left foot blue, right hand green

One of the subtler, but more important, aspects of architecture has to do with creating legible, navigable space. (The second quality follows from the first.) If you walk into a space, you should be able to discern immediately how to get to wherever you want to go. And those paths should correspond to the most likely needs most users of that space are likely to have.

So, for example, when you walk into a restaurant of the counter-ordering variety, it should be immediately obvious where you go to place your order, where the menus are, where you go to get your food, drinks, napkins, etc. Those elements should be arranged in a logical order.

Here’s an example of how not to do that. This image of a local restaurant is done from memory, so it’s probably not 100% accurate – but it’s accurate in its essentials (click to enlarge):

The dotted lines with arrows indicate one possible path through the restaurant. The heavy black dotted line indicates a portable barrier, one side of which is for people ordering salads, the other side of which is for people ordering other menu items. (And what if you or your party want both?) First problem: if you enter in the door indicated (which I did last time I was there), because of the table layout, a column in the center of the space, and that barrier, you have to circumnavigate the entirety of the restaurant (in fact, it would be quicker to go out the door and back in the other door). Then, once you’ve gone through the line and placed your order, you’re faced with another minor quandary: there’s no obvious space for people who’ve already ordered but are still waiting for their food. In practice, this means that when you’re waiting, every other person passing you by asks whether you’ve ordered yet. Once your food arrives, you have to walk past the self-serve soda machine to the cash registers to pay. Once you pay and get your soda cup, you have to double back to the soda machine (which also doubles up the crush of waiting people). Finally, if you’d prefer to drink your soda with a straw, the straws are clear over on the other side of the room – once more, past the cash registers.

This place seems to have been designed in an utterly piecemeal, arbitrary fashion. Yet if the space for the soda machine (and dessert display, not shown) were simply switched with the cash register space, almost everything would make sense and flow smoothly: order food, get food, pay for food, get beverage, get straws and napkins, go to table.

Another thing about that barrier: the logic is that it takes the staff longer to make sandwiches than to give customers the (pre-made) salads. Okay, fine. But the signage indicating where people should line up leaves something to be desired. At the end of the barrier there’s a sign, about three feet tall by two feet wide, telling people which side of the barrier is for salads and which is for other stuff. But perhaps in an effort to avoid the clumsy look of a big sign standing upright directly past an entrance, the sign was tilted downward about 60 degrees. This made it pretty legible if you were right in front of it – but approaching from any side (and given its position relative to one entrance, and with the other entrance requiring that roundabout approach), it wasn’t very visible. This explained why several customers ended up in the wrong line – and in fact, part of that was that only one or two of them wanted salad, while the majority wanted sandwiches etc. – and so, new people coming in and not seeing the sign naturally went into the shorter line. And of course, if they passed that sign without seeing it, they’d have no way of knowing they were in the wrong line. This led to confusion among the folks working the counter, since they were expecting salad orders and getting sandwich orders instead.

I think the salads should be somewhere near where the soda machine is now, between the sandwich-ordering area and where the cash registers should be – so while sandwich people are waiting for their orders, salad people could merely go up, order their salads (which, being pre-made, could just be handed to them), and go pay for them directly. Other places allow this sort of thing to be handled intuitively by customers: one person at the bagel shop is ordering a dozen mixed bagels and a sandwich that has to be made up, the other person who just wants to grab a chocolate chip cookie just goes ahead of the ordering area and grabs a cookie, placed next to the cash register, then pays for it and is gone before the complicated order is done being made.

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1 Comment

Filed under food, grump

One response to “left foot blue, right hand green

  1. yellojkt

    I hate to have to hunt down straws and napkins because they are in different places. Very frustrating.

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