Pulse: Chatter: Restaurants: Say Cheese!

Where your dinner and Big Brother intersect

In these high-tech times, the fact that you may be videotaped by hidden cameras while you dine in your favorite restaurant may not be as surprising as it is creepy. But more and more restaurants are going the surveillance route. Melissa Scully, director of operations for Garces Restaurant Group, points cameras at entrances of all five of Jose Garces’s places, for security. The owner of one upscale Main Line restaurant has no fewer than nine cameras installed in his place. “It makes you feel comfortable that you can see what’s going on,” he says.

Generally, restaurant cameras have been used for obvious stuff: to capture incidents—or non-incidents—for insurance purposes, and for theft prevention. Stephen Doohan of Country Video in Lafayette Hill, who has installed elaborate mini-camera systems in more than a dozen area restaurants, says bar profits invariably rise once a camera begins recording the flow of booze and cash between employees and patrons. “A lot of bartenders think they’re your partner,” he likes to remind owners.

Turning the cameras on tables is the newer development: Our Main Line restaurateur says he does watch diners live via laptop when he’s not in the building: “I look around the dining room and get a sense of whether it’s busy, how quickly people are being served.” And yes, the technology does let him note any boldface names in the room. “You can see a fork on the floor,” he says. While restaurateurs still likely care more about that fork than the guy who dropped it, in this surveillance society, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision where this could be headed. Consider Doohan’s advice: “Married men: Don’t bring your girlfriend.”