Of course there's something to be said for restaurant staff remembering the temperature at which you prefer your tap water served, or that you never order appetizers but always ask for two nut-free desserts. But sometimes you can be regular and no one will ever know your name, anticipate any needs, or even leave you feeling particularly good about yourself, and that's just fine.
I've been lumbering down the steps to Yip's, a fluorescently lit, always crowded, steam table Chinese buffet in the Financial District nearly once a week for five years. It's cheap ($5.39 per pound and $4.49 after 1:45 p.m.) and greasy as you would expect. Spending even one second longer than necessary to put a tong-full of wrinkled string beans and syrupy roast pork in a plastic clamshell container would be shameful — and the two women working the counter enable your rapid departure by being models of inhuman efficiency. I don't know if being called a cyborg is complimentary, but when you need to get your junk food lunch and be back at your desk in under five minutes, it doesn't hurt to have cyborgs on your side.
I don't know their names. They don't know mine. It's not a language barrier that prevents chit chat. The line must move. Small containers go on the scale on the left, big ones on the right, your total is shouted by the first woman you encounter, and the order gets bagged with napkins and a plastic fork and knife (no spoons--the utensil was probably determined to be superfluous and its exclusion shaves a millisecond from each transaction) then piled up while the lady manning the cash register a few feet over makes change. The thing is, the cashier never mixes up orders and she has the nickels and dimes ready to go at least four customers back because no one can pay at a pace that keeps up. The line may stretch 15 deep and they clear it within a minute or two. Even when someone steps out of line after getting to the front and goes back and forth to the buffet twice to add a piece of sesame chicken or barbecue sparerib to hit the $5.39 threshold for a free can of soda, it doesn't slow down.