What if restaurants were run like airlines?

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By | February 28th, 2016

If you’ve booked an airline ticket recently, then you already know about its bizarre, counterintuitive rules. A round-trip ticket costs less than a one-way ticket. Change fees can be higher than the fare. Your miles don’t even belong to you.

Travel agent Al Hess immortalized this absurdity in the classic If airlines sold paint essay more than two decades ago, and it continues to inspire others.

One of them is reader Bill Knecht, who imagines what would happen if airlines ran a restaurant.

One Friday evening, a couple arrives at a restaurant for dinner. They go up to the host at the front.

Man: “Hello, we are the Carters and we have a 7 p.m. reservation.”

Host: “Hello. Welcome to United Delta American Restaurant. We are running a little behind tonight, so we anticipate that we can seat you around 9 p.m.”

Man: “What? A two-hour delay? Why?”

Host: “No one seems to know. These things happen. If you like, have a seat over there in the waiting area and we’ll call you when your table is ready.”

Man: “I can’t believe this. We should just leave and find somewhere else, but at this hour on Friday that could take forever. OK, we’ll wait.”

Host: “Very good, sir. Please follow me.” He leads the couple to a loud, crowded room with uncomfortable chairs. Half the people are talking loudly on their cell phones. Noisy children are running around everywhere. In the corner there are vending machines selling soft drinks and snacks.


Finally, about 9:15 the host comes in and says their table is ready. He leads the couple into another crowded, noisy room and directs them to a small wooden picnic table that already has six people sitting at it, including one crying baby and two obnoxious children. There are two very narrow spots on the bench seats that adults might be able to squeeze into.

Man: “What in the hell is this? You can’t expect us to sit here and try to have dinner! This is our anniversary and we expected much better than this!”

Host: “This is our Standard Economy Class seating. Anyone who books a reservation with us receives this class in order to save money. It’s for your own benefit. But if you prefer, we have other options available. If you would like additional legroom, we can move you up to a Preferred Economy Class table for only $50. If you want a table with fewer people, you can upgrade to a Business Class table, which has larger seats and only two other people there. That would only be $100 more.”

Man: “Are you out of your mind? This is our anniversary. We want a decent-sized private table in a quiet room!”

Host: “Excellent choice, sir. That is our First Class seating. I believe we have such a table available.”

Man: “How much more does it cost?”

Host: “I can’t give you an exact dollar amount. We just triple the cost of your meal, including drinks and wine. But it cannot be less than an additional $250.”



  • Alan Gore

    Then there’s the plus-size guy at the next table, who can come over and sit on your meal while you are still in the middle of eating it.

  • AJPeabody

    What, no salt and pepper fee?

  • Extramail

    Don’t forget that the restaurant could be closed when you show up for your pre-paid meal because the cook had already worked too many hours or the weather was bad at the shipping docks where your food was being shipped in. You might also have to sit next to a “comfort” dog, cat, snake, pig, etc.

  • The Original Joe S

    QUIET! Don’t give ’em any ideas!

  • KarlaKatz

    Just like those “free” 3 rice crackers tossed to your lap from the beverage cart, S&P are complimentary.

  • In Romania, McDonald’s charges for each ketchup pack they give you. Let’s hope that’s one idea that doesn’t travel.

  • Carchar

    After they finished renovating terminal C, eliminating a couple of my preferred sit-down (not food court) restaurants, I decided to try one of the new ones. The server showed me how to order. It was a more upscale restaurant, but I was to use the electronic menu that was affixed to the table. I had to punch in all my choices and then swipe my credit card to pay. Included was a mandatory 18% tip. I stopped short of paying. I told the server that I was sorry, but I was not going to be forced to tip a certain amount, while getting less service. I might as well walk up to a counter in the food court. I was not nasty to the man. It was not my idea of a full service restaurant.

    In the terminal renovations, they have decided to be even less passenger-friendly, by taking out the moving walkways. One long walkway has been replaced by a long central bar, where people can drown their sorrows of flying instead of getting a little leg relief.

  • Steve Rabin

    Or “since we had higher than expected demand, we will give you a voucher for a ‘free’ meal (up to $50, and good luck finding anything on the menu for less than $150) if you agree to eat dinner at around, say, breakfast time tomorrow.” But that voucher isn’t good at night or on weekends or any other time you might want to use it.

  • Blamona

    Too funny- I bet you had a blast writing it!

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Which airport?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Probably due to some getting the idea from Tom Hanks’ character in Terminal on how to survive with little cash at the airport. :-)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    One of my all time favorite stories. While stuck at Heathrow on delay, British Airways gave me a wonderful voucher and I foolishly used it on McD’s. I don’t know why I didn’t choose something more local, but I got this story out of it.

    I ordered a full big mac meal and the fries were COATED with this crystalline substance (salt.) I got a heart attack looking at it and the gal informed me that there was more salt if I needed it.

  • Carchar

    Newark – EWR

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Hehehe. I haven’t been in that region for a long time. Dulles and Reagan are actually quite nice to fly out of. Fort Lauderdale had some wonderful restaurants at affordable prices (albeit, the terminals are a bit old. But there are some wonderful 80’s style art-deco lighting I hope they don’t renovate away!)

    Newark and JFK are airports I would avoid because they have a rep as being huge theft holes (luggage and TSA screening theft).

  • judyserienagy

    THIS is hysterical! Really brings home how this current mess with the airlines got started … one little bit at a time, never backing down, always progressing with more fees. Gotta hand it to the airlines, that’s for sure. I’m sure every airline board meeting begins with a champagne toast to the idiot customers who continue to purchase their product.