Restaurants are ditching phone lines and making life easier for employees
Harley Esposito, 30, was surprised she couldn’t find a phone number for Hotel Greene, mini-golf, bar and restaurant near her home in Richmond, Virginia. After going to the Greene Hotel for a business event, she needed a copy of her receipt. While browsing the Hotel Greene website, she saw a small note: “We don’t have a phone line.”
“I Googled them and didn’t see a phone number listed, and I was like, Oh, that’s weird,” she said. “I was surprised more than anything, because I had never seen it before. I was like, How do they expect people to get in touch with them?
Like the Greene Hotel, restaurants across the country are disconnecting their phone lines. Channeling all communication through emails, social media direct messages and booking apps can frustrate diners and deter those who are tech-averse, but restaurants are finding that communicating in this way frees up time for front-desk workers. and is more efficient for restaurant administrators. and gives flexibility to restaurants operating with a small team or due to Covid-related staffing shortages.
During their first month of operation in the summer of 2019, Hotel Greene was getting a stream of calls to reception asking for a wait for a table. Gottier said a host offering people wait times in advance can be futile since wait times can change quickly in real time.
“It was just this constant barrage,” said Jim Gottier, 67, co-owner of the Greene Hotel, adding, “paying someone $15 an hour, or whatever, to do this is all just outrageous.”
This approach, however, is not universally appreciated. In December, for example, the Greene Hotel received an email from a frustrated prospect complaining that they couldn’t play mini golf because of the wait time.
“Another option would be to have a phone to call ahead. Instead I wasted 25 minutes driving there and $3 parking only to be turned away by someone who, frankly, didn’t even seem to feel bad about her decision,” the email reads.
“People get so angry,” Mr. Gottier said. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
For some restaurants, the decision to forgo the phone is easy. The co-owners of the Singaporean vegan restaurant lion dance cafe in Oakland, California never liked talking on the phone. After hosting pop-ups in the Bay Area for about a decade, CY Chia, 32, and Shane Stanbridge, 32, opened the Lion Dance Cafe in September 2020, and for months they were the only employees .
“Since we were running around getting groceries and getting all the food ready, we felt like having to pick up the phone as well would be just too inconvenient,” Mx said. Chia said. “It wasn’t even a big decision for us. It was just an obvious call.
To reach Lion Dance Cafe, people send emails or direct messages to his Instagram account, although this can be daunting for older potential customers, Mx. Chia said.
At Ugly Baby, a Thai restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, nearly all of the customers are millennials or younger, said Sirichai Sreparplarn, 52, the restaurant’s chef and co-owner. You have to be on Instagram to reserve a table, see the menu or communicate with the restaurant. Mr Sreparplarn said the system makes it easier for small staff and keeps the restaurant discreet.
“We just want to be a hole-in-the-wall restaurant,” he said. “I personally think websites aren’t for 2021 anyway. We don’t need a website, and that’s my opinion. I would consider IG as a website where we can interact with our own customers immediately, wherever you are, with a lot more information. We can do it very quickly.
Gregory Ryan, 39, owns and operates two restaurants in Santa Barbara County, California: bells and Bar Le Cote. None of the restaurants have a phone line, a decision Ryan says was made because they have small teams. People are reaching Mr. Ryan and the restaurants through email and Instagram direct messages, which he says “are a good way to be able to connect and talk with people very, very quickly.” After being in the restaurant business for 15 years, Mr Ryan said around 80 per cent of phone calls are “generally a waste of time”.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” he said. “I’m sure it’s boring for people. We try not to be. What’s best for my business is my day-to-day mental health and that of my staff — for me, it’s not answering the phone.
Mr Ryan said that even when the restaurant could afford to hire someone to answer the phone, it still didn’t make sense for business efficiency. Focusing on customers inside the restaurant, especially during a pandemic, is more important, Ryan said.
“I think after Covid there is such a focus and concern about the guests who are in the dining room, and trying to make sure they feel taken care of and are engaging with , and that’s something you’ll continue to see more and more,” Mr. Ryan said.
His no-phone philosophy has spread to at least two other restaurants in California. Charlotte Lansbury, 29, does administrative work for Horses, a Los Angeles restaurant that opened in October. After eating at Bell and getting to know Mr Ryan, Ms Lansbury said she brought the idea of not having a phone to her old place of work, Gigi’s, another Hollywood restaurant. When she started working at Horses last autumn, Ms Lansbury said she wrote a ‘long and heavily worded’ email to owners and management explaining why Horses shouldn’t have a phone either . They agreed.
“It’s just a waste,” she said. “I’m glad other restaurants are doing this too, to spare their poor hosts and hostesses having to deal with people on the phone saying, ‘I’m just late. It’s certainly controversial, but from a restaurant perspective, it’s the best.
Ms Lansbury said she was handling the restaurant’s email and Instagram while on duty in case messages came in from people who might be late for their reservations or had other questions.
Still, many restaurants see the value of having a phone and a dedicated reservations agent. Lisa Blount, 56, who does marketing and public relations for Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans, said having a phone line is “really important,” even though it’s not the only way diners make reservations these days.
“If I can reach my client on the phone and talk to him, there’s nothing better,” she said. “While I love OpenTable and it helps us get reservations online, it’s not a substitute for that phone call.”
The staff members available at Antoine had to take turns answering phone calls when the reservist was sick with Covid-19. Ms Blount said it had been particularly helpful during the pandemic to talk to people on the phone and explain safety precautions and meal setups.
“I think the world right now has missed that human touch,” she said. “We dehumanized everything.
Communicating with restaurants via email, text and direct messages may also be more convenient for some customers, including 22-year-old Tricia Dado, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and works as a merchandiser at a furniture store. One day before the New Year, she posted on Twitter:”wdym i have to call restaurants?? pls no, i’d rather cook all day for nye than make phone calls. She ended her tweet with a smiley face with tears emoji.
“I personally find it very convenient to just go to my phone and order food for delivery or make reservations on a website,” she said. “I also think digital communication would benefit restaurants on their end, as they would receive orders online, instead of someone taking orders over the phone one at a time, which can be exhausting.”
Ms Esposito – who was slightly embarrassed to have to wait three days for an email response from Hotel Greene – was still understanding of the choice.
“One of my first thoughts was how lucky these employees were to not have to worry about answering the phone during their shift,” she said. “I know how much time it can take on your job when you’re working in a restaurant, especially if it’s a busy night and the phone is ringing nonstop. It can really take time for people who are already there and trying to have fun.