A Brilliant Innovation in Tableside Service

I worked as a server at the Olive Garden and a local restaurant in Virginia during two college summers. I quickly learned that every guest wants a different level of attention, and that level might change throughout the meal. Too often I erred on the side of giving too much attention.

Recently I wrote about my first experience at a local board game cafe, Pieces. During my last visit, I noticed something new on the table:


It’s a little hard to see, but there’s a color code on the jar. If you want food, raise the yellow flower. If you want drinks, raise the blue flower. And it’s a board game cafe, so if you need help with a game, raise the orange flower.

I’m friendly with the owners, so I asked them about this particular innovation. They said that because of the type of service they use–every server keeps an eye on every table if they’re available–some guests would get repeated visits from different people. So they decided to use this system as a way of letting guests hail servers only as needed.

I think it’s brilliant. I really, really love it. It’s super easy to use, it’s fits in with the look and feel of Pieces, and it’s a great visual cue for the servers.

Have you ever seen something like this at a restaurant? How do you signal to servers that you want attention?

12 thoughts on “A Brilliant Innovation in Tableside Service”

  1. Definitely like this idea, I also think it depends on the restaurant. I’ve seen applebee’s attempt this with a small touch pad, but half the time they don’t work. At least this is simple enough that everyone can see whats going on.

    I can also see it helping at my local boardgaming cafe. I’m such a regular, if they are busy and I’m between games I will sometimes help out with game questions if I know the game. It’s a great way to meet new people.

  2. It’s a great udea !
    I already seen this kind of system in restaurant, in Beijing (China, in 2011 the first time, i think), but with an electronic device with 3 button for the different type of demand (Food, Drink, Reclamation)
    It’s really comfortable, no need to search and twist yourself to be visible to a server and with the electronic system, you are sure to not be forgotten

    The manual system you discover, is more friendly
    I think, it’s better for a BoardGame Café

  3. Amazing, yet simple visual indicator! As someone with young children I often want to place an order almost immediately upon sitting down. I’d love to have something like this so I could do that without basically staring at every person who looks like waitstaff for the first five minutes in a restaurant!

  4. Jamey,

    That’s awesome! So much better than trying to stare across the restaurant to capture the attention of a a waiter…not even my waiter…any waiter!


  5. I’ve seen this before at Brazilian churrascarias where they have 10-12 people walking around with giant skewers of different kinds of meat that they slice right onto your plate. Since there are so many servers, it’s impossible for them all to know if someone wants the food to keep coming to their table or if they want to pause the service for a bit because they have what they need.

    On the edge of each table is a small card about the size of a drink coaster that you can flip from green to red to indicate whether you want them to serve you or not. It’s much needed in a place like this where you would otherwise have different people visiting your table every 2-3 minutes to give you food even if you were stuffed!

  6. For this particular restaurant, this is specifically very appropriate and a really smart solution. Because the point of being there is to engage in an activity, where you likely do NOT want to be constantly interrupted, having signals to your staff are really helpful. Because that’s the vibe of the place, and you’re having your own experience apart from food/drink.

    For many, many other restaurants, you are there to enjoy their service, and they take great pride in understanding and/or anticipating your needs. Sometimes, all other things being equal, that’s why people go certain places, because of the service, ambiance, etc. So it definitely wouldn’t work everywhere.

    Okay I am going to geek out here for a second. I am fascinated by this intersection of technology/innovation and fewer/lower human interactions. Sometimes when I see “inventions” like this, I get so curious about what will happen to our social and soft skills if we continue to find ways to distance ourselves from each other and automate those kinds of exchanges. Again, for this restaurant, totally smart, totally on brand. But with other things, I sometimes wonder if we aren’t moving toward a world in which we avoid contact and relationship/rapport building too much. (Really good customer service and ability to establish trust and a working relationship are the foundation of so many processes! Just think about how much smoother our government would work if they all prided themselves on being a people person, an excellent communicator, providing excellent customer service to their constituents, etc – think of the DMV!)

    I took a seminar in college that was a bunch of computer science students (brilliant) and me (communications student) and it was fascinating to see how many times I heard things like, “So now you don’t have to ever call your Grandma because these sensors will tell you if she’s moving around a lot or not.” or “Now you don’t have to explain yourself through email/chat because the colors depict your mood”. All of these were totally badass inventions, but I kept hearing their pitches as, “Soon your major won’t matter at all!”

    Just some food for thought 🙂

    • This is really interesting, Emma. I like your question about the government and your observations about technology replacing some invaluable connections between human beings. Though, just for the sake of bringing up the other side of it, I think sometimes technology allows for those base-level human interactions that once weren’t possible. I’m thinking of Facetime and Skype, for example. It’s a real gift for me to speak face to face with my niece and nephew once a week–I think it’s really strengthened our relationship and their comfort with me.

      That said, I have a hard time thinking of other examples, as so much technology results in avoiding human interaction (automated checkouts and food delivery services come to mind)–you make a great point!

      • Oh absolutely! Some technology actually enhances communications and connections. Those are great examples.

        And again, there are times where automation IS helpful and IS better. I actually think that particular board game restaurant is a good fit, as are self-checkouts, etc. My main point was, “No I don’t want this in every single restaurant, this wouldn’t always be an improvement.”

        • Absolutely, I agree. I went to Juniper today for the first time, and the service was excellent. I felt taken care of, and I don’t think that would have been the case if I had a button to push every time I had a need.

          Biddy has such a button.


Leave a Reply

Discover more from jameystegmaier.com

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading