Tag Archives: Restaurants

Post-COIVD Chilis Sucks

Sunday, another insomnia day with only one hour of sleep, my friend and I went out to eat at Chilis. This is our usual hangout routine. We go to a restaurant, Chili’s, Old Chicago, Red Robin, etc. and sit and talk. In the past I used to drink heavily so that day was my first real sober challenge. Drinking while super sleep deprived is always great — it puts you in a dreamlike state where everything feels only 10% real –but I was a good boy and drank water. (My friend pounded about four Dr. Peppers so I was even healthier than him.) Honestly I feel kinda shitty about not drinking and won’t pretend that lunch was so much more fulfilling and better because I was sober. Sure I remember more of the conversation and was more present than usual, but it still kinda sucked.

This was our first trip out in over a year. COVID obviously fucked everything up and I was surprised to see the restaurant experience mostly unchanged. There were transparent plastic barriers separating the booths from each other, and people wore masks when they weren’t eating, but nothing much was different.

It came time to order and I noticed that we didn’t have a menu. When they seated us, they gave us a singular laminated piece of paper which I assumed was the menu, but I was wrong. This only showed their drink specials and appetizers. Where the fuck was the menu? My friend pointed out a QR code on the drink menu which said something like, “Scan the QR code to view the menu!” What the hell? His phone, an older Android model, didn’t have a built-in QR reader and he didn’t want to fuck around with finding an app for it. My phone, a Samsung Galaxy S10 does have a QR reader although it took some time before I remembered how to find it. I never use it. When I do use it I do so reluctantly. Fucking QR codes…

It directed me to a webpage with the menu. I copied this link and sent it to my friend. Instead of a .pdf file of the menu itself (like good old shitty local restaurants like Happy Wok have) the webpage had a ‘mobile-friendly’ layout. To look at burgers you hit ‘burgers’ button and can see their selection of burgers. To look at sandwiches you need to click the back button, then click the ‘sandwiches’ button. You cannot see the entire menu at once. Menus are great to browse and selecting a specific food category kneecaps this entirely. I don’t know if I want a burger, a steak, or a sandwich, so why force me to pick certain categories to check out?

The lack of pictures was also disconcerting and doesn’t make sense from the company’s perspective. I’m sure the menu items with pictures sell much more than ones without, and only one of each ‘food category’ had a picture. A picture of a turkey sandwich looks a lot more inciting than a description of said turkey sandwich.

Whatever, maybe I’m just bitching about change here unnecessarily. We ordered, the food came, and we talked.

Our waiter dropped our bill off, and you know those little tabletop electronic devices that you can pay your check on? Yeah, not this time. The little tabletop thingy was still there but had no option to pay; it lost its one useful function. Examining the printed check, my friend noticed a QR code. It was labeled, “Scan the QR code to pay!” Fucking hell, really? This too?

He offered to pay for my meal and called it an ‘early birthday gift,’ which was nice, but the hassle of their new QR system killed part of my soul. He couldn’t scan the thing, I had to remember how to scan the code (having relegated the ‘QR code scanning’ knowledge to my brains trash heap after ordering), and lent him my phone to type in his credit card information.

He handed my phone back to me after paying. “Here, I’ll let you do the rest.” He was talking about the survey. Oh hell yeah, I thought, I can let these fuckers know how awful this visit was. Here’s what I wrote in the comments:

No paper menus? QR code menus? Pay with a QR code? I’m proficient with technology but even this was giving me a goddamn headache.

Image some elderly couple eager to eat out in a post-COVID world. They go to their favorite restaurant, a Chili’s in Rockford, Illinois off of State Street. They sit down, and where are the menus? The waitress tell them to scan a QR code. What is this newfangled technology their talking about? The wife asks her husband what this means and he grunts angrily. He has no idea. It takes all of his effort to pay bills using the internet and now this. He takes his phone out, unlocks it, and stares at all the icons, buttons, and swipes right, left, up, and down. They become visibly distressed and can they just have a paper menu? Why is everything so complicated nowadays? Frustrated, they leave and settle to eat at one of those shitty old-people restaurants. Eight Plates. Nine Forks. Sunrise. Swedish Pancake House. Morning Dew. At least they have paper menus, sure without the fancy pictures and they’re printed in Comic Sans, but they don’t notice and it’s a physical menu.

Sure that’s blown out of proportion — I’m sure if you requested a paper menu they’d oblige — but in the post COVID world I’m assuming this was ‘justified’ by health concerns. Less hand-to-hand interaction between strangers. Less disinfecting the tabletop terminals. You touch your phone all day so what’s the problem with touching it some more to view the menu? Even if you borrow your friend’s phone, they’re your friend and you’re probably sharing more germs with them already than borrowing their phone does.

I’m not a fan of this “health concern” justification, if that’s even the real reason. Remember the drink/appetizer menu that we had? That still exists. And all the menus are laminated anyways; how hard is it to hose each one down with a sanitizing solution between uses? It isn’t. Maybe I’m being a paranoid anti-capitalist but I think COVID gave Chili’s a good excuse to cut costs a bit more. Chili’s is a big, corporate chain so the individual stores don’t print their own menus. It’s not as easy as having a manager fire up his word process/printer and add a ‘1’ to each one of the entrees’ prices, no, someone has to design the menu, print the menus, laminate the menus, package the menus, and ship them to the store. Each of these steps multiplied by how many Chili’s there are means a big expense to the company. Not huge compared to other expenses, but another thing that can be cut. Just pay the menu designers add a few IT people to make a website. Add the QR code to the ‘drink menu’ (because alcohol makes huge money so they can’t cut that menu) that links to the janky website and there ya go. Easy! And the customers will adapt.

And adapt we will sadly. People are dangerously good at adapting, even if it feels like it moves them backward. Look, I love technology — I never have to go to the bank to deposit a check or anything — but the whole point of technology is to make life easier, isn’t it? Netflix: movies without going to the rental place. Downloadable games: games without ordering physical copies. Amazon: shopping from your couch. Online banking with check despots via an app? Fucking great. Online bill pay? I hate driving so thank you. QR code menus? Nah, I don’t like it. It turns a social experience into fucking around on your phone. We eschew personal interactions in favor of our phones often enough to where introducing it one purposefully in a restaurant setting feels slightly evil, like we’re all missing the point. When I’m purposefully trying to not look at my phone to give the other person my full attention the restaurant forces me to dick around on it for five minutes. Ignoring that problem, it’s still just clunky and seems to miss the entire point of technology in the first place. Please give me back my paper menus.

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Hotel Rooms Suck

I’m currently out of town and sitting around totally bored in a hotel room. I really don’t want to write a blog post or anything but there is literally nothing else to do so why not try to be productive? After this I’ll probably try to work on some stories or something. While I don’t exactly know where this post is headed I’m going to write it anyways. This has never before been attempted on the Everything Sucks blog!

It’s already uncomfortable enough being in a city that you’ve never been in. In this case it’s Waterloo, Iowa (yay…). And it’s also discomforting knowing that the city you’re currently in which you’ve never been in before is also exactly the same as nearly every other city you’ve been in. Even though you’ve drive hundreds — even thousands of miles — across the wide open expanses of the United State of America, you always find yourself in the exact same places that you’ve already been. Our current hotel is situated less than a mile from a mall, a Target, a CVS, a handful of other hotels, a handful of gas stations, and a handful of restaurants. You already know those too: Applebees, Olive Garden, Burger King, McDonalds, Arbys, and so on.

This is America. Seriously. Zoom in on any city and its “business section” and you’ll find the same general theme of businesses. Coast to fucking coast…

My point here is that while being holed up in a hotel room is boring, you also can’t go outside and find anything else that isn’t boring. There’s no culture to explore and discover. This city is the same city I live in even if it has a different name. The streets have different names and everything is laid out differently but it’s the exact same city I’m used too: there just isn’t anything new out there and it’s not like I’m in a different country or anything. For all purposes Iowa and Illinois are exactly the same thing. No new and exciting accents, geography, or anything. Not even a new time zone.

Hotel rooms are fit nicely into this because they’re all exactly the same too. Each room of a hotel is superficially the same layout, even if one room is a mirror image of the room next to it. Each room has a shower, bed, sink, a bunch of mirrors (to make the room look bigger I’m assuming), and usually a table or a desk with a “work chair” or something like that. These rooms are cookie-cutter rooms that you’re just meant to sleep in because there isn’t much else you can do in them. Besides type bored blog posts that is.

Work in progress on “The Work Desk” feature of every hotel room.

They’re also surprisingly devoid of life as well. When you go into people’s houses or rooms they each have their own design, layout, and unique smells. People usually have their belongings/clothes/artwork/pictures/junk around that makes these places feel “lived in” and alive. Hotel rooms feel clinically clean and totally devoid of life even if they are, microbally, diverse and thriving (eww). It’s strange because the room I’m in has also been lived in by countless other people over the years and I don’t even want to think about how many babies were conceived and how many STDs were contracted on the mattress I’m laying on right now. But even knowing the amount of people and “stuff” that has actually occurred where I’m at there are no signs of anything really. It’s as clean and bland as a doctor’s waiting room. Hell, even more so as our room doesn’t have the classic “doctor’s office artwork” on the walls. A hotel room is probably the blandest living space you can find in our society.

I’m also staying at a fucking Motel 6 which is about as bottom of the barrel as you can get in terms of lodging. This is partly due to procrastinating the reservation as well as being fucking cheap. I’m notoriously cheap! A hotel room is just a place to sleep when you’re away from town and I’m not trying to stay at a place with a “fitness room” or a place that offers a “free continental breakfast” which I’m never awake in time to attend anyways. A room is a room and a bed is a bed and so be it. Anyways, Motel 6 is stupidly cheap and you can tell this from the room I’m in: this place isn’t trying to lie about its cheapness or to pamper you at all. Hell, it doesn’t even have a coffee maker which I’ve assumed was standard in all hotel rooms. This makes the room feel even more “hotely” than usual, once again pointing to the lack of stereotypical “hotel art” on the walls. These walls are bare: there is literally nothing on them besides the white and brownish-orange paint on the walls.

Next to our cheap Motel 6 is a Holiday Inn Express, and while not a 5-star place itself it is much higher up on the hotel food-chain than our Motel 6 is (Their rooms are around $90 per night while ours were around $70). In fact the building itself is higher up with its four floors overlooking our paltry two floors. Sometimes I will look out the window and see curious Holiday Inners curiously glancing out — and downwards, metaphorically and physically — into our Motel 6 rooms. And hey, I’m looking right back at them as well, a kinda passive curiosity exchanged between us. I ask in my imagination to them, “Hello, fellow traveler, what exactly are you doing in Waterloo, Iowa of all places? Are you on a business trip or are you on vacation with your family? Is this hellhole your actual destination or are you headed for more elaborate locations in the USA? Are you stopping for the night on a long journey to the West Coast or are you heading out East? Perhaps to see New York or Washington? Niagara Falls? Or maybe the Grand Canyon?” Then again maybe the man looking down on me from over there is just picking up a prostitute for the night. Who knows. I’m imaging them wondering the same thing about me as well: Who is this guy sitting in a rolly-chair with a hat on at 8 p.m.? Why is he rolling around in his hotel room in said chair? Why does he look angry? And what is he typing on his computer and why is he taking pictures of his hotel room? And why the fuck does he keep looking up at me and then typing something on his computer?

(Note: I also doubt that anyone is staying in Waterloo during a transcontinental adventure. Waterloo, IA doesn’t even have a giant interstate running through connecting anything important. 380 connectes Cedar Rapids to Waterloo but doesn’t really do much other than that. Why anyone is here is anyone’s guess.)

I’m new to staying in hotel rooms and usually only deal with them for the rare vacation and then only for a few days at most. I’m imaging the people who stay in these lifeless boxes frequently, like pilots, business travelers, musicians, etc. and I wonder what the hell they think of these places. I don’t even know what jobs require you to frequent these bland, all-the-same-but-kinda-different rooms and buildings, but it almost seems like it would be draining in a way. Like if you stay in these rooms for too long you go crazy. I’m thinking like the movie Fight Club or in the Stephen King stories 1408 or The Shining where the hotel room/hotel itself is haunted. Hotel rooms seem to have some mystery to them simply because they’ve been around for so long and have had so many people stay in them. Over time there’s bound to be something crazy happen in them. But maybe that’s the wrong outlook and that some people find these rooms comforting in a way. As all the rooms are the same I could seem them turing into “home” for the frequent traveler; a little slice of comfort and familiarity to come home to in the total blandness of them. Like if you stay in bland and drab rooms long enough you start to find them comforting in a way. Like you find yourself used to and comforted by the neutered lamp-on-desk, undecorated white walls, and wrapped up single-ply toilet papers. The white, undecorated towels. Not to mention the little shampoo bottles as well! As for me, luckily they’re only boring, even if they are intensely boring. I’m just trying to pass the time here. I’m not returning to just another hotel room on a month’s long job assignment, nor am I terrified that the room is haunted or that I’m losing my mind. Maybe boring isn’t so bad after all.