Sunday, April 11, 2010

Please don't call it a system

Our Villa in Tuscany

The Italians invented Parmigiano-Reggiano and Chianti for which I will always love them but they are not good at logistics. They have invented what could be the world’s worst system for selling things to travelers in motorway restaurants.

We experienced this horror twice. On the first occasion we stopped somewhere outside Padova for a coffee and a snack and fought our way through crowds of smokers to the entrance. We were then swept up by a seething horde of hungry Italians and propelled with some force into the maelstrom which purported to be a restaurant and snack bar but which resembled a Rugby Maul comprised principally of violent thugs intent on causing physical harm to their opponents. All that was lacking was clubs with spikes.

We clung together but had little control over our movements and were eventually spun off out of the vortex and ended up cowering in the corner next to the entrance. We regrouped and studied the situation with some care and finally worked out what the system was – although it would be wrong to call it a system in the sense of a system being something that functions to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

On one side there are counters with a vast array of food, drinks and coffee. On the other side there are cashiers. These are placed so that the cashiers impede – very effectively – any access to the food by clients coming through the front turnstiles.

So to get to the food the starving patrons have to fight their way through the hordes of people waiting at the cashiers. They must then fight their way to the front of the heaving mass at the food counters to see the delicacies that they would like to acquire. Committing these to memory they must them claw their way back to the cashiers and reel off the names of the delectable substances and drinks they wish to acquire.

Clutching a ticket they then club their way back to the food counter to present what remains of the ticket to the food providers. The same process is required for coffee as each area specialises.

They then consume this where they stand – or outside –or wherever they damn well please – no one cares. They are then free to pay money to visit the toilets or leave by winding through long corridors of the shop past rows of biscuits, drinks, chocolates and everything else under the sun until they are ejected stunned and blinking into the sunlight and thanking god for deliverance from the unholy place they have just survived.

We were better the second time and formed a flying wedge with Christine at the head and Cate playing breakaway to take advantage of any gaps that opened up.

Some people don’t get to eat. We saw a French family get spun around three times shouting ‘Au Secours’ before they were deposited sobbing, still famished and almost lifeless back into the car park. They fired up the Peugeot and headed back to France Tout de Suite.

When we continued our drive we tried to think of a way that we could make the system more inefficient than it is – but failed. I think the Italians have nailed it with what they have done and it is a system from hell that may never be equaled.

But - the food is very good and not at all like the gruesome sludge and curly cheese sandwiches that infest the roadside diners in Australia.

Oh – and we had a fabulous time in Tuscany. More about this soon.


  1. I think America needs more of this "exercise" to eat method. Yes, it sounds horrible, but, if we had to physically move our bodies to get our food (I mean more than flexing our fingers to dial the phone to order a pizza) we may not be in the sad shape (round) that we are in.
    And I hope those French folks found a McDonalds or something... :) Har har

  2. Welcome back!
    So good to hear that you had a good time in Tuscany. :-)

    I love Autogrill (or Pavesi, as it was called in the old days)!
    One Euro and twenty cents for a fabulous cappuccino, can you beat that? ;-)

  3. What's so hard about people coming in, sitting down, and placing an order with a server? Why do some countries make everything so damned difficult?

  4. Oh, this was hilarious... reminded me of the rugby scrums I had to bravely take part in to buy train tickets/ lunch/ shampoo in China. This is why we have elbows ;)

  5. I beg your pardon... I would place the Aussie roadside sandwich purchase up there with the best. Our plastic sandwich containers have as many dirty fingerprints and will last just as long in the landfill as anyones!

  6. Steph,
    this is not a Kaffeehaus, but a roadside coffee place.
    Usually they work well, you enter, give your order, pay and procede to the counter, where you get swiftly served.

    There must have been a busload pouring in or something of that order, when Philip was there, so many people would overwhelm any place.

    I love the Autogrill rest stops, and even the parcours through the aisles, I usually buy my souvenirs there: Parmiggiano cheese aged 30 months, vine or Nutella in beautiful giant glass containers.

  7. Merisi,

    I've never been to one of these places but judging by Phillip's description it's not just a matter of being overwhelmed by crowds on this particular occasion. The system itself seems fundamentally flawed. If you have to tell the cashier what you want without being able to point to it then that is a bonkers system. What if you don't know what it's called?