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The high tech pests that try to sell you a gym membership when you go out for a burger

Opinion

In a more civil time, having someone take your restaurant order and bring your meal was part of the experience. Now we’re lucky to get out before we’re shaken down by a robot, writes Madonna King

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Just when we’ve trained our children to put their smartphone away at the kitchen table, restaurants are demanding we take them out and use them, simply to order a meal.

What’s changed since COVID when we railed against QR codes that invaded our privacy and scooped up personal information like it was hundreds and thousands at a kids’ party?

Now, it’s almost impossible to stay at a hotel, or order a takeaway meal, or even sit down in a flash restaurant, often, without ordering via a smart phone using a QR code on the table.

No waiters in sight. No-one to whom you can chat or complain. No-one to ask to bring a glass of water to the table. Just you, the company you keep, your phone and a QR code.

How did that seep into our dining experiences to the point where those without a smart phone face food discrimination? Why have we left our outrage behind, with COVID; now happy to hand over a swag of personal details – with no knowledge of how it is used?

Name. Address. Email. Phone number. Post code. What’s this got to do with a burger with the works? How about just Jane Doe. No onion. Table 18?

Now, before your latte is delivered, or your poke bowl is put down in front of you, restaurants are requiring your full life story which they then store in databases that provide a goldmine of information.

Perhaps that’s why our hamburger now has such a long aftertaste. With our emails and phone numbers registered, our visit becomes a marketer’s dream.

Would you like to leave a review of your dining experience? Or a post-lunch survey? (Of course it’s not said, but with your email address and phone number now in their possession, commonsense would dictate you tick the favourable box over the one labelled scathing).

What about signing up for our newsletter, or joining our loyalty program? We have a long list of third-party partners too. We are supposed to feel grateful at that point. How about a fitness program? (Do they really match the hamburger eaters with the workout partners?)

And then, a few days later, the invitation to return pops into your messages, perhaps even with a coupon, so that you are able to stretch the budget and spend more money. A special offer. A once-in-a-lifetime event. Feedback. Invitations. Please. The list goes on. One hamburger, and soon you might be in line to score a discount on a family wedding.

QR codes might provide a touch of convenience for diners; proponents point to digital orders reducing germs, and allowing quick online menu changes.

But most of the convenience lands on the establishment’s side of the ledger: and fewer staff heads that list. Hosts claim it offers others – the ability to list dietary preferences and register special occasions. But surely that can be done verbally?

Access to our personal information should be made difficult, to ensure it is not misused. This week, a report in InQueensland showed how cars can now harvest data, via infotainment systems, background cameras, microphones, sensors, smartphones and apps. (https://inqld.com.au/news/2023/10/17/the-frightening-things-your-car-knows-about-you-and-the-dirty-little-secrets-that-it-shares/)

So even our travel to our dining experience is now everyone’s business. But somehow that still seems less intrusive than what eat and drink on a special occasion.

And what about diners who do not carry a smartphone, or whose eyesight doesn’t respond to the six-point dining disclaimers? Shouldn’t diner discrimination now be added to the list of other discriminators?

With the world engulfed by social media, shouldn’t we encourage the personal touch more – where phones are locked away, and we speak to each other in real life?

With a string of hacks, security leaks and phishing attacks affecting so much of our data, what’s the potential for that one hamburger to leave an aroma involving months of heartache: changed credit cards, a new licence and medicare card and a second passport in a year?

All of a sudden, that hamburger on a Wednesday night at the family favourite, or the sneaky cosmopolitan at the local on Friday evening might be become a touch too costly. Although the third-party offer that popped up today – to double my money by investing in an ostrich farm somewhere in Europe – might just make it all worthwhile….

 

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