After my daughter’s hockey practice last night, we decided to hit up Steak ’n’ Shake for dinner. We hadn’t been inside one since before Covid hit and boy were we surprised.
The register at the front counter was now a self order kiosk and there were no servers in the dining area at all. You could not get counter service. Instead of the server’s station, there now is a large self serve drink fountain and an area for you to pick up your food. There were only two employees behind the counter and they said that the entire chain had gone server-less some time ago.
This was a shock because they had run an 18 year ad campaign championing themselves as a ‘restaurant’, not a ‘workaraunt’. It was the last place I expected for this to happen.
More and more businesses are replacing servers and employees with self order kiosks and tablets. At Chili’s, they sit you down without menus and expect you to order through the table tablet. Publix, the most customer service centered business I’ve ever encountered, now has self check-out stations in their newer stores. I guess it’s all just a matter of time before everyone converts.
Steak ’n’ Shake has been losing money since 2015, but was able to become debt free last year by permanently closing 82 locations and temporarily suspending operations at 57 others. Converting company owned locations into franchise owned restaurants has helped them as well. Going server-less has helped them decrease labor costs which they say is going to be reinvested into remodeling their locations.
My daughter and I decided to stay. We placed our order, got our drinks, and waited for our number to be called. Not at all the dining experience we were expecting, but the food was reasonably priced, and it was delicious as always. The only thing missing was a vanilla Coke. They haven’t got all the bugs worked out yet, but I’m sure a Coke Freestyle machine will be introduced there in the future.
I have a lot of fond memories of Steak ’n’ Shake. My mom took my brother and I when we were really young and when I heard ‘steakburger’, I thought I was going to have an actual piece of steak on a bun. Well, where I was disappointed in the presentation, I was amazed by my palate. Ground up steak served hot and juicy with cheese and a pile of shoestring fries. It became my favorite burger immediately. Over the years, my shadow has graced its presence there with friends from high school, classmates from college, krewe mates after a parade, and then with my own children, folding the paper hat to wear while scribbling on a coloring page with crayons. Seemingly without fail, our servers were friendly and patient, especially during those late night meals…..
So, yeah. This little piece of now-restaurant history hit me in the feels. They are now just another food service place without a face, without the character and energy of its servers. They are the ones that made the place. I’ll go back because quite frankly, I love that burger. However it will not resonate the same. This place used to be a little slice of heaven for me, hearkening back to days gone by, but no longer. It’s sad, but that just means a new tradition will take its place and if they have vanilla Cokes, all the more better. I just hope that those robot bartenders never become a commonplace thing, otherwise I’m going to run out of reasons to leave the house.