There’s a little Brazilian restaurant near my apartment that I walk by almost every day. On each table is a curious little mechanical signal positioned between the place settings. It’s a simple dial that can be switched between two messages in Portuguese: A large red NÃO OBRIGADA (Not Required) on one half, and on the other a bright green SIM POR FAVOR (Yes Please).
I’m not an expert on Brazilian culture but from what I understand this is supposed to serve as an adumbration. The waiters keep bringing skewers of grilled meat to your table until you tell them to back off by turning the dial from green to red.
From a service design perspective this is the equivalent of hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door, but in this context it seems absurdly inelegant. There’s something graceful about a waiter who anticipates your unspoken needs, watching your body language and stepping in at precisely the right moment. This on the other hand seems tactless and explicit. On top of that, the touchpoint is constructed out of cheap enameled aluminum. They could at least try something that fits the decor of the restaurant like wood or ivory.
I’ve seen design projects that attempt to handle this kind of thing more implicitly, like smart coasters that detect the decreasing weight of your glass and gradually illuminate, but they’re still no match for a good waiter. Maybe it’s a cultural bias, but I prefer the subtle gestures of traditional etiquette.