Back before Dick Elliott appointed Frank Lee as executive chef of The Colony House, back even before Franz Meier, Chris Weihs and Harry Waddington made The Colony House a destination for continental cuisine, the downtown restaurant tried to establish itself as a local leader in high-tech efficiency.
In 1961, soon after The Colony House opened at Vendue Range and Concord Street, owner William Snipes purchased a set of broadcast receivers for the restaurant’s waitresses. “Radio-controlled waitresses are just about the latest thing in the restaurant business,” The Evening Post explained. “These damsels of the dining room are not automatons, but real flesh-and-blood women — wired for sound.”
The notion of creating better restaurants through science gripped the food-and-beverage industry in the years after World War II. Popular Mechanics in 1949 devoted an illustrated three-page spread to Ott’s Hamburgers in San Francisco, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. At Ott’s, a patty-molding machine spit out 800 burgers an hour and every step of the chicken-frying process was time-stamped. But speeding the pace of food production only called attention to inefficiencies in service, and ambitious business owners were determined to eliminate them.
“We now look upon food conveyance as a factory function, and the dish as nothing more than a container on a high-speed assembly line,” an engineer in 1961 explained to Barron’s. The story outlined a range of sophisticated upgrades being tested across the country, such as conveyor belts linking kitchens and dining rooms, and a Hobart dishwasher measuring “a quarter of a football field long.”
“It’s a real step saver,” Snipes said of the miniature broadcasting system at The Colony House, the second restaurant in the South to install the device. Snipes predicted service efficiency would improve by 30 percent once waitresses started wearing radios “about the size of a pack of king-sized cigarettes.”
Snipes played the role of the dispatcher, alerting waitresses via radio “when a customer looks in need of service of some kind.” Waitresses also were notified when orders were ready; Snipes mused he might eventually use the in-ear system to hold staff meetings while waitresses were on the floor.
“He said still one more use of the system is to page patrons with phone calls without disturbing the rest of the diners with public-address system,” the paper reported.
It’s not known when The Colony House abandoned its radio system.