Restaurants with confusing or bizarre ordering systems

Has anyone else ever had the experience of walking into a restaurant (usually a fast-food establishment) and not understanding how to order food there?

Well, I have, and I don’t like it. I don’t think dining should involve a learning curve. Let me cite a couple of examples:

During a visit to the LA area, I ate at a sandwich shop that had a rotating rack outside, filled with small lunch-size paper bags that were printed with descriptions of different sandwiches and various options you were supposed to check. I stood out there in the hot sun for at least five minutes, looking at these bags and trying to figure out how to order a damn sandwich. I think this place was called Togo’s.

On my first visit to Panda Express, I told the woman behind the counter that I wanted some kung pao beef. She looked at me with a baffled expression for a moment, and then ladled some kung pao beef into a bowl without rice and handed it to me. When I said I wanted rice too (duh) she explained that I hadn’t followed the correct Panda Express ordering procedure. You’re supposed to start your order by announcing what kind of rice you want; then you decide what you want on top of the rice.

Is anyone else bothered by these kinds of places? If so, let’s hear about your experiences. Alternatively, feel free to call me a dim-bulb and say you can’t imagine why anyone would be confused in a fast-food joint.

I actually agree, it is sort of like walking into Starbucks and asking for a large coffee. I don’t care what your name for a cup is, it should be pretty damned obvious that if you have 3 sizes of cup, one in the middle, one smaller and one larger that when I ask for a large, I mean the largest of the 3 sizes. It is also damned near worth your life to get a fucking cup with plain drip coffee with cream form a cow and a couple packets of equal - they are bent on pushing these damned milkshakes with some brown caffeine liquid added.

I haven’t really done the fast food chinese thing before, we trend to either go to our local place where I can walk in and ask for a general tso tofu and it will come with brown rice unless I ask for white rice or fried rice. They are just now getting used to American Chinese food - I love fresh immigrants. Roomie can get her fix of chicken feet at the same time :stuck_out_tongue: or we go to a buffet where we just roam around and get what we want.

I went to a sushi restaurant recently and they had just started a new system where you ordered from a tablet, no human required! It was actually really good. You could choose what you wanted with good descriptions, then confirm your order and send. Then it would come to the table, this time brought by a human waiter. :wink:

It wasn’t confusing, but perhaps bizarre if you’re not used to it. I certainly wouldn’t want it in a nice restaurant, I like talking to the waiter. But for this sort of place it was efficient and really fun!

This sounds like a logical use of technology! I look forward to that becoming more widespread.

There’s a restaurant set-up occasionally found in my home country, which always strikes me as maddening: it’s a strange worst-of-both-worlds mixture of self-service, and sit-down-and-be-waited-on. There are no menus as such: the dishes on offer, are set out “under glass”. Customers file past them, decide what they want, order at the till and pay; then go and sit down, and waitstaff bring their food to them in the fullness of time.

It’s an arrangement which I hate. Where I live, it seems commonest with restaurants which do Italian food. I’m not highly learned about Italian cuisine, and quite often I see something I might like, but don’t know what it’s called. In that situation, it would be very awkward to pull the employee away from the till, and disrupt the queue, to go back to the display and point to the desired dish. I’m a fairly timid and “peace-at-any-price” type; so, such situations can rather severely limit the range of what I feel I can order. I do feel that if somebody had sat down to devise the most stupid and inconvenient restaurant procedure that they could imagine – they couldn’t have come up with anything more so, than this which I describe above.

I order using “small,” “medium,” “large” all the time at Starbucks. The baristas at the dozens of locations I’ve visited have never been confused. I think this is a tall tale or greatly exaggerated. I mean, seriously, like 50+ locations, never a problem. (Plus they actually have four sizes: “tall” is the smallest one, but when I use “small, medium, large” terminology, the worker knows I’m talking about the usual sizes.)

They have something like that at one of the departure terminals at JFK. You sit at a table where they have some iPads set up. You order on the iPad and someone brings it to you.

The most bizarre ordering procedure I’ve encountered is at Casa Bonita in Denver. You order your main course, and then immediately get it (freshly prepared it ain’t), and then the waiter takes you to your table, and from that point on its standard table service (described in point 4, here).

There was one Turkish restaurant in Budapest that had an odd system back in the late 90s (it’s not there any more). I assume this was some kind of hold over from the communist days, but the ordering went something like this (I don’t clearly remember the sequence, but it involved three steps): You would decide what you wanted to order, and then go to some guy in a booth selling tickets or tokens. He’d give you the tokens that corresponded to your order. You then would walk over to the counter and make your order. Then, you would go to the cashier, hand him the tokens/tickets, and pay. Why the token/ticket step was in there, I don’t know.

Also, in India, I was sort of confused. We were in a shopping mall food court in Ahmedabad, and you had to buy a little swipe card that’s only valid in the food court and put how ever much money you need on it, and then use that card to pay at the kiosks. I guess I can understand some reasoning behind this, but it took me a bit to figure out you couldn’t pay with cash at the kiosk.

Yeah I’ve had similar systems in various places, but they always seem to be 1) decide from menu; 2) order, pay & get ticket at separate booth; 3) take ticket to counter for food. This restaurant does seem to have added an extra step. :confused: Commies eh!

There are places in Japan that do it kinda like this.
Outside there’s a window with examples of each dish and an assigned number. You decide what you want, walk over to a vending machine, punch in your order, feed in the money, and it spits you out a ticket. Then you go inside and hand the ticket to the guy at the register.
Honestly if you don’t speak Japanese it’s kind of easier.

Ivar’s, a fish-and-chips chain here in the northwest, has a setup at some (but not all) of their locations where you’re meant to approach the counter, yell at the fry cook what kind of fish you want, and then order your sides and drinks from the cashier. Not that unusual, but I feel rather uncomfortable yelling at some guy ten feet away from me that I want the fried halibut.

According to Wikipedia, the famous Katz’s deli in NYC has a system where a doorman hands you a numbered ticket, which you must then take with you to several different stations throughout the restaurant to order hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, drinks, etc. separately, whereupon the clerk at that counter marks your total on the ticket and you finally pay a cashier at the exit, which seems like a hopelessly convoluted way of doing things. They also charge you $50 if you lose your ticket along the way.

That’s to make sure the ‘cashier’ isn’t stealing money. The guy that actually handled the money was probably the owner or someone the owner trusted.

It’s the same reason festivals/fairs/carnivals sell tickets and then buy food/rides/games with the tickets. When the fair is supposed to get a cut of all vendor sales, they need some way of keeping track of it, the best way to do that is to keep the money until the end and make the vendors prove how much of it is theirs. Otherwise the ring toss stand is going to bring in $1000, tell the fair they brought in $800 and turn in some percentage of $800, pocketing $200. With tickets, he can’t do that.

I always feel kind of bad for people going into Chipotle for the first time. At mine, I’m practically done ordering by the time I walk up. They say HI! when I walk in the door, even if there’s a line, if there’s no line, by the time I get to the glass, they’ve already asked me what I’m getting and what kind of meat I want on it. They move so fast they almost don’t give you time to think.

Apparently this guy gets his undies in a bundle when the person in front of him orders too slow (a bit NSFW)

Portillo’s (largely Chicago-regional chain) has a complicated set of ownerships and family arrangements on the business end. This results in going into one and wanting two hotdogs and a chopped salad but the hotdogs need to be ordered from the Portillo’s register and the salad from the Barnelli’s sub-restaurant with its own line and register. So either you and your partner have to split up or you have to wait in two lines. This isn’t anything obvious from just looking at the lines and something you need to just experience to get used to. Annoys my wife every time though since she wants a salad.

To add insult to injury, if you order through the drive-through, they handle an order for two hotdogs and a chopped salad just fine. It’s only inside that it becomes a matter of restaurant bureaucracy.

I never had that problem at Starbucks, but I have had to deal with it at Tijuana Flats. I order a medium burrito. They ask me if I mean the Tijuana size. Um…I don’t know! I want that makes a normal lunch for someone who doesn’t routinely order the large portion.

I mentioned this in another thread about Starbucks, but I’ll mention it here too, since I found it a confusing ordering practice.

I ordered a green tea at Starbucks recently. They promptly made me an iced green tea. When I saw them start mixing it up, I tried to stop them, but they weren’t listening. They finally turned back to me, and I explained I wanted a HOT green tea. Apparently, the “standard” green tea order is iced, and you have to specify hot.

The kids once asked me to take them to Cheeburger Cheeburger. They had gone there several times with friends and I just had to experience it.

That place is annoying.

No, I don’t want to piece together my order by choosing every component of my salad, then my burger, then my dessert. I just want a burger.

Here is their menu

Note how they proudly point out that they provide over 8,721,000 burger combinations. That is just annoying IMHO. Of those combos, 80% of them are probably nasty and the remainder are probably subtle variants on three basic good burgers.

“Short” is technically the smallest; it’s an 8-oz size, and I think they only have hot cups for that. Plus the cardboard sleeves don’t fit this cup, so it’s extra annoying in that fashion. I think the standards on the menu are “tall” / “grande” / “venti” for small/medium/large, and “trenta” is the new 30-oz supersize cup.

I was at a Chipotle in Chicago, and I think some guy who’d never seen one before came in. I think he basically wanted a soul-food-style meal, and they made up a beans-and-rice bowl with some meat on the side for him.

That wouldn’t account for it, though… I can understand the owner not trusting the minimum-wage guy to handle money, but then, why have him at all? If the owner is going to be manning a station himself, why not just make it an ordinary single register?

I’m not sure, possibly to make sure you can’t skip out without paying.
How about Coldstone Creamery. Only went there once. “Would you like to watch me mix your ice cream” “Not really” “That’ll be $9.00” “Wha?”, I said to my (ex) wife and her friend “This was too much work, we’re going to 31 Flavors next time” That was probably 10 years ago and I haven’t been back since.

Yep, that’s Katz. But the pastrami is worth the hassle, trust me.