How Japan Nailed Restaurant UX

Two problems that constantly irk me in restaurants are:

1. Waiting too long to receive the check.

2. Waiting too long for the check to be picked up.

I was only in Japan for a short period of time but I was overwhelmingly impressed by the way their restaurants are run and how they solved these two problems. There are also different issues in Japanese culture that probably pushed them to find a solution. Here is one situation:

A customer is done with their meal, their plates are cleared and a check is brought to them immediately. If they are in a rush this might be great for them so they can get up and out quick. However even if they are in a rush they may feel like they are being rushed out of the restaurant. It would be rude to make someone feel so unwelcome. So you have the solution of waiting a certain amount of time to give them the check. This of course annoys customers who are in a rush. It is always a losing scenario when the check is brought to the customer after the meal. So what is the solution?

In all of the restaurants I ate at the routine was the same. We were seated. We ordered our food. Nothing different yet. Where it got interesting in the first place we went to was after the waitress took our order she hung a small clipboard with our orders on the end of our table. Then when we wanted to order dessert she simply added it onto the clipboard and replaced it at the end of the table. When it was time to pay we simply took the check that was on the table the entire time and brought it up to the register when we were ready. We didn’t have to wait for our waitress and they didn’t have to make us(and themselves) uncomfortable by seeming to shoo us out. Our change was quickly rendered, credit cards swiped, no waiting. They also almost always had gum, mints and sometimes flowers at checkout. It was explained to me that the flowers were to bring home to your significant other after staying out late after work. Brilliant.

There is one case that this method could fall short on. This is when a customer stays far past their welcome. There could be a long line or a it’s closing time or you simply have been there for way too long. So what do you do then? Well the answer to that is: Bring them tea. By giving the customer complimentary tea it softens and negates the implication that you should drink this and get the hell out.

A very neat system that allows the customer to choose when they will act rather than relying on a waitress to keep track of tables which will always eventually result in a dropped ball. There were a few instances where we waited forever for a waitress to come to our table until we poked at the button on the table which emitted a door bell chime and resulted in a waitress immediately appearing at our table. The establishments we saw these in were generally of the IHOP fast food variety sit down joints.

Why can’t we get something like this going in the US?

Originally published at