Restaurant vexations

At least 90% of restaurant personnel routinely commit one or more of these uncivilized provocations:

1. “Hi, my name is Amy, and I’ll be your server this evening.” This strained, robotic introduction, which so many restaurants misguidedly force their waiters to utter, is intrusive and unnecessary. I truly don’t care what your name is, and it is perfectly obvious that you will be my server. Let’s just get on with it.

2. “How are we enjoying everything so far?” First of all, who is this “we”? When you mean “you,” just say “you.” Second, this blatant fishing for culinary compliments, typically timed to interrupt a perfectly pleasant table conversation, is annoying to those who are actually doing their best to enjoy everything. Either leave us alone or find a more refined way to ask the question. I’ve noticed, for example, that at better restaurants with well-trained personnel a waiter may ask, “Is everything prepared to your liking?” Phrased that way, the question is inoffensive, perhaps because it bespeaks a genuine concern for the diner’s satisfaction. And when the diner says that “everything is excellent” or the like, please do not  feel the need to exclaim “Awesome!” Artificial expressions of waiter enthusiasm depress my appetite and put me at risk of indigestion.

3. “Are you still working on that?” It is difficult to imagine a less dignified way to ask whether a diner would like his or her plate to be removed. “Working on that” implies that eating in this restaurant is a chore akin to cleaning the bathroom or taking out the trash. Nor am I fond of a common alternative, “May I get that out of the way for you?” That question suggests that what is in front of you on the table is interfering with your quality of life. A more refined approach is to ask, “Are you still enjoying your pasta?” Even that question, though, is problematic: it implies, perhaps falsely, that the diner has enjoyed the pasta already consumed. The direct approach is probably the best: “May I clear your plate?”

4. Clearing plates too aggressively. It is rude to clear plates sequentially, denuding the space in front of each diner in turn the instant he or she has finished the meal. First, it suggests that the restaurant is overly eager to free up the table for other guests. Second, it exerts subtle pressure on the diner’s companions to rush through the balance of their meals. The last one done often feels the need to apologize for being so slow. The more polite course is to wait until everyone at the table has finished and then clear all plates at the same time.


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Filed under Behavioral Quirks

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