It’s got a provocative name, a provocative menu and yet it’s the service style that’s catching some attention at the new S&M Sausage and Meat.
Scott Slater generated knockout sales at his seven-unit Slater’s 50/50 chain (stores take in $4.5 million to $6 million annually) with its half-bacon-half-beef burgers. He knew that venturing outside of traditional style of service would help attract young, local hipsters to his latest concept, the just-opened S&M in San Diego.
He wanted to create an “experimental, ever-changing” concept targeted at millennials, a demographic who considers dining to be about the complete experience, he says. And what he, among other restaurant operators, has realized of late is that friction—the metaphorical rubbing between waitstaff and guest—is not always welcome, not even at a concept called S&M. So he shook up the way guests and servers interact, taking control of the dining experience out of the servers’ hands and giving guests the reins.
Guests not bellying up to the full-service Swine Bar go the fast-casual route at S&M. They place orders up front at the “concierge desk,” and are then handed a set of color-coded cards and directed to seat themselves at one of the communal tables. It’s those cards that tell servers, internally called “experts,” what the guest wants at any given moment:
A white card displayed by a guest alerts servers to come greet the customer and explain the S&M system.
A teal card lets the servers walking around know that the diner needs some assistance, whether it’s placing more orders, refilling drinks or something else.
A brown card tells servers to back off. No contact necessary.
A yellow card signals a guest is ready to close out his or her tab. To make this process quick and seamless, diners leave a tab open at the concierge desk when they initially place orders.
“It’s different than any other dining experience,” says Slater. And it’s this shift in control of the interaction that eliminates negative friction and leads to a more positive overall experience for the guest, he says.