An OnStar For Dining Out

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 13, 2007
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We’ve got OnStar in our car, and recently the company wrote to let us know that we can add another service to our emergency plan. OnStar will apparently detect potential problems with our car as we’re driving along, alert us to upcoming service dates by checking our odometer, monitor our airbags for efficiency and safety, and e-mail us a monthly report.

No, I don’t know how they do it either, but it got me thinking that while an e-mail reminder that it’s time to change the oil is nice, what I really need is someone to give me details on where I’m going - in the restaurant world, that is. Imagine the possibilities, as e-mailed reports are sent via cell phones. All you’d have to do is enter the name of the restaurant, and then perhaps a couple of pet peeves, and moments later a report would arrive on the phone, giving it a rating based on your personal prejudices.

What I’d love to be forewarned about are the things that turn a restaurant experience from a highly anticipated event into one you just can’t stop complaining about.

Entrees that arrive before appetizers are cleared - or even eaten - for example. Don’t you hate that? Halfway through your first glass of Riesling, you suddenly find yourself making space on the table, while still trying to cram the last bite of a crab cake into your mouth. And the waiter is just standing there, arms laden with entrees, wishing you would hurry up.

Or how about a warning that you might as well order a cocktail at the bar before you sit down, because once you’re seated the chances of spotting your waiter again before nightfall are slim to none.

And I’d love to know in advance if I’m going to be beeper-treated. Do I understand why certain restaurants don’t want to take reservations? Absolutely. Am I going to wait outside for 45 minutes holding a plastic beeper until it flashes and lets me know the table is ready? Absolutely not.

But I’d certainly drive out of my way if I could be assured that I’d get to a restaurant, order wine and dinner and perhaps move onto dessert without hearing the condescending “good choice” one more time.

Ultimately, what I’d really like my car messaging service to let me know is this: Do the people who work in the restaurant really like what they do? It’s fun to eat out. We do it because we want to get away from the stress in our own lives, or to celebrate, or because we just can’t be bothered cleaning up the kitchen one more time. We don’t do it so we can be treated as if we’re interrupting a meeting of the Hostess Gossip Society every time we walk into a restaurant without having made a reservation.

It might never happen, but in these digital days you just never know. For now I’m content that someone in Phoenix can unlock my car so I can retrieve the keys the next time I leave them in the ignition. If I can get into the car to call OnStar, that is.

Happy eating.

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