Appy Meal

The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

We’d noticed Wetherspoon pubs pushing their order-at-your-table phone app but didn’t feel moved to download it until Bailey’s parents started raving.

They first used it in Exeter the oth­er week and rang us up to tell us about it, so excit­ed were they. Bai­ley’s Mum:

The bar was six deep and we were knack­ered and then we saw the thing on the table adver­tis­ing the app, so I down­loaded it. We ordered drinks and food and they arrived in min­utes, no queue! Bril­liant.

Then, dur­ing the house move, we end­ed up in Spoons with them a cou­ple of times, where they kept up the pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign. Bai­ley’s Dad seemed puz­zled as to why we’d keep putting our­selves through the mis­ery of queue­ing at the bar when such a won­der exist­ed.

And that’s a good ques­tion – what had stopped us?

For one thing, we had some eth­i­cal qualms – won’t this put bar staff out of work? Isn’t full self-ser­vice automa­tion the next stop? (Prob­a­bly not.) At-table order­ing via apps and touch­screens has been tak­ing off in US fast food chains in recent years (prob­a­bly where Mr Mar­tin got the idea, being a known McDon­ald’s wor­ship­per) and sim­i­lar debates have been under­way there, too.

More self­ish­ly, we had our doubts about how well it might work for fussy drinkers like us – would it make order­ing guest ales eas­i­er, pre­sent­ing them in a neat list with all the info, or sim­ply give the basic core drinks list?

I kept think­ing about all this, per­haps because I had some respon­si­bil­i­ty for procur­ing and main­tain­ing elec­tron­ic point of sale sys­tems (EPOS) in my last job, and so, on Wednes­day, I cracked and gave it a go.

My cho­sen test­ing ground was The Impe­r­i­al in Exeter, a beau­ti­ful build­ing so vast that (first hur­dle) the app kept warn­ing me I was 142 yards away from the pub when I was actu­al­ly sat at one end. The app down­loaded in sec­onds over the pub­’s own free wi-fi and was incred­i­bly easy to use – it was clear­ly test­ed thor­ough­ly on real peo­ple before roll out. For order­ing food, it worked bril­liant­ly. Being on my own, with work papers and lap­top, I loved the idea of being able to get served with­out the usu­al anx­ious glanc­ing back and forth from bar-staff to table, wor­ry­ing whether my stuff was about to get half-inched.

As sus­pect­ed, though, it fell down on drinks. The Impe­r­i­al has two bars each with dif­fer­ent ales and the app ought to be a way to show picky ale drinkers every­thing on offer in one neat list. As it is, I could only order the cross-chain stan­dards (Doom Bar, Abbot, Rud­dles) so I end­ed up hav­ing to do the anx­ious bar dash any­way.

And, unless I’m miss­ing some­thing, there’s no way to apply the CAMRA vouch­er dis­count. Prob­a­bly a deal break­er for many, but prob­a­bly also on the project plan­ner for a future ver­sion: e‑vouchers with a pin code, sav­ing on all that glossy paper, per­haps?

As I sat there, Bil­ly no mates, I pon­dered those eth­i­cal ques­tions and con­clud­ed that, frankly, if you’re in a Wether­spoon pub, you’ve already crossed the line – Spoon­s­land is a realm of pure cap­i­tal­ism, for bet­ter or worse. There’s also some­thing pleas­ing, not to say amus­ing, about the idea of Tim Mar­tin, arch Euro-scep­tic, qui­et­ly intro­duc­ing some­thing like Con­ti­nen­tal-style wait­er ser­vice to Eng­lish pubs.

Over­all, I was impressed, and can imag­ine using it for order­ing the chick­en wings to which I’m addict­ed, if not drinks. While that’s not quite the sci-fi future they promised us it’s pret­ty aston­ish­ing all the same.

Fur­ther read­ing: this arti­cle on the pros and cons of the app from the Inde­pen­dent, pub­lished back in March, is an inter­est­ing read that takes a bal­anced view.

10 thoughts on “Appy Meal”

  1. I’ve used it two or three times and in each case the ser­vice has been very effi­cient. How­ev­er, I have heard reports of 45-minute waits and being com­plete­ly for­got­ten when things get very busy.

    As you say, it’s of lim­it­ed use to the beer enthu­si­ast as it does­n’t list guest ales and does­n’t allow you to use the CAMRA dis­count vouch­ers. It also does­n’t let you request vari­a­tions to dish­es such as “no peas with that, please”.

    At least on the drinks side, it does­n’t put any­one out of a job, as bring­ing drinks to the table is more labour-inten­sive than hand­ing them over the bar. Wait­er ser­vice was large­ly aban­doned in pubs two gen­er­a­tions ago for pre­cise­ly that rea­son.

    1. Unless it’s a com­mu­ni­ty-owned local…
      Last pub I can remem­ber wait­er ser­vice in was the Lounge Bar of the Wil­low­bank, in Liv­er­pool – they even had bells to call the wait­er still in the mid-80s.
      Think the last ‘Spoons I was in was in Truro at East­er, where this app would have been great – I was dri­ving any­way, and the nor­mal beer drinkers in our par­ty all had soft drinks – we had only popped in for lunch.
      In most pubs, inter­ac­tion with the bar staff is part of the fun, but ‘Spoons is much more a stan­dard retail expe­ri­ence than a pub vis­it, so it does­n’t mat­ter.

      1. The Wil­low­bank! I used to house share real­ly near­by with a bunch of peo­ple, it was our local. We were all aware of the bell push­es, but assumed they were dec­o­ra­tive. So one evening one of us pressed one and we were aston­ished when one of the bar staff rocked up at our table a few sec­onds lat­er.

  2. This idea has been knock­ing around in the on trade for a few years with­out any­one real­ly nail­ing it, so its good to see some­one big like JDW get­ting behind it. Wor­ries about putting bar­tenders out of work are mis­placed, as you say the app can’t and nev­er will cov­er every­thing espe­cial­ly more detailed requests/discussions with barstaff.

    Even if 20–30% of orders can be cap­tured via app, it frees up this time and space at the bar for those who do want to talk to barstaff, have a look at what’s on spe­cial or just enjoy the tra­di­tion­al elbow scrum and eye con­tact game of play­ing “Who’s next?” at the bar !!

  3. It is pos­si­ble to order food to the wrong pub, because it’s a favourite and you’re *ahem* not entire­ly capa­ble of peak focus when order­ing… although that also opens the oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty.

    With­in sec­onds of order­ing my first meal via the app I realised that with famil­iar­i­ty comes great pow­er. Know­ing from expe­ri­ence which table num­ber my vicar/old teacher/mechanic/nemesis is sat at pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expend very lit­tle mon­ey (cou­ple of quid for a side order) and have ran­dom food deliv­ered unex­pect­ed­ly to their table, anony­mous­ly. Of course, one should nev­er cross the line into stalk­ing. But ran­dom­ly issu­ing gar­lic bread to a table you’re not sat at could be all sorts of good clean fun. 🙂

  4. JDW’s most con­sis­tent fail­ing is not hav­ing enough staff behind the bar. Sure­ly this adds to that prob­lem by tak­ing staff away from the bar to serve to tables?

    1. The vast major­i­ty of orders are for food which are brought by kitchen staff any­way. Some­one using it just for drinks real­ly are at the mer­cy of the bar staff.

  5. Love this app more than I imag­ined I would! Got it recent­ly after recent­ly get­ting a new phone that had space to down­load apps.

    I’m sure I’ve got a drink quick­er with the app than going to the bar on occa­sion.

    A god­send for peo­ple order­ing food on their own – espe­cial­ly miles away from the bar, peo­ple with lug­gage, the less able.

    Though must admit I’ve also used it just out of lazi­ness, want­i­ng to keep hold of a table in the sun or want­i­ng to stay with my friends rather than miss­ing the con­ver­sion at a busy bar.

  6. A big issue is short mea­sure – ale brought to your table, big head, and you ask for it to be topped up.
    On the one occa­sion I’ve used the app, the bar­man put my half-litre down, told me to fuck off when I asked for it to be topped up, and ran off into a crowd of pun­ters.
    The duty man­ag­er failed to sup­port me in my com­plaint.
    I’ll nev­er use it again !

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