Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area
by Paul Singer - MD,
London Fine Dining Group
There was a time when a man in uniform, with a smart hat, opened doors for you and helped you to your car with your shopping. But those days have long since evaporated, unless you do your weekly shop at Harrods in which case you probably already have your own man in uniform, or two.
Now, the emphasis is on self-help. You can even attempt to diagnose your own medical symptoms on NHS Direct but before you go to Boots claiming to have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and asking for a plaster, be prepared for their computer to ask another computer for a second opinion.
You are even supposed to supply your own carrier bag, in the interests of saving the planet. It's called a Bag for Life (and if I hear any more jokes about ex-wives, the Ex-Wives Club will be alerted and take immediate action with a frying pan). The idea is that you purchase a plastic carrier bag which is supposed to last you for life. Really? In most cases, it barely lasts until you reach the car park before the handles ping off and the contents are deposited on the tarmac. How green is that? Very, if the contents include Fairy Liquid or Lime Juice.
So having purchased and
remembered to bring your own carrier bag with you, you are presented with a
checkout choice. Go for the human option and have your shopping catapulted down
a fast moving conveyor belt faster than you can see or catch it, or, go solo and try to do a bit of DIY with the scanner.
Looks easy enough. But don't be fooled. Those checkout ladies who didn't make it as far as X-Factor, have had years of practice. As has that posh lady who says "Checkout Number 4 please". She is everywhere. The post office, the airport, the supermarket... or it could be that she has several sisters: Number 1, Number 2 and Number 3?
It's all about bar codes. No code - no can do. You might recognise the item as a cucumber and so might the friendly human supervisor who has to guard the self-checkout area. It might even say the word Cucumber on it and even have the price printed on it, but all that makes no difference. Without a bar code it might as well be a spaceship (Special Offer: 2 for £99 million at Asda, right now until Sunday).
What they don't tell you is that the so-called fast lane is really the slow lane because DIY takes far longer (as any woman will tell you - I will finish putting up those shelves... next week - promise).
When that man designed the supermarket with 39 checkouts, he was only joking. You're never going to see more than a handful of staff operating them because it's easier and cheaper to let the punters do their own checking out with their own bags. Soon we will be baking our own bread too. And slicing our own bacon.
And these self-checkouts are clever. I took a free Evening Standard into Boots and when I put it into my bag (without scanning it) the machine refused to play ball, announcing in a loud and very public voice "Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area". Even after I took my free newspaper back out of the bag, it steadfastly refused to carry on until a supervisor with a password longer than the ones used to launch a nuclear missile was entered to authorise me to continue. So there's no chance of bypassing the system, or is there?
The man next to me in Sainsburys, who looked like a student (long beard, no sleep, holding a placard about student loans), seemed to have a system. He weighed a mango but when it asked what the item was, he put potato. Clever. Provided he had done his sums correctly and a mango cost more than a potato, pound for pound (remember pounds?).
A London restaurant even now has the menu projected onto the table so customers can do their own ordering. No need for a pesky waiter to take your order or get it wrong.
So where will it all end? We already have self check-in at the airport, self check-out at the supermarket, ATMs to get your own cash, NHS direct to diagnose your own ailments. How about self-burial? You place your deceased relative in a metal drawer, insert your credit card, select your preferred music track, and hey presto, in a few minutes ashes to ashes ....