Yesterday I had my first experience of ordering at Chipotle. (/tʃɨˈpoʊtleɪ/) The food itself was great, but the process of buying it was frustrating because I could barely hear what the servers were saying. It was kind of loud in the restaurant, and the acoustics didn’t really help: we were basically speaking to each other through a piece of solid glass, absorbing everything either of us said.
One possible solution would be for all the servers to carry loudhailers and speak to all customers through them. This would be a little patronising, not to mention loud. It could well make the situation worse, in fact, since multiple concurrent orders would be interrupted by the noise of each other.
Another solution would be to aim microphones in the general direction of the servers, install a hearing aid loop system, and issue all customers with free hearing aids. This would be prohibitively expensive, though. (Do you know how expensive hearing aids are?)
My solution is to issue every server with a pocket microphone, and an RFID card reader attached at waist level. The edge of the counter on the server side has uniquely-identified RFID cards attached at very regular intervals. On the customer side, the same number of speakers minus one are attached.
As the server walks along the counter, the reader registers the cards, sends a wireless signal to a control computer, which activates the two speakers corresponding to the server’s current position, and connects them with the server’s pocket microphone. (It also deactivates whatever speakers the microphone was previously connected to.)
This way, wherever the server walks along the counter, there are speakers amplifying their voice and nothing else, out to the exact point where it’s needed.
Questions you might be asking right now:
Why not put RFID readers on the counters, and cards on the servers?
There are probably more attachment points on the counter than servers, and RFID cards are cheaper than readers.
But you could eliminate the control computer if you did it that way, and computers are expensive!
Why not just attach microphones regularly along the counters, each connected to one speaker?
This would amplify all noise behind the counter, including the various noises that make it hard to hear in the first place.
Why not just ask the server to speak up?
Why specifically Chipotle?
I’ve never had this problem at Subway or any other fast food chain with an ‘assembly-line’–style ordering process. But it could work anyway.