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"How is everything?"

In Danny Meyer's book "Setting the Table" he repeatedly says that he is against servers asking "how is everything?"
I tend to agree with him. As a server I come to the tables often, make my presence know and sometimes will ask "is there anything else I can get for you right now? - once the food has been on the table for a few minutes.
On the other hand, I know that some people are less apt to speak their mind about their steak being undercooked or salad being overdressed if not asked first.
I would rather the customer leave happy with their overall experience (food and service) then suffer silently about something.
Just wondering how the CH public feels about this. Do you like it when a server asks if everything is alright? Is it irritating or does it give you a chance to state your potential problem more easily?

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  1. unless you are in Florida where the servers ask 'Is anything alright?' :0

    1. How is everything works for me right after the food comes out. If I get it 2 or 3 more times then I feel intruded upon. But once shows me that the server is available to solve any potential problem. What I find a little irritating is when I get "Hi my name is Chad. I'll be taking care of you tonight." Isn't that obvious?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Texchef

        Ditto the above. Asking the question about 3-5 minutes after food comes out works for me, which gives me a chance to have an actual answer. I certainly dislike "Chads", though.

        1. re: Texchef

          The best one of these I've heard was back when the dot-com bubble had just flamed out and lots of technical people were waiting tables. We had a waiter say "Hi. My name is Bill and I'm going to be your food transport service engineer tonight." Big tip for Bill.

        2. I'm fine with "how is everything?" Really, the only thing that bothers me is when the server is nowhere to be found. If there is a problem with a meal, I don't want to have to flag down someone to help me.

          5 Replies
          1. re: manraysky

            Always happens - every single time - never to me, but my sister. (!)
            The waiter, after serving the meal, will come back IMMEDIATELY afterwards and ask, "How's everything?" - to my sister, with a MOUTH FULL of food!!! LOL

            1. re: aurora50

              I'm in the same group as your sister, I've never once been asked unless I have just taken a bite of food.

              1. re: Scrapironchef

                Some waiters use the "two bite rule", after 2 bites the waiter asks if "everything is alright" and after that just give me some freakin' eye contact every once in a while! I know they're busy, but give me an acknowledgement if you see me staring you down (I know they can feel it...). They can easily give some body language, a finger up (index finger that is!) to say, "I'll be right there, just a sec".

                1. re: Lemonii

                  Yes, eye contact - that's my preferred method of getting a server's attention. And yes, sometimes they purposefully avoid my looks or gestures - sometimes I've even been known to wave my arms, airplane-style!!! LOL

                2. re: Scrapironchef

                  That's because you're in a restaurant to eat! A server would never be able to talk to a table if he/she tried to wait until everyone had nothing in their mouths. Yes, it's awkward and embarrassing for you and the server but there aren't a lot of options. I've had servers joke about it and say "It's an interview question at every restaurant to make sure we can ask questions as soon as a bite is taken" I thought it was a cute response.

            2. As a server I prefer saying "Are you enjoying your (specific dish)?" I try to do this within 4-5 minutes of serving food. I find it to be more personal and to the point. "Everything" may be OK but your"insert dish here" is fabulous/terrible and you're more likely to tell me if I ask about it specifically.

              14 Replies
              1. re: kimmer1850

                I can see that working with a table of two, but much more than that and it starts to get time consuming and cumbersome. Seems brilliant to me when i'm out with my wife because it ends up being something like "how are you enjoying your salmon?" followed by "and how is the steak, sir?" Beyond that, though, I have no issue at all with "how is everything" which I always read as an invitation to express any concerns about the food, ask for another drink, for water refills, etc.

                I agree with jfood below that being asked "how is everything" just as the food is being set down doesn't work; in that case "is there anything else I can bring you right now?" would seem more appropriate. Same deal if someone else brings the food out but the main server shows up to check in before anyone has had a chance to finish a bite.

                I actually think that coming to the table to do the check in and asking "is there anything else I can bring you right now" when you're really doing the check on whether the food is satisfactory would discourage anyone speaking up and so may defeat the exact purpose you're after.

                Pet peeves of mine are calling everyone "guys" and being offered "fresh cracked pepper" before I've had a chance to taste the salad/soup/pasta/whatever it may be added to.

                1. re: ccbweb

                  Oooh I hate the "guys" thing too! I am clearly not a "guy", but I will add that calling me Ma'am is way worse. I am too young for that please.

                  1. re: momof3

                    You and my wife are in complete agreement there. I find both terms to be fairly useless and best avoided.

                    Meant to add to my previous post that any server that is thinking about such things in the way you are (and excuse me miss often does) is clearly going to be an effective server and very easy to have at a restaurant...so I wouldn't worry much about the specifics.

                    1. re: ccbweb

                      I can't stand the "guys" thing either. I don't give a rats a** if it's thrown around in a sports bar, but it's ridiculous to me that it's ever used in what purports to be a nicer restaurant to address my mother, who is over 80. When did this get started and why is it so widely used now?

                      1. re: wontonton

                        We also deplore being called "you guys." My husband and I think it's because these young folks do not know that "you" can be both plural and singular, so they want to make sure we are both being asked after. I don't mind being asked ONCE how the food is, but this is such a perfunctory query that if there is something we want to ask about or mention, the server looks blank. They have been told to waft by and ask this question but have no idea why. While I'm ranting - what's with the servers who think it's cool to sit down in an empty chair at your table?? My European friends are appalled at the lack of professionalism in American waitstaff.

                        1. re: porches

                          I've never seen the sit down thing unless it's a gimmick on the part of the restaurant to be cute about bad service, which is bad enough. But if it's for real, whoever, plus manager oughta be in another line of work.

                          1. re: wontonton

                            I have never seen the sit down thing, either- but have heard it mentioned many times on these boards. Is it a regional thing, maybe?

                          2. re: porches

                            how about when they bend down and put their hands and face at table level,or even on the table? this is meant to make the customer feel more comfortable, but i think it's just weird. please, do not tell me your name unless you're a server in a great restaurant where we'll be spending lots of time together. if you're giving us the in n' out treatment in chili's (and we see you for a total of 1 min.) i don't need to know your name is chad. and please don't try to act like my new best friend.
                            in answer to the op's question, i find it very intrusive when the server asks "how's everything." usually i am eating, and must nod dumbly. or i am in the middle of a conversation and the server is interrupting.
                            i really like the earlier suggestion of asking specifically "how's your salmon?" if it's a large table, then i suppose it's more normal to ask a number of times, can i get anything for anyone.
                            it seems like "how is everything" smacks of chain restaurants. "everything" but my food is fine. it's not really a correct question. sort of like "you guys" which i think is yes, a symptom of a younger generation. we say it so often i wince when i say it in a professional environment.

                            1. re: fara

                              servers in Toronto have a habit of saying 'cheers' everytime they leave the table- e.g. they put a drink down, you say 'thank you', they say 'cheers' and walk away; however, they don't only do it for drinks but for everything.
                              Makes me WILD, i just hate it.

                            2. re: porches

                              I've found that service is generally much better in the states than elsewhere on the planet. Where are your European friends from? My experience with service outside of the US required a lot of patience and handwaving.

                      2. re: ccbweb

                        I totally second the thoughts about offering pepper before being able to taste something - it gives me the idea that they assume I'd rather have it over-seasoned, but I haven't even had a chance to try it yet! It would be like me making dinner for friends and then plunking a huge pepper mill on the table, as if to say "You're gonna need this" :-)

                        1. re: gyozagirl

                          See... I always thought that the pepper thing is like the parmesean cheese thing when you get a pasta! I never thought it was truly for seasoning! Of course, I never want pepper in anything, so I always say no, but again, I'm enlightened about the pepper.

                          1. re: boltnut55

                            I think you've just explained to ccbweb & gyozagirl why good restaurants offer pepper immediately upon serving something. It has nothing to do with a lack of proper seasoning in the kitchen. Some people just don't like pepper, some (like me) almost can't get enough of it. Offer it at the table and everyone is (or should be) happy.

                      3. re: kimmer1850

                        Kimmer1850: As a server I prefer saying "Are you enjoying your (specific dish)?" I try to do this within 4-5 minutes of serving food. I find it to be more personal and to the point. "Everything" may be OK but your"insert dish here" is fabulous/terrible and you're more likely to tell me if I ask about it specifically.

                        Kudoes, this is the way to do it! :D

                      4. jfood is fine with anything cordial when being asked how the food is. the only requirement is to give jfood a chance to eat a bite or two. disturbing is servingthe dish with the left hand and asking the question simultaneously.

                        1. Yeah, I think it's a good thing to come back after we've had a chance to taste stuff. I sure wouldn't want to sit there for half an hour with something that's cold or wrong or something before anyone checks back.

                          1. i don't find anything wrong with a quick check back by the server. in fact i appreciate it. how else is a server supposed to know if you are enjoying your meal? oh i forgot, servers are supposed to read minds ;-)

                            this reminds me of a time when a former co-worker waited on this table of 3. he had done his "two-bite check" shortly after the arrival of the entrees, as we had been trained to do. their dinner had gone smoothly, no problems, delays or complaints. at the end of the meal as he was dropping the check my co-worker asked if they "enjoyed their dinner this evening?". the guy who was paying told him that he was incredibly disappointed with the service. my co-worker, with real concern, asked what he was unhappy with. the guy replied while waving his finger between himself and my co-worker "we shouldn't even be having this dialogue right now". i think the worst thing about it was that the guy's young son was at the table, watching daddy set a great example on how to treat waitstaff.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rebs

                              >servers are supposed to read minds>

                              certain skills develop according to how long you've been serving.
                              after 5 years of serving- i'm able to read your mind.
                              after 10 years of serving- i grow a third arm.
                              after 15 years of serving- i can be in 2 different places at one time.
                              and after 20 years of serving- i can do anything just by snapping my fingers.

                              1. re: excuse me miss

                                I have had the experience of both waitressing and owning a restaurant, so I'm sorry you get treated that way. I always appreciate the great service servers provide. The one thing though that I can not abide from servers is rudeness.

                            2. "How is everything?" is a perfectly fine way to check in on a table during a meal. It is very different than "Can I get you anything else," which should never be asked until we're closer to the end of whatever course we are enjoying. There is an inherent difference between asking if all is good as opposed to 'want me to add more to your check.'

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: mojoeater

                                Getting someone another fork, napkin, pepper mill or extra condiments wouldn't add anything to the bill. That isn't why I ask.

                                1. re: mojoeater

                                  yes the "can i bring you anything else" question should be asked much earlier, because the customers' requirements may be counterintuitive for the server, and the server's job is to bring what the customer desires & make them comfortable.

                                  when i have asked the question soon after bringing plates, some sample answers in the affirmative:

                                  "yes, i accidentally dropped my fork and i could use a different one."

                                  "can i have an extra plate to put my retainer on, with a napkin?" (to cover it-- bleck)

                                  "can i get some ketchup?" (eating a $35 steak. . . well done. . . *groan*)

                                  "can i get an extra side of _*whatever*"

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Agreed. I'm always the one that needs something after I get my food, sometimes because the server forgot, such as ketchup... but other times, it's more bread, extra lemon, more sauce (love sauce). In any case, I don't care how you ask it. If I need something, I'll tell you. However, if I'm not thrilled about my meal, I'm still at a point that I'm not comfortable speaking up. Like the "well done $35 steak" mentioned above...

                                    Of course it was the Saturday before Father's Day, but honestly, I'm not really sure that's my problem as a customer. We went to an expensive steakhouse, and we both ordered the prime rib with bone, $33/each. I said, "medium rare." My husband said, "Medium rare, closer to rare." We got something that, to us, would be considered medium. Good, but a little tough. My DH can make that at home for about $25 total, but since it's Father's Day, and I don't trust myself with expensive meat, we ate out. Dinner was $96... oh yeah, I forgot my wallet, so he had to pay for the dinner! I know, that's another thread.

                                2. when i was a server, i used to simply try to smile and make eye contact and not say anything so as not to be intrusive (and usually because i was also very busy). if they needed anything they'd wave me over or say something. or i would simply ask "doing OK, need anything?"

                                  i think that if you're a good server you get a sense of people that like you to be chatty and/or super-attentive and those who don't.

                                  as a customer, i tend to not want to be chatty with the server or bartender - unfortunately mrhitachino is the polar opposite, especially with a drink or two in him ;0)

                                  as a server, what i used to hate was people constantly asking me "what's wrong?" and telling me to smile. (my mouth naturally turns down a bit at the corners when i have no expression)

                                  that was soooooo annoying. so i had to remember to constantly try to walk around with a fake half smile plastered on my face while trying to remember orders/requests and handle problems......(i rarely wrote anything down - only if it was a large party)

                                  1. I like to be asked how everything is going with my meal, though it's obviously just pro forma for most servers. I seldom bother with any complaint, it's usually not worth the hassle. Though one time I was with a group and everything was so terrible that when the server asked us how everything was, we unanimously burst into laughter. He backed away quickly and we didn't see him again until he presented the check.

                                    1. I want to be asked, "How is everything?" along with more specific questions that show that the server is paying attention. (I mean, if I answer that everything is fine, and the server suggests, say, a refill for my half-empty coffee, I know s/he is paying attention to detail and that's a good thing.)

                                      Being asked, "Is there anything else I can get for you right now?" doesn't really elicit an answer based on the food (though I think it's a great question for a bartender to ask, often). But for me, as a diner, it's not a great question. Sometimes the only answer you can give to this question (no matter how long the food has been on the table) is: "Yes, the manager," or, "Yes, the check."

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: tokyorosa

                                        I am not that picky about the wording, but I DO like a server to show up after a minute or two to make sure we have what we need. It doesn't happen often enough. Most of our meals out are at unfussy neighborhood places, but it irks me when there's only a bite left of food, and I get asked if everything's okay. Well, thanks so much for asking. A little late, isn't it?

                                      2. I appreciate being asked how everything is, esp. soon after the food has been delivered, to be sure something like a fork was not forgotten or that someone hasn't tasted something and decided they need maybe a slice of lemon.

                                        What I'm don't appreciate is being asked, "How is everything?", replying, "The calamari is inedible", and have the waitress look sympathetic and say, "I'm sorry about that", and go on to another table to ask "How is everything?".

                                        I'm not kidding. I took a friend to a local restaurant--one of our better ones--for a birthday lunch. I urged her to have the fried calamari for openers because I'd had it once and it was excellent. What we got was two plates of batter-fried rubber bands.

                                        After I recovered from my shock with the waitress I flagged her down again and said I'd like to speak to the manager. He listened to me and expressed his regret, said calamari was unpredictable, that he'd speak to the chef, and he left.

                                        Our main course arrived and the waitress removed the uneaten calamari.

                                        When the bill came, I was charged for the two orders of calamari and the waitress and cashier said they couldn't deduct it because the manager was no longer on the premises to authorize it.

                                        Moral: asking the question is OK as long as it's not purely rhetorical.

                                        (I should probably add what I did in spite of the fact that as a rule I don't punish a good waitress for someone else's shortcomings.

                                        I told my waitress, as she was standing by the cashier telling me that they had no authority to deduct the calamari, that I was therefore deducting her tip. That I was sorry to do that because, calamari aside, she had been perfectly satisfactory. I said she should tell the manager that if he's the only one who's authorized to resolve a patron's complaints, he should be the one going around asking them "How is everything?", and that IMO he owes her her tip. )

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: PhoebeB

                                          I ordered tuna tataki at a Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood. I took one bite and the tuna tasted sort of "off" to me. The waitress came over to ask how everything was and I told her the tuna was too fishy. She asked if I wanted to wrap it up to take home. Because the fishy-tasting practically raw tuna would be better later??? Anyway, we haven't returned to that place since.

                                        2. I'm OK with a server asking how everything is. I've noticed a new odd request at couple of restaurants here in the KC area. The server brings the steak, sets it down and says something like, "Cut into your steak while I'm still here to make sure its cooked properly". In a totally scripted, corporate tone. This just seems really odd. Can this be to avoid me eating half and declaring it over/under cooked and then ask to have a new one? Sounds to me like they either don't trust their cooks or they don't trust me. Either way I felt a little uneasy.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: chileheadmike

                                            really odd, yeah! are these places the same corporate chain? did you cut your steak open for server inspection or say-- "well, we're talking, and i'm still eating my salad. . ."

                                            being forced to play a part in corporate scripted dialogue makes me feel a little glazed, i tend not to play along!

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              Yeah chains. I can't seem to remember which ones. Its been a few months. I politely declined both times. After the server left I told my wife that was weird. She thought it was just good service. Of course, we were there because she likes chain food.

                                              ETA, Plus I wanted to let the steak rest a minute or two before slicing into it.

                                            2. re: chileheadmike

                                              actually, it's probably to avoid you cutting off an end and trying to send it back because it's overcooked (when the end of the steak is cooked through but the middle is medium or lower)--that's very common in steakhouses. Sometimes people insist that the steak is over, and it can be very awkward to ask them to cut into the center b/c it seems like you're arguing with them. (and sometimes they will refuse to cut into the center evenwhen asked.)

                                              Also, the server probably is trained to check for temp right away so a problem can be solved right away, rather than you inding it cooked incorrectly after a few minutes when he's no longer in sight.

                                              1. re: chileheadmike

                                                This happened to jfood in FL and the steak was $53 so not exactly a chain. Since this was a PH jfood cut the tip of the strip side and it was a nice pinky-red. Two cuts later it went very rare-raw. Then jfood could not find the server. Fianlly server arrived and when jfood said the steak was not done properly, instead of an apology or something helpful the server said, "you just told me it was OK." and walked away.

                                                Needless to say the story continues, but not for this thread.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  I think a simple, "Are you enjoying your dinner?" is the way to go.

                                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                    Many years ago, my SO and I were stuck in a little town (the name escapes me at this point) in upper Michigan, due to having missed the ferry across the lake to Wisconsin. We had dinner in a little cafe near the ferry landing, and while we didn't expect much, we certainly didn't expect the waitress that we wound up with.

                                                    The waitress must have been taught to ask, "How is everything", but apparently she had neither the training nor the innate intelligence to know that it was not appropriate to ask the question simultaneously with placing the glass, or the dish, or the knife on the table. So, as our drinks were brought to the table, we were asked the infamous question. As the salads were placed on the table, we again heard the same question. And, as you would guess, the arrival of the entrees led to the same question--instantly--with no chance to taste the proferred food or drink.

                                                    Perhaps just as bizarre as the timing of the question was the young lady's response to EVERYTHING that we said. When we placed our orders, when we replied to the "Is everything okay" question, when we asked for the check, etc. the waitress replied, "I knew that--I'm psychic". Yes, everything and anything that we said was responded to with those words.

                                                    Personally, I think that she may have meant "psychotic", but at least the experience did provide some lasting memories of that meal. I couldn't tell you what I ate, but I recall that waitress very clearly.

                                                    So, to return to the original topic, I do think that asking the question is a good idea, provided that it is not asked immediately as something is placed on the table, and provided that it is asked with the intention to remedy anything that is not right.

                                              2. What a great topic! It sounds like I may be in the minority, but dislike the "how's everything?" line most of the time. I know that it's good form for the server to inquire how the guest is doing. The better restaurants have more fluid and gracious service and there is more attention paid to the details of a particular table's order. I believe there are two basic reasons for any server's inquiry: (1) because the "face time" at the table will lend the restaurant guests to believe the server was helpful, thus minimizing the chances of a cheap tip; and (2) because the restaurant desires a return visit from the guests and wants to come across as hospitable. Oftentimes, the server will waltz by and ask at an inappopriate moment - when my mouth is full of food. I know most servers are trained to avoid asking when the guest is chewing the food, but I'm amazed how many times someone comes by and I'm resorting to an awkward shake or nod of head to respond. The other reason I don't like it is that depending on where you are, it just doesn't sound very sincere. I'm thinking about the servers in more corporate type restaurants, like Olive Garden or Claim Jumper. The "how's everything" query just comes off as, well, corporate. The server stops by for about 5 seconds, asks the question and then darts off to the next table like an automaton. Hence, I think Danny Meyer has a point. And I do think at good restaurants, when the server comes by to check on you, there is often more attention given and it's not just to check to see "how's everything."

                                                1. quick note...

                                                  "cheers" is a Britishism for "you're welcome"...they are not toasting you.

                                                  1. I'm OK with "how is everything", although sometimes I find it bit awkward if the food is not very good...which is common around here. It's when higher praise is elicited that I get annoyed. The worst service experience I ever had started with the question "Is everything wonderful?"

                                                    Further, I despise cute-sy facecious comments like "oh, well I guess you didn't like that much, did you?" when a server clears a cleaned plate. My husband threatens to say "no, I didn't like it, but I was hungry so I ate it anyway."

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: danna

                                                      i had a similar experience at the macaroni grill (i had no say in the restaurant choice)...

                                                      the kitchen forgot to make my entree, which was discovered once the 9 other people i was dining with had already received theirs. by the time my entree came out, everyone had already been done eating for about 10 minutes or so. being a server i was a little annoyed but, i knew that stuff happens so i was fine with it.....UNTIL the waitress came back after two bites and asked "so was it worth the wait?". i almost snapped. she set herself up for a slew of angry responses i would have loved to have answered her with but, instead i held my tongue and answered with a less than pleased tone "it's fine".

                                                      1. re: rebs

                                                        Kudos on your self discipline. I would have been tempted by a two word response, one of them being unprintable.

                                                        You did the right thing...my incident continued w/ a chef standing at my table, insulted and defensive (all I said was "no, actually it's not")...I could have died.