waiter, could you wait please?
Remember when restaurant servers were called waiters? No? Well maybe we should return to that moniker because naming things accurately matters; words can create reality or delude it [see: dude! wow man, you guys are really cool!].
Recently my quasi and I were having a heated discussion in a local restaurant, written to distinguish from some conglomerate joint because even though I very, very rarely eat at them, I’ve unfortunately seen the “quality” of server hired there. Corporate believes anyone can be trained into a good server. Not so.
Recommence narrative where the quasi and I are in silent stare-down like two feral 3:00 a.m. cats but without the yowling. Out of the corner of my locked eyes I see the server approaching our table apparently because we weren’t continuously stuffing fork in mouth. Our atmosphere had to be as thick as the salmon chowder they were offering and still she obliviously singsongs, “Everything okay here?” to which I snap, “NO!” stare-down still going. At which point Clueless finds one and vanishes.
Before you get all judgy on me, I’ve been a server/bartender on and off from the ages of 18 to 45. I’ve done my time with all sorts of folks in all sorts of situations.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from my European family and friends about eating out in U.S. establishments is that the servers aren’t waiters; they’re “friends.” We go out to converse with each other, to eat, and not particularly to chat it up with servers unless, of course, they are our friends.
What encompasses good service, IMHO?
First, read your table. If “established” couples appear to have nothing left to say to each other then go ahead and chitchat. If people are discussing philosophy, art, politics…unobtrusively refill water, remove empty plates (see below) and don’t interrupt even if their beer is empty. Wait, hence the title: waiter. Position yourself nearby but not nervously, and frequently glance—not stare—at your tables. If we need you, I assure you our eyes will meet. If a couple is quarreling, stay away right up until one of them gets up to stalk out or you can see sunshine glimmering in the tempest. If guests arguing (or making out) upset you, then you probably shouldn’t be a server.
Secondly, I’m here to enjoy my meal, not feel like I’m being rushed through the experience so don’t bring out my next course until I’m finished with the dish I’m on. Where do you think you’re going to put that plate? There’s one in front of me already!
Third, do not reach for the almost empty plate regardless of your “training” or your angst. Many of us like to pause, discuss and lean back between bites and none of that automatically means we’re done with our food.
Leaving, I apologized to Clueless for flaring up and she replied, “That’s okay,” except it’s not. Too bad it didn’t occur to her to express her regrets for cutting in on us as if we were “things” to scratch off her to-do list. That’s not service.