By my humble estimation, we business types waste a gazillion hours a year waiting for the check after business lunches. That's a ton of money in billable hours.
Your waiter doesn't want to be rude and throw it down early. But then it's hard to find him when it's time to get back to work. What could we do that would work universally and cost a restaurant little or nothing to implement?
When I posed this question to Inc. readers online, the ideas came flowing in. Many of you took the technological approach: There were apps to let you pay when you're ready to go, tables with built-in iPads, pagers for the wait staff, that sort of stuff.
All viable but potentially pricey. One popular--and inexpensive--solution I liked was a take on churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse model, which involves a red-and-green card that customers flip over as a signal to waiters. (Green means, "Keep the meat coming." Red means, "I give! Make it stop!") Some of my favorite ideas took that concept a step further.
Clever Cards, Lisa Brack, Easton, Maryland
Purchase a cardholder for each table and use card stock to make signs. One side would say, "Welcome" (or a Chuck Norris joke, dumbest quote by a famous person, etc.). The other side would say, "Check, please!" and list the table number.
The customer turns the card over when he or she is ready for the check. The managers and wait staff could always keep an eye out for those "Check, please!" cards.
CAL: Not only does this solve the problem, but it lets the restaurant express its brand personality. Plus, the cards are very cheap to implement and could be used to advertise specials.
Colored Napkins, Sheena Lee, Fairfax, Virginia
Restaurants could have bright-colored cloth napkins that contrast with the color of the tablecloth. The universal sign of being finished with a meal is to leave your napkins on the table, so the bright colors would provide a visual cue for the wait staff that customers are ready for their check.
CAL: This idea is both simple and relevant to business class. (If you're going to restaurants without napkins, you probably already paid for lunch right after you said, "Supersize it!")
It might also be fun to give only one person at the table a colored napkin and charge him or her with the responsibility of waving the flag to summon the check.
Time Slots, Shruti Akipeddi, New Delhi, India
Similar to hotels, restaurants could have a fixed checkout time. During the three-hour window when lunch is served, customers choose from three options: 20 minutes, 40 minutes, and an hour.
The restaurant would come up with a fixed menu for each time slot. The 20-minute slot will have a quick bite, the 40-minute slot will have one more dish, and so on. That way, maximum time is spent on enjoying the food and not on deciding what to order.
Customers will be served the bill 10 minutes before their time slot ends, to give them time to settle up. I think this schedule would create a more relaxing lunchtime for the customer, because many decisions are eliminated. And the restaurant will be able to handle more customers and minimize customer waiting.
CAL: The problem got turned on its head with this offbeat prix-fixe approach to the business lunch. Sure, this system could be tricky to implement--and not all customers will like the idea of dining with a time limit--but it sounds like fun to me.
Want to participate in Cal's next challenge? Go to www.inc.com/challenge. We'll publish the best ideas in an upcoming issue.