In many older pubs, you will still see a line of redundant bell-pushes around the walls in the lounge. They date back to the days of waiter service, but that largely died the death in the 1960s and 70s due to rising labour costs. It was simply no longer economic.
However, Wetherspoon’s are now reviving the idea by introducing an app to allow customers to order food and drink and have them brought to their table. Now, I’m the last person to judge whether new technology innovations are likely to succeed, so I won’t dismiss it out of hand. And if you restrict it to card payments you eliminate all the cash handling that used to make up a large part of the waiter’s job.
However, there are some obvious problems. For a start, it makes checking that customers aren’t underage or drunk that bit more difficult. And I can’t see the app listing all the guest ales that are on at a particular time, creating a further disincentive to order them. What happens if you’re given short measure or a cloudy pint? And, knowing the usual speed of service in Wetherspoon’s, you can just see the wait times stretching endlessly out, resulting in some very irate customers.
You can see the reasoning when it comes to food, which has to be brought to the table anyway. Indeed, companies like McDonalds have already been experimenting with computerised order points. But I expect Wetherspoon’s to learn the hard way that table service for drinks, as opposed to customers ordering and collecting them at the bar, costs money. At a time when the minimum wage is rising much faster than general inflation, can they afford to make their pub operations more labour-intensive?