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Nov 7, 2007 11:48 AM

Patronizing restaurant language from NYT - what's your experience

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

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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.


    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.

                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.