Booze memory of waiters in Buenos Aires

Photo by Flickr user Sarah Severson. Click for sourceThe Guardian’s Improbable Research column covers a clever study on the incredible memory of waiters in Buenos Aires who can take orders from a large table of customers without writing anything down.

Instead of coming up with some abstract computerised lab task, the researchers tested their drink ordering skills and then swapped places to test how they were remembering all the orders.

Eight customers sat at a table, and ordered drinks. When the waiter brought the beverages, the scientists tallied up how many were served to the people who had ordered them, and how many delivered to someone else. All the waiters performed admirably.

The customers later ordered more drinks, then switched seats before the waiter returned. This produced dreary results. The scientists tried this on nine waiters, only one of whom consistently delivered drinks to the right people.

Interviewed afterwards, waiters said they generally paid attention to customers’ locations, faces and clothing. They also disclosed a tiny trick of the trade. They “did not pay attention to any customer after taking a table’s order, as if they were protecting the memory formation in the path from the table to the bartender or kitchen.”

Link to Improbable Research column on the study.
pdf of scientific paper.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

3 Comments

  1. Mark Kawakami
    Posted August 18, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Somewhat off topic, but my favorite waiter story involves a remarkable memory. I was at a restaurant in Las Vegas with a friend and his family. They ordered some wine (they know their wines), which was really good. Fast forward to about a year later. We go to the same restaurant, and get the same waiter. He says “You know what? We’ve got one bottle left of the wine you ordered last time, would you like me to bring it out for you?”
    The guy remembered not only a specific party of people, but which wine they ordered a year previously. I couldn’t believe it.

  2. nonhocapito
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    yes! more warm water’s discovery! congratulations!

  3. Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This has changed my perception of waiting staff. It hadn’t occurred to me how distracting it could be for them when I try and catch their eye and I felt irritated if I was ignored. Now I understand the reason for it.
    Someone on my blog commented that the best way to get their attention is to raise your hand. The waiter will see it out of the corner of his eye while and will come back to you as soon as he can.
    I do enjoy Mind Hacks.


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