Monday, June 14, 2010


An old friend from England was in town; author, anthropologist and all round style tribe guru Ted Polhemus. He was here to lecture on the semiotics of denim (don’t ask).

When I say “in town,” he was actually in Santa Monica, a place I don’t know all that well, and so when we set off to find somewhere for lunch, for one reason or another we ended up on Santa Monica pier at theme restaurant called Bubba Gump’s. It’s a chain, and maybe you’ve heard of it, but I hadn’t. It was evidently inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, and although I’ve seen the movie, it was a long time ago, and I’d more or less forgotten about the shrimp boat part.

Of course the food snob in me hesitated at the prospect of a heaving, theme restaurant, a tourist place, full of large family groups with howling children and a lot of dropped shrimp on the floor. But you know, food snobbery is unattractive in anybody, and especially in a food blogger. So I decided to go with it.

And you know, really, the food wasn’t bad. Ted (see above) had the Shrimper's Net Catch “Our best Peel'n'Eat Shrimp steamed in Beer - You and your crew will be begging for more!" I had the Dixie Fishwich “Forrest and Lt. Dan had one everyday!”

And the ambiance? Well yes, it was loud and hectic, but if you got the right table, which we did, i.e. one by the window, you can see all the way north along the coast of Santa Monica Bay, with the mountains in the background, so you get a million dollar view to go with your ten dollar fish sandwich. That’s really not such a bad deal.

The waiting staff was efficient and efficient, and seemed supernaturally happy, which can’t be easy. But the best feature of all was a thing on the table that looked like a car’s license plate. When you sit down it’s in this position,

That means you don’t need anything from the waiting staff and they can run right by you. But then other times you can flip the plate up and reveal this one underneath.

This means that any waiter who happens to be passing – not just yours – will stop and ask what you need. “Another Hefenweizen, please.”

I think this is the most wonderful dining innovation: no more trying to catch the eye of some distracted waiter. The sign, the signifier if you will, is right there on the table. Of course, given some of the restaurants I’ve been in, a license plate might be too subtle. How about a light, like on the roof of a taxi, and maybe it should be flashing, or the could be flag you could raise, or a small distress flair you could launch, that could return to earth by parachute, with the message, “Actually, make that two Hefenweizens.”


  1. I was in Santa Monica last weekend (I live in Vancouver, Canada), and when we wandered on to the pier and saw that restaurant, my husband said, "Oh lord. My parents better not see that place or that's where we're having supper." When we met up with them later, they told us happily that's where they'd had lunch.

  2. Those license plates are a great idea. Though now I wonder if there is any causality between the signs and the "supernaturally" happy staff.

    It seems that being able to address whatever needs are in your field of vision, knowing that "your" tables are covered by other staff if need be, could be quite a stress reliever for the staff. With everyone working all the tables, tips must surely be pooled and evenly distributed, and the efficiency of the system should theoretically lead to happier diners and decent tipping.

    Knowing what a weird clusterfornication most restaurants (especially chain restaurants) are from the staff perspective, I'm curious to see how the Bubba Gump employees really feel about this system.