The Language Barrier of Dining Out

Let’s talk about immigrantsThe immigrant story” is an integral part of American society one that is often filled with hardship. But we are not here to talk about immigrant laws or institutional oppression. Let’s focus, instead, on a simple eating out experience. 

A person walks into a restaurantThey are taking forever to pay as the cashier can’t seem to understand what the customer is saying. The people waiting in line get impatient. The cashier gets irritatedThe cashier calls for the next customerDid the first person get served at all? Even if they did, why aren’t they getting their food as fast as that person behind them who ordered the exact same thing? Is it a mere coincidence or discrimination?  

This is an extreme case, but this kind of experience is certainly not unheard of among first-generation immigrants in AmericaMany of these immigrants do speak English, just not perfect English. But that is enough to affect their experience at restaurants in ways native speakers could probably never imagine. Perhaps explicit discrimination based on someone’s accent is getting rarer these days, but immigrants still suffer from the slight frustration on the cashier’s face, the dirty looks they get from people waiting behind them, as well as mistakes made on their orders due to misunderstanding caused by their imperfect pronunciation. No restaurant-goer wants such a difficult (or even humiliating) experience. Besides, should a person who doesn’t speak English be forbidden from ordering food at an American restaurant? One gets hungry regardless of their native language. 

And this is where self-ordering kiosks step in to change that narrative. With clearly outlined menus and high-resolution photos of food selections, self-ordering kiosks transcend language barriers. They eliminate verbal communication for immigrants who may get nervous ordering in a language that’s not their mother tongue or feel bombarded by how quickly the cashiers speak. While ordering with kiosks, immigrants don’t have to feel like they are exhausting someone’s patience. They don’t have to be ashamed for not knowing what, say, “sopaipilla” means on the menu, because there will be a photo showing them exactly what it is. They also don’t have to worry about getting the wrong food, since with kiosks they can double or triplecheck their orders without being frowned upon. 

The simple truth is this: a kiosk does not discriminate. It doesn’t know nor care about your accent or skin color. You can speak English with a Klingon accent and still a kiosk will serve you to your heart’s content.  

Of course, self-ordering kiosks by no means eliminate discrimination against immigrants. But they do present a baby-step solution to make immigrants’ day-to-day experience in America a little bit easier