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Patronizing restaurant language from NYT - what's your experience

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In today's NYT, Frank Bruni comments on RestaurantSpeak & patronizing language. What stories can you share? See link below to article

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/07/din...

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  1. my big patronizing pet peeve is when waiters or waitresses ask: "have you dined with us before? are you familiar with our menu" or "would you like me to explain how our menu works?" i just hate that. it's a menu, a list of food. give me three minutes to look at it and i'll be familiar with it. if i can't figure it out, i probably shouldn't be eating in a public place.

    funkymonkey
    thebestbite.blogspot.com

    1 Reply
    1. re: funkymonkey

      I've never quite had the guts to say to a waitperson something like "Gee, the menu doesn't just work by putting my left hand on the right side of the cover of the menu, then moving my left hand right to left?"

    2. My solution to “Excellent choice” is easy : "Tell me which isn't"

      11 Replies
      1. re: RicRios

        Every once in awhile you do get an answer for that one...

        1. re: Shayna Madel

          A very large numer of waiters commented on the article and the subsequent blog, saying that management forced them to say these inane things. Shame on management! Reminds me of the time that Safeway forced its cashiers to thank every customer with a huge smile (and lets face it - when you are not in the mood to smile, it is going to look phony, and who wants a phony smile?) and worse - to thank the customer by name. It was intrusive and of course they couldn't pronounce many of the names. People complained and complained and finally Safeway management reversed the policy.

          I wish waiters could just be pleasant and be themselves and not have to recite inane nonsense forced upon them by management. We always try to be pleasant to waiters, cashiers, the lady behind the counter at the dry cleaners, and anyone else who provides us with service. Usually, we are treated pleasantly in return, but it has been a very, very long time since we've experienced professional and polished service in a restaurant. Ironically, we get much better (less intrusive, less phony-forced friendliness, fewer errors) service in casual joints like diners than we do in the upscale restaurants in this area. I have never had a waiter in a roadside coffee shop tell me her name, offer to tell me how the menu works, or ask me "are you still working on that?"

          I realize that in saying ENJOY what they really mean is "I hope you enjoy your dinner" but the way they say it sounds like an ORDER. ENJOY OR ELSE!!!!

          1. re: Just Visiting

            I absolutely hate the -- for a better lack of term (or, perhaps, experience) -- 'American way' of trying to take away plates asap. Most restaurants around here serve the salad (if you ordered one) before the main course, and I tend to 'save' some to accompany the main. Inevitably, with half of my salad left, I will be asked "are you done with that?". Does it LOOK like I am done with that? In Europe, nobody will take your plate if it has anything left on it, except for perhaps dessert, and the way to show you're done is by resting the silverware ON the plate. Simple.

            1. re: linguafood

              My dad does this. Except what he gets more than anything else is "Is the salad okay, sir?"

              I don't think he considers it bothersome, though. He's doing things differently than the way most of the restaurant patrons do. I don't think it's obtrusive to make sure that there's not something wrong with the salad.

              I would much rather have a server ask if I'm done with something rather than just grabbing and walking away, and if I'm done eating something I'd rather have it taken away than have a dirty plate with half-eaten chicken or something on it.

              1. re: rweater

                true. I do feel that there is much more eagerness in clearing the table (for the next customer, perhaps) because of the whole turn-around idea here, than there is in Europe. One could certainly admit that this can also mean less service, but I prefer lingering over my food over being basically pushed out the door...

              2. re: linguafood

                Boy, did you hit on my restaurant pet peeve! I was always taught that one never takes away one diner's plate until everyone at the table had finished.

                What I find is that busboys are trained to grab plates as quickly as possible, sometimes as someone is eating off it. They put their hand out to take your plate and say "are you finished?" -- like maybe you should be.

                I'm in Chicago and I rather think it's a local thing, but I'd love to hear other people's experience of that.

                I never let them do that and they sometimes hang around the table like they get paid for how fast they snatch plates.

              3. re: Just Visiting

                The command Enjoy has got to be one of the worst passive aggressive twists on what should be a pleasantry. I think it often reads that way on message boards, even when it is written with the best of intentions.
                At least in a restaurant it might be mitigated with a genuine smile . . .

                1. re: pitu

                  So I'm not the only one who hates being told to "enjoy" in messages! Good to know I'm not being overly curmudgeonly when I cringe every time I read it. It's sort of like being told to "smile!" which fortunately seems to have become less common than during the height of the "smile!" trend.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    : )
                    (ha)

                2. re: Just Visiting

                  Scripted responses slay me! Hospitals try that crap by scripting this bs line (or something like it) so they want nurses to say (as they leave a patient room) "Is there anything else I can do for you. I HAVE THE TIME" Holy moly. Time is the LAST thing I have some days... LOL. The people who script these things aren't the ones who are being pulled to be in 8 different places at once and have no clue how demoralizing it is to be expected to lie like that....

                  1. re: Goomba

                    I don't know, when a doctor sits down to ask if I have a question instead of hovering by the door, I'm much more likely to speak. I appreciate that. However, when waiters recite insincere-sounding scripts, I just feel uncomfortable.

            2. None of this bothers me in the least. The only thing that wait staff says that grates on me like running a micro plane over my tender bits is "Do you want any change back?" as they pick up the check along with the pile of tender green that I have piled upon it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Servorg

                Servorg, yes, we have been asked "do you NEED any change back?". When I lay down a $50 for a $30something bill, unless you gave me mouth to mouth and I was dying, yes, I NEED change. It makes you feel stupid. Any comments, regardless, made by waiters that make me feel stupid and the tip begins to diminish.

                1. re: Diane in Bexley

                  servorg and diane, that is my big pet peeve, too. Just get your tail back over here with my change, ok?!?!

                  i always tell mr. alka, "the tip-o-meter" is going down......down .... down.... (especially the longer it takes, as if they want to punish you for having the temerity to actually EXPECT some change.)

              2. The thing that Bruni pointed out which bothers me is the use of the imperial "we". You're not Queen Elizabeth, get over it.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Phaedrus

                  It sounds more like the hospital "we", as it includes me the patient/customer.

                  1. re: Leonardo

                    yeah leonardo, but in the hospital "we", only one person gets the syringe stuck into his arm!

                2. I dislike when waiters or waitresses try to explain what every little thing on the menu is, even if its not particularly obscure, assuming that I wouldn't understand. I know that romano is a cheese and branzini is a fish, thank you very much. I was particularly annoyed when I ordered steak tartare in a restaurant and was asked if I knew that it was raw. Why, yes, that's why I ordered it.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Megiac

                    RE: raw tartar. Again, probably because management required the disclaimer after too many returned dishes. My first take on this article is what others already said...that the lame stock phrases were required by the management / chef-owner.

                    I worked at a fine-dining establishment in the Southeast where the front-of-the-house was asked to make sure that diners knew "whole fish" meant "you will be dealing with bones and staring at a head." Sure, some people rolled their eyes at us, but even more changed their mind once they realized what they were getting. That wasn't a big deal. Often times, it's in how you present the information -- a discrete confirmation to affirm that the patron does indeed know the dish is served raw / is a cow tongue / has a head / is bull's testes...

                    The one thing I don't like: the waitstaff use of "I" as in...
                    "I have a few wines by the glass this evening. I have a nice Barolo, a pleasant Chianti..." "I have a few specials"

                    Well aren't you special!

                    I was guilty of the phrase "Excuse my reach," cited in the story. We all said that. Sounds classier than "Excuse me," don't it?

                    1. re: peetoteeto

                      I tend to prefer:"Get the )(*&(^%^*$^% out of my way!" But that's just me.

                      1. re: Phaedrus

                        I thought the article was brilliant. I always have a good giggle when a server congratulates me on my choice. Have I just passed on to the next round? What is my prize? I did once, only once, have a waiter at an old boy's type of steak house let me know, truthfully when I had made the wrong choice. This was in the old Post House in Manhattan. I ordered and the waiter caught my eye, and almost imperceptibly shook his head.I took the hint and changed my order.There was no subsequent kudos for me, just a good meal.

                  2. Nothing stated in the article would have bothered me at all. Most restaurant speak I either find innocuous or it just goes in one ear and right out the other.
                    What's annoying is (was):
                    1) The 1990s bottled water rip-off routine (a group of four of us spent $80 on bottled water one evening)
                    2) The server quickly refilling wine glasses and then immediately suggesting "another bottle" to the table when it is finished.
                    3) When a male server puts his hand on me.
                    4) When you order a cheese plate for example and ask the server to remind you of which cheese is which, and he/she proceeds to point, and his/her finger gets dangerous close to the cheeses.
                    5) When a male server puts his hand on me.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Chinon00

                      Okay, and what about when a server squats down to speak with you at sort-of eye level?

                      1. re: Shayna Madel

                        Gatekeepers, watch out!!! Thread getting racy here...

                        1. re: Shayna Madel

                          I forgot about that one. obnoxious!

                          1. re: Chinon00

                            Chinon00 I just hate that and when it happens I will never return. My DH and I were having dinner at a local Italian place and the server, (while cute) rested his hand on the center of my back every time he came to the table. Dropping off the food, one plate down and hand on my back. Checking to see if things were fine, hand on my back...grrr it was un-nerving and ended up being one of my most uncomfortable dining experiences ever.
                            I also cringe when I get the, "And how are we enjoying our meals" or "Are you sure you wouldn't like to add the so and so for $___ more" if I wanted that I would have asked for it!

                            1. re: bubbles4me

                              You must learn to say "don't touch me" or "stop touching me"
                              on any occasion that someone touches you that you don't want touching you.
                              I'm serious. Practice it.

                              1. re: pitu

                                The odd thing is that I've read that servers who "touch" receive better tips than servers who don't touch on average.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  I think the touch rule consistently produces better tips when it is a female server touching a male patron. Reverse the sexes and the male server better be really careful his touching is welcomed...

                          2. re: Shayna Madel

                            My personal ire is raised when the waiter will "playfully" sit at our table, and try and be my FRIEND. Outback is notorious for servers who try and pal around in this type of way-too-casual manner.

                            But, as for "patronizing" resto language, it's actually part of ANY hospitality business, TRUST ME. I work in a 5-Diamond resort on the Vegas Strip, and the hoops (IE, verbage we MUST use with the public) we must jump thru would make most people stop dead in their tracks.

                            Using the first name is utterly tacky. We are not friends, and unless you have a name-tag that only gives your first name, I would respectfully expect only Sir or Ma'am to be used- and this goes both ways. Untill you get the OK from me, to call me by my first name, don't assume I will enjoy this. It's very disrespectful.

                          3. re: Chinon00

                            My favorite bottled water story from the 90s was when my girlfriend's grandmother ordered water in a Manhattan restaurant, and the waiter asked if she would prefer Perrier or Evian. She looked him straight in the eye and said "I believe I'll have the Giuliani."

                            1. re: JonParker

                              That's actually an old French tradition, referring to the local tap water as "Chateau <mayor's surname>". I used to order Chateau Menino in Boston, but not one waiter in 20 here gets it.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                That reminds me of Rumpole of the Bailey asking at his favorite London wine bar, for Chateau Bank of the Thames.

                          4. jfood on the contrarian side. He found the article condenscending and completely obnoxious and out of line. Bruni is a food critic and spends his life as a professional and in this article he went into the gutter. The servers are trying to make his meal more enjoyable and he kicks them in the shins.

                            So what if someone suggests an order to eat the canapes. "enjoy coffee with dessert" is worth the time to criticize? Jfood finds that perfectly acceptable. Better than, "Hey you want some joe with that?"

                            Jfood won't even go there with the rest of the article other than to say that Bruni was the last vestige of good taste at the NYT and now even he has lost jfood's vote of confidence.

                            And to thos servers reading this thread, jfood thanks you for your politeness in making many patrons feel special while dining.
                            .

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jfood

                              Well said!! I think people should be more careful when piling on servers with all this unwarranted criticism. If people got criticized everytime they had a bad phone call with a client, was off on some numbers, showed to work 5 minutes late, etc. then would have the right to critize servers for their choice of words.

                            2. Except for the "excellent choice" thing (which I do find irritating), I don't remember ever hearing from a waiter any of the stock phrases or verbal tics mentioned in the article. Most of the issues people have mentioned in comments are also unfamiliar. Is this a geography thing? Am I just not paying attention? Do I not go out to eat often enough? Am I eating at the wrong (or in this case, right) restaurants? Just lucky?

                              1. I block most of the language out except for "Perfect!". That one makes me grate my teeth every time. Just take my order, maybe recite it back to make sure we communicated, but nothing about my choice is "Perfect!" except maybe for the tip you are imagining you are going to get with your forced cheerfulness.

                                1. We had a horrid dining experience recently at a restaurant that we patronized against our better judgement (never, EVER again).

                                  Among many, many aggravations was the condescending waitress. First she explained what the restaurant's signature--and NAMESAKE dish is. She explained (and mispronounced) cippolini onions. She described their preparation of sushi-grade tuna (seared, rare--duh). She explained what a tomatillo is.

                                  The experience was just what we'd expected. Now we can justify our opinion of the resto, the arrogant, over-publicized chef/owner, and the ridiculously overpriced (and not very good) food.

                                  1. With the exception of the "excellent choice" remark, nothing there really bothers me. Restaurants have to cater to everybody, and have to make sure that he least experienced restaurant goer understands what a tasting menu is, what a prix fixe is, what a branzini is, that steak tartare is raw, etc. Not everybody is food saavy. I think the worse crime is a restaurant that makes the assumption that everybody knows what these terms are that it becomes intimidating for many diners.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      Well put, but if a menu says: "Steak Tartare - raw sirloin, etc..." or "Whole Fish - whole complete fish including head...." and an aghast customer complains upon receipt of such a dish, I've little sympathy for the customer.

                                      1. re: Leonardo

                                        I'd have little sympathy for the customer too. i have sympathy for the server who has to take the whole fish back to the kitchen and ask for it to be deboned and fileted or for a different entree. The first question the kitchen will ask--"did you tell them it would have a head?"

                                        It's like the Zinfandel/White Zin discussion we had not that far back. The server needs to make sure the customer knows what he or she is ordering to keep the food/drink from coming back and keep the guests happy. Unfortunately, that can lead to a sort of dumbing down of the experience for knowlegeable guests.

                                        1. re: nc213

                                          one of my favorite restaurants manages to mention that the whole fish comes with a face and tail without being irritating, AND those servers are also equipped to bone it for you, tableside

                                          1. re: pitu

                                            "and would you like me to remove the head and tail?"

                                            So simple, so non-threatening and the fish arrives as the custo wants.

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              I like the sound of that aproach, but people need to realize that whole fish means head and bones and if that grosses people out then they shouldn't be eating fish. People have become detached from the food source and forget that a fish filet is actually a part of a fish or that those short ribs we all like come from the rib cage of a cow. Apologies in advance I guess I'm just ranting here

                                              1. re: cleveland park

                                                interesting in that jfood knows people who have no issue in an Asian resto having the whole cooked tempura fish served with the head and tail but have an aversion to the same fish grilled and served.

                                                But in fairness the "whole" fish would also include the innards as well and jfood can not remember any resto server the fish completely "whole." So once you cross the line from 100% then it's just a matter of degrees.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  also quite possible not to be averse, just unskilled at bone removal
                                                  yet know that things taste better when cooked on the bone

                                                  when the server demonstrates, perhaps the diner will become more familiar with how easy it can be to bone a trout on your plate
                                                  or perhaps the diner just wants good pampering service, and that means the gift of bone removal
                                                  : )

                                      2. re: Miss Needle

                                        A simple "can I answer any questions about the menu?" would suffice.

                                        I don't find many servers detailing things at the places I go to, but I'm in NY so maybe that's different. I think the waiter would come off as inexperienced talking nonsense about the cippolini and tomatillos (above example)
                                        I actually don't much care if they know or not, as long as they are pleasant, not-overbearing, and willing to find out any info I need about the food.

                                      3. I thought this was funny, not irritating. I suspect it is an attempt at the kind of genteelism intended to distinguish this supposedly high-class experience from ordinary dining... I feel bad for the poor waiters who are taught or required to do this instead of plain speaking. Simple and straightforward is always better, And formal isn't snobbish, just respectful.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: sheiladeedee

                                          Yeah. I think it's also just a fact that people differ in how they like to be treated by restaurant staff. I once complained to a friend about what I thought was patronizing treatment in a restaurant, and he said "but you know, my parents wouldn't have thought that was patronizing -- they would have loved it." Treatment that I would consider pleasant and efficient might strike others as unfriendly and hurried. Certainly, one element of good service is reading the customer and getting an idea of how they prefer to be served, but waiters aren't mind-readers, and I try to cut them a little slack.

                                          1. re: jlafler

                                            I think the common thread in this discussion is that people hate insincere/scripted treatment from waitstaff. I'm much more likely to cut them slack if I think they're being sincere/natural in their dealings with me.

                                            Although I do have one pet peeve: being asked "just one" when I go into a restaurant alone. Yes, one. But not "just" one. I usually preempt this by stating very clearly when the host/hostess greets me "one for dinner."

                                        2. To me, feeling "patronized", and specifically the point of feeling disturbed when having menu items explained, is a function of personal ego and perception. Some folks feel uncomfortable with the implication that they don't "know" something. To me, that is unfortunate. We are all at different places in our development (in food as well as in life). Having menu items explained to you is no indication of your own personal development.

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            "...the point of feeling disturbed when having menu items explained, is a function of personal ego and perception. Some folks feel uncomfortable with the implication that they don't "know" something. To me, that is unfortunate. We are all at different places in our development (in food as well as in life). "
                                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                            What about a simple statement from the waitstaff upon coming up to the table to take the order: "I'd be happy to explain anything on the menu should you have any questions." That way, there is no offense to those that know what the items are/how an item is cooked/presented, and gives the opportunity to those that don't know to ask those questions and be enlightened should they choose to do so.

                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                              Too many people are afraid of looking "stupid" in front of their friends and will not ask.

                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                Yeah, recent example: I took a visiting friend from Virginia to dinner, and she ended up sending her burger back because she didn't know what the "aioli" in the burger description was, didn't want to look like a "rube" (her word) for asking, and then found out that it's basically mayonnaise, which she hates. "Aioli" has been so trendy in the Bay Area for the last 20 years that it never occurred to me (and probably not to the waiter) that she wouldn't be familiar with the term.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  Aw shucks, ah think we kin git some of that there a-o-lee down here in ole Virginny. Ah think the widder down in the holler whips up a mess of it when she has kinfolk come to visit and she sells the leftovers in Mason jars out by the highway.

                                                  1. re: Bob W

                                                    union street publick house in old town alexandria virginia serves a fantastic roasted red pepper aioli with its fried calamari. (the calamari is an excuse to eat the aioli!)

                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      that's very interesting -- one of our favorite things at Clyde's is the fried calamari, which is served with a red pepper aioli. We always ask for extra aioli, it's that good!

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        Well, I think there's Virginia and then there's Virginia. Alexandria is basically a DC suburb, right? I'm pretty sure the dining scene is different there than it is in Newport News, which is where she's living now (and before that she was living in Clarksville Tennessee -- military family). But to expand on her comments, she also said that the kind of ingredient-focused California cuisine we were eating in a mid-priced restaurant was the kind of food she would only see in "fancy, expensive" restaurants at home. As a Navy wife with three small children, those aren't places she patronizes -- it's mostly Crackerbarrel. Whereas, in San Francisco aioli is ubiquitous: virtually every sandwich shop around my office puts some variation of aioli on their at least some of their offerings.

                                                2. re: LindaWhit

                                                  jfood is sometimes asked by others at the table about an ingredient or method and always tries to help, but at times he does not know. In fact when he sees noone asking the waiter the question that stumped the table, he'll ask about the ingredient or method even though he has no intention of ordering that particular dish, just wants to learn.

                                                  The phrase Linda uses is so perfect. It's engaging, it's not condenscending it brings the server and the table together as a group versus an us-them. Jfood remembers several servers using these words and it immediately opens a nice, simple conversation.

                                              2. Bruni's article definitely made me laugh, and more aware of this issue in recent restaurant visits, like to the place in Boston where our (spectacularly incompetent in just about every way) waiter ended up with the nickname Mr. Burns at our table, as his response to just about anything we answered to his endless questions was "Excellent!" This was a case of someone who had far too little training, and thought he could fill in the gaps with inane banter.

                                                1) "You still workin'/pickin' on that?" instead of "May I clear?", 2) the sniff or eyeroll after I end-run the "sparkling or still" trick with a request for tap water, and 3) "Do you need change?" when I pay the check in cash top my list of annoying waiter tics. "Chef" and other pretentious usages are more likely to amuse than annoy me.

                                                15 Replies
                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                  "May I clear" can get servers in a lot of trouble. Often there is an angry, "NO, I'm not finished." Since "working" and "picking" are clearly unpleasant, "are you still enjoying" or "are you finished enjoying" really do work better.

                                                  1. re: nc213

                                                    My own personal experience (on both sides of the table) is that it depends on the server's approach, and "May I clear?" is more polite and formally correct. The use of "enjoying" in this context really gets up some people's noses: that verb is practically the centerpiece of Bruni's article.

                                                    1. re: nc213

                                                      IF "may I clear?" gets anyone's dander up then those custos are just looking for something to nitpit. Jfood prefers that to "working" or "picking" comments by a long shot since jfood "picks" goods restos that do not require him to "work" to eat their food.

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        I can assure you that a) "may I clear" often results in angry responses and b) there are many, many customers looking for something to nitpick. In my experience, "are you still enjoying?" earned the fewest angry responses, so that's what I ended up going with.

                                                        1. re: nc213

                                                          jfood is just shaking his head. he is almost embarassed that others get hissy with a perfectly reasonable question.

                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                            Me too.

                                                            "May I clear" is infinitely better than any other question a server can use in an otherwise dicey situation.

                                                            1. re: Gio

                                                              I agree that "May I clear" is the best option. If I've eaten pretty much all of the food, "Are you still enjoying?" just sounds stupid. (Yet it has happened.) I'd also like to add that it is NOT okay for a server to chuckle, "Well, I guess you liked that." Or, worse, "Well, I guess you didn't like that," while taking away an empty plate.

                                                              1. re: Glencora

                                                                How about a more general "Are there any plates you would like me to clear?" or "Can I take any of this away to give you more room?" The more room comment works for us as some of these tables are really tight on space since the restaurant is trying to maximize their space.

                                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                                  Sure, that's fine. I'd smile and nod at the plates that can be removed. That way the conversation wouldn't be too disrupted. That wouldn't be considered rude by the server, would it?

                                                                  1. re: Servorg

                                                                    "Are there any plates you would like me to clear?" suggests clearing unevenly--clearning some plates and not others, which most of us feel to be a service faux pas.

                                                                    1. re: nc213

                                                                      Right. Which puts you the diner back in charge by saying "We would like you to wait until everyone's finished eating". On the other hand many people like to have their plate cleared when they are finished (me among them) and would indicate to go ahead to the server at that point.

                                                                      1. re: Servorg

                                                                        I'm with you, Servorg. I know it's proper formal service for all plates to be cleared at the same time, but I am not at a state dinner and I'd rather my finished plate go meet the dishwasher instead of taking up valuable real estate in front of me. My dinner companion is not stressed out by this, and he or she is welcome to keep their dish as long as they wish.

                                                                      2. re: nc213

                                                                        as servorg states and jfood agrees:

                                                                        - while some are eating the custo can instruct the server of its desire for all at a time and return when utensils are in the "i'm done" position on all the plates
                                                                        - when all are done with all clean plates or all are done with some not joining the clean plate club the table can ask for all to go at the same time.

                                                                        since some want piecemeal removal this leaves that option available to them as well.

                                                                        seems very simple and straightforward to jfood.

                                                                    2. re: Glencora

                                                                      I agree. That's the worst when a smart "funny" comment is made on how much I ate. One time a waitress exclaimed loudly: "Wow you certainly snarfed all that up!"
                                                                      Classy.

                                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                                        Re "I guess you didn't like that," while taking away an empty plate: this can be a dangerous joke to make as a customer, as well. Many years ago, my mother solmenly told a waitress "we didn't like the dinner," assuming (incorrectly) that she would understand, from our scraped-clean plates, that it was a joke. It turned out to be quite a gaffe, which is why I still remember the incident nearly 40 years later. It was a small family-run inn in Normandy -- the waitress was also the innkeeper's wife or daughter, and possibly also the cook. We apologized and eventually got things straightened out.

                                                          2. all restaurants are different. ask a simple question at one place and you may get a grunt or a best-guess effort by the server. another place will drag out the chef, sommelier and who knows who else to answer every level of ambiguity in your seemingly innocent question. i like to engage servers and staff but i'm a little more careful in my dotage.
                                                            all things in moderation...

                                                            1. In general I'm only bugged by long introductions of "specials" with no mention of price. It makes you feel cheap if you speak up and ask - the eatery shouldn't put people in that position. In some places, specials are simply good deals whereas in others, they can be higher priced/over hyped dishes they hope to move through salesmanship. A skilled wordsmith can make a 39 cent McD's miniburger sound like a culinary landmark.

                                                              But otherwise, I'll take a cheesy roboserver over inattentive service any day of the week. I can live with "excellent choice." I can't stand, however, asking 3 times for a water or something similar.

                                                              1. I just saw this comic in this week's New Yorker. A waiter is standing in front of a couple seated at a table. The waiter is saying:"I know you haven't had a drink or an entree here yet , but how is everything so far?"

                                                                1. All of this server silliness provides fodder for my DH's and my amusement, so I usually don't object to whatever the server wished to say. Being touched by a male server would lead to severe rebuke, however!

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                    It goes both ways: most servers really, really hate it when the customers touch them.

                                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                      I'm sure they do, and rightly so.