Self-Service Revolution or the Worst Meal I’ve Ever Bought?

I fought off anxious flashbacks yesterday to the least satisfying meal I’ve ever exchanged for hard currency. These memories were not a welcome intrusion. We live in complex times. But anxiety is a blunt instrument – it doesn’t distinguish between wondering whether the coffee maker is still on and fear of unemployment.

A trip to Harvard Square sent me back to my experience at a restaurant called “Fire and Ice,” an “improvisational grill” that lets customers design their own dishes, wait on themselves promptly, maintain control over the pace and substance of their meals. These are tasks, of course, that most other restaurants pay the professionals to do.

My own improvisational ride involved roaming around a table of possible ingredients as I questioned my femininity (the other women seemed confident with cabbage) and tried to get the few employees I could find to smile at my discomfort. To their credit, they didn’t bite. And one of them transformed my sad mix of vegetables and raw chicken into a warm, Salmonella-free meal. Still, I sulked as I ate the mediocre dinner I’d helped to create, confused that everyone around me seemed energized and satisfied. Couldn’t I cook myself bad food in the comfort and privacy of my own home? What was I paying for? Even yesterday, when the competition for discretionary income is as fierce as its been in my lifetime, the place was jumping.  Frances, I know you have a thing for self-service, but I think the right service decision in this case would have been to save me from myself.

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