather guesser. Farmer. Trail runner, dad & husband living in the beautiful Central Virginia Blue Ridge mountains!
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