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Restaurant "Regulars" Under Interrogation!!!

  • CindyJ Oct 30, 2008 03:32 PM
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My husband and I have been having dinner regularly and quite often at one particular small, independently-owned restaurant. We choose to dine at this restaurant because of its location, and because we really enjoy the food and service there. For some time, we'd been going there about once a week, and almost always on the same day of the week. We usually have cordial, pleasant conversations with the owner and the hostess, and we're always greeted warmly.

A couple of months ago, we did not happen to be in that town as we'd normally be, so we missed our weekly dinner there. In fact, I think we missed two weeks. When we did show up again, as we were being seated, the hostess said, "You weren't here last week. And I think you weren't here the week before, either." I said, "That's right." But she persisted and said, "We missed you. Why weren't you here?"

Now, I know we don't owe anyone an explanation about WHY we happened to not be there. In fact, I thought it was positively rude and absurd that she was even asking. And, after we were seated, the owner came over to say hello and he asked us exactly the same questions. We answered both of them by simply saying, "We just weren't here." Then, last night, under similar circumstances, we were given the same kind of interrogation. I don't know if it matters, and maybe there are cultural differences I'm unaware of, but for the record, let me mention that both of these individuals were born in Asian countries.

We'd easily opt out of the restaurant entirely, were it not for the fact that there's really nowhere else nearby where we'd want to have dinner when we're in that town. Remember, I said we chose the place primarily because it's in a location where we need to be. But sheeeesh! It's as though they're trying to make us feel guilty for not showing up.

I need a good response to these nosy, inappropriate questions. I know these questions WILL be asked again. Don't make me have to find another restaurant just because these folks lack tact and business smarts. I don't want to be rude in my response. I just want them to understand that I'm put off by their inquisitiveness.

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  1. Did you ever think (contrarian) that maybe, especially in this economy, that they were just saying, 'we appreciate your loyal patronage and were thankful for your business'.

    1. I agree that the questions are nosy and rude, but perhaps (as you note) the answer could be cultural differences. Perhaps they were worried that you were sick or something. I'd politely just say "We missed you too" and if they persist with the questions either turn the question back to them (e.g. "Oh, were you worried about us?") or simply say something like "we were busy".

      1. Um, maybe it's all in the tone, but I can't see how these questions are rude or inappropriate. I think it is their way of showing they acknowledge and appreciate you as customers. Maybe they were afraid you had missed those two weeks because of some gaffe on their part, and they wanted the opportunity to find out about it and/or fix it.

        I go to the gym almost every single morning at the exact same time. Earlier in the summer I missed an entire week while I was traveling for business. My first morning back the girl at the desk asked me where I had been. I explained I was away on business and she responded, "oh, we were worried, we missed you!" It was pretty sweet, I thought, that she had even noticed, what with all the people that must stream in there on a daily basis, and that she took the time to express concern.

        Seriously. I'd take it as a sign they value you as customers and don't want to lose you, and nothing more.

        1. Your story reminds me of a little Chinese restaurant my mom and I used to go to before the owner sold it. If we hadn't been in for a while, the owner would come over and tell us how good it was to see us again. He was very cordial to us whenever we came ate there. I have had similar experiences with Vietnamese manicurists. I never think they remember me but they do! Even after two or three years. Sometimes it feels a little obsessive, but for the most part I'm flattered.

          I guess, especially with Carl, the Chinese restaurant owner, it was like we were family. I could tell he was genuinely fond of my mother. Give them the benefit of the doubt and give them an answer that you feel comfortable with, like "we were out of town." Although I've never had this experience in any Japanese restaurant, I have been welcomed this way in a Japanese owned gift shop I frequent.

          1. We also go to a local mom & pop restaraunt, they ask EVERYONE,where have you been? When you leave, they say "see you tomorrow" it's just their tag line. In fact it's printed on their cards and candy wrapers.

            In your case I think a simple we were busy response is satisfactory

            1. I'm sure, as some of you have suggested, there was true concern built into their questions. Maybe they were wondering if we'd found another place to have dinner; maybe they were concerned about our well-being. I think where I have a problem is after we responded in such a way that should have communicated that we prefer not to offer any further information, their questions persisted. When the hostess asked for the second time, "But where were you?" she was clearly asking for additional information. And I don't believe I should feel compelled to create an excuse just to placate her.

              Yes, it's perfectly fine to be told we'd been missed; in fact, we appreciated the fact that they even noticed we hadn't been there. But that should have been the end of the conversation. I ought to add that on our way out, my husband made it a point of telling the hostess that we would NOT be there next week. Personally, *I* wouldn't have done that.

              1 Reply
              1. re: CindyJ

                Sometimes people do not get the hint. I am guilty of that from time to time myself.

                Sometimes people think they have one sort of relationship and you might think you have another. The hostess and miriad of other folks at the restaurant probably were crious or polite or actually wondering what you had been up to - in a friendship sort of way. It happens sometimes when you have long term customers that they become friendsish - you know about their family doings, if someone has a vacation planned, if dogs have died... but there are some customers who, although cordial and friendly, are not friends. I think your husband cleared that line up for them. You are the latter. I would guess they have now broken your code.

                Bottom line for you is if they have ruined your comfort there and you find the impertinence intolerable, you can opt to drive and dine elsewhere.

              2. Whenever one of my regulars would miss their normal "Tuesday night", I would ask them about it when they came back in.
                Two main reasons
                1st. Concern for the person(s)
                2nd. Maybe something on my end was "off" on their previous visit and they didn't say anything about it. It was a chance to get them to mention this so If it was something fixable, I could fix it.

                Never thought that something like this would tick someone off.

                2 Replies
                1. re: hannaone

                  It obviously depends on the way the concern is expressed. In the OP's case it seems as if the restaurant was awkwardly persistent in spite of their obvious desire to not share.

                  I owned my own hospitality business too, and especially when business was tough, I was always extra concerned when a good customer would stop coming in. But I would never press them for an answer to the point of making them uncomfortable or seeming to pry.

                  I also think there's a big difference between probing as to why someone's not been in your place lately and all but demanding to know WHERE they were instead.

                  1. re: Midlife

                    That was exactly the point I was trying to make in my original post. To say, "We missed you when you weren't here last week" is fine. To ask, "Why weren't you here?" or "Where were you last week?" crosses the line.

                2. This has actually happened to me in a place (asian) that I frequent once a week with my son for our usual "mom-son" lunch... I was out of town for 2 weeks, and came back and had the same experience, but with two exceptions
                  1. the owner asked me "Did we do something wrong... have you found a new special place?"

                  2. The server brought us out a special dish from the kitchen on the house.

                  In these times, restaurants are desperate to keep loyal diners, and want to make sure they are happy.

                  1. Wow. Perhaps it was all in the tone, which none of us could gather without being there, but I think if this place is without blemish otherwise (you say you go back again and again because you "really enjoy the food and service there."), this seems like a silly complaint. Is it that hard to just say "Oh, we were away for a while." And if the questions persist, "We'd rather not say."? Why not discuss where you were away unless it was a personal or sensitive trip (funeral, etc.)? You may find out that you have something else in common, like a shared vacation spot, that you would have never before discussed! I guess to the Midwesterner in me, the whole idea of the "issue" seems a bit cold to me.

                    1. jfood is sorry but he truloy hopes we have not moved to a position when other's concern for us is now considered rude. It seems like such a harmless and caring question, but if it bothers you and itr appears it bothers your husband more then you need to find a nice way to stop the question.

                      Jfood would say "we had other plans but thank you for concern." If they persist. then continue, "and in the future we also apologize that we may not be here as often as in the past." If they persist, smile and return to your conversation or excuse yourself and look at the menu. If they still persist, you may then need the approach of "we appreciate your concern, but that is very personal and we do not care to discuss it."

                      Hopefully they take the hint since you like the food.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: jfood

                        I'm feeling somewhat misunderstood. I am truly NOT taking exception with the concern about our absence; it's nice to know we were missed. It's the repeated follow-up questions about our whereabouts that seem inappropriate to me. Clearly, the fact that we've returned, and will continue to return indicates that, all things considered, we really like this place. What I'm having a problem with is feeling somehow obliged to explain our absence. I'd really feel uncomfortable if I was brought to the point where I felt compelled to say "The reason we weren't here last week is personal."

                        Jfood hit the nail on the head -- I'm looking for a kind way to stop the questioning.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          As jfood was reading your OP his mind was wondering which path it was heading. Since it was the same night, every week, he thought OK this is a little extracurriculum activity, i.e. the nookie out of site of friends and family.

                          Could it be that these owners think they are watching the away game in a soap opera and are looking for some dirty secret?

                          Just a thought.

                          Who knows tell them if your spouses find out where they are they may show up, so you are being very careful.

                          Hey, you gotta have some fun.

                          1. re: jfood

                            I'm laughing because the reason for our being there isn't so far removed from the "nookie" you suggest -- except that it's "marital nookie" -- a midweek, midpoint dinner date with a spouse who often works too far from home to do the commute every day. And, truth be told, the owner and hostess of the restaurant know what it is that brings us there so frequently. And we DO have fun with that story. :)

                            1. re: CindyJ

                              hmmm...with that additional information I can't help but wonder if it isn't just concern that perhaps being apart so much is taking its toll; perhaps they like the role they see themselves as playing in keeping you two together, and are worried that it could be a bad sign if you start missing weekly dates....

                            2. re: jfood

                              Late to this party but was directed here by another post and although I loathe "bumping" a thread that's this old I must respond to what jfood said.

                              Indeed, the Chinese are very curious culturally and they just don't have the same kind of boundaries that we do in the U.S. Two years ago when my weight shot up unexpectedly, more than one Chinese acquaintance greeted me with "boy, did you get *fat*!" It's just a cultural thing and I could understand (I'm thinner now -- that's my revenge).

                              Back to the subject, though.

                              As hospitality professionals, we *do* encounter the couples who're married -- but not to each other. There's a story that's legend in my neck of the woods about a popular politician who was cheating on his wife; and his wife (a model and actress) was cheating on him at the same time. Both of these couples were seated -- within a half hour of one another -- in a local restaurant. Neither said a word to the other -- but both parties left the restaurant quickly and tipped very heavily.

                              There's something restaurant professionals need to understand... people are human and what they do (or don't do) with one another is *not our business*. We're there to give 'em a cocktail, a good meal and, if we're lucky a little ambience -- and we're *not* there to question what's going on, as "juicy" as the details may seem to be.

                              jfood, when you recommended that the OP put a little "dish" in the ear of the invasive hosts, I laughed out loud. I hope that the next time my wife and I are out and someone asks an inappropriately personal question I remember to come up with a quip like that, which will, no doubt, stop them in their tracks.

                              1. re: shaogo

                                There was a time, when we first started going to this place on a regular basis, that we actually explained some of the circumstance of our weekly meet-ups to both the owner and the hostess. (This was in response to overt questions like, "Why do you always come in two separate cars and leave separately?" Yes, they ARE highly innappropriate questions!)

                                Maybe the fact that the hostess is Chinese helps to explain her unabashed curiosity, but that doesn't make it sit any better with me.

                        2. I grew up in Lousiana but moved to Texas to go to college. I've occasionally gone to Louisiana for extended periods of time to visit my family, and when i return to Texas, I'm asked the same questions by restaurants that i frequent. I'm pretty shy, so i don't do a lot of talking to the workers at these restaurants. They don't really know much about me, but they do know my usual orders and when they've asked me why i haven't been in for a while, i just thought they were being friendly and letting me know that they've missed having me as a customer. I never felt like they were pressuring me to come in. Sometimes it is the owner, sometimes manager, and sometimes just regular employees who inquire. If you really like the place and are just looking for a response that will appease them, then just tell them you've been really busy. They probably won't ask more after that.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: iluvtennis

                            That's what I'm trying (not very well, obviously) to say. After I say something like, "We just weren't able to be here last week" that ought to be the end. But it's not. They want us to explain exactly WHY we weren't there. Their questions about our whereabouts continue.

                          2. I broke my right wrist exactly two years ago (10/31/06).

                            I was in a cast -to my shoulder- for eight weeks.

                            To this day, one little Chinese waitress still asks me how my arm is doing when we go to their restaurant for breakfast on the weekend.

                            I don't consider it nosy and am happy someone does ask how I'm doing.

                            1. I don't think it's all that rude. It sounds to me that they want make sure you aren't giving up the place for a competitor. I don't think you have to give up any personal information to say that you're no longer in the position to visit as frequently as you have in the past, but that it has nothing to do with a competitor being better or a decline in restaurant quality.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: queencru

                                What if we DO decide to go to a nearby restaurant, just for a change of pace? Do we need to explain that, too?

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  No, you don't. I understand your situation perfectly well. The hostess was likely trying to find out whether you were "cheating" with another restaurant, as other posters have suggested. You don't need to explain anything, but "we were tired, and felt like staying in last week" seems like a way to end the conversation with a minimum of fuss.

                                  My dry cleaner does something very similar, but my usual response, "I haven't worn any sweaters in a while," probably wouldn't work in this case. You could try it, though. I bet that would stop the questions!

                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    I don't think there's any problem with visiting other restaurants or any need to tell the restaurant as long as you've made it clear you don't think there is anything specific wrong with that restaurant or anything innately superior about another restaurant. I think if you start making it a habit of visiting a little bit less regularly, they'll get over it and move on.

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      Okay, I have read all 23 replies thus far.... My take is the restaurant was just trying to be friendly and show they appreciate their customers. I do not believe they were trying to be or realized they were being intrusive with regards to your privacy.

                                      I know many many Asian Families, and keep close relationships with them. American Born understand the concept of etiquette expected by others.....but Foreign Born, may or may not. Their is also language barrier to consider as well.

                                      The bottom line is this was a greeting and "Small Talk". Some are good at it and some are not. Why look for a problem when there is not one? Forget about it for your own peace of mind.

                                      BTW....most food places only remember you the second you walk through their doors....sometimes they then realize you have not been around......very few actually think about you when you are not in their place.......unless they have causr to bring up stories about you....good or bad.

                                  2. I thought that this story was going in a completely different direction. I thought you were going to say how nice it was to be known and welcome in this neighborhood spot, and greeted this way, which sounded warm to me. I would have just loved being missed. I would have assured them that everything was okay, and thanked them for asking! But, that's just me.

                                    1. Answer to the questions: "It's personal." That should be enough to shut them up.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                        You say they are from "Asia", which is as vague as saying they are from "the Western Hemisphere". Thousands of cultures we're talking about, so I have no idea if this is a cultural thing or not. In some cultures there is very little notion of privacy as many in the US have: "Your business is everybody's business!"

                                        If you feel put upon that is your choice to feel that way. Or you can interpret it as honest concern and friendliness. In any case, you can easily shut them down and change the subject. My favorite comeback to a a question which I don't wish to answer is "May I ask, why is that so important for you to know?" Place the hot knish back in their hands.

                                        1. re: Leonardo

                                          My local Italian restaurant will ask me "Where've you been"? if I haven't been back for a week or so. They also ask where the kids are if we don't have them with, etc. I guess I find it kind of like family - of course I've been going there for 15 years so...... My late Mother would come in the door on her walker saying quite loudly (older and not realizing it) "I need wine"! The owner told me the other night that he misses her. L

                                      2. There is a large,family oriented a bit upscale place near us.(Italian) For almost four years,every Thursday dinner Mr X came to dine.He always ordered the fish special,two glasses of wine and desert.If he was to be away his waitress knew.Very loyal,well liked by all etc.Two Thursdays passed,no Mr X.Waitress and owners were "concerned" about the person.Debated what could they do ?? The owner tracked him down via his credit card company.Who when approached were helpful.When into this mystery a bit they noticed his "card use" patterns had changed drasticaly.The card co. called Mr X,are you OK?No I have a wrenched ankle and am recovering from a reaction to the RX given.Card co updated the restaurant.They asked "would you have him call us please"?
                                        Final chapter was they delivered his Thursday special for the following three weeks.As a get well,thank you gift.
                                        Mr X is special to many in the neighborhood,an active leader and volunteer.Slowing down even more,but many of us are MUCH BETTER about staying on top of his welfare and of others.And yes,all of us did "PRY" a bit.Somtimes it happens.
                                        Oh,and his grandson is now married to the waitress/now VET.Guess where the wedding
                                        festivities were?

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: lcool

                                          That's a GREAT story! When I lived in Greece, I was hit with a major dental problem and Greek dentists were afraid to treat me because of allergies to antibiotics and local anaesthesia, so my only choice was to "wait it out." It hurt to eat, it hurt to talk, it hurt to walk if it jarred my head! The owner of our favorite village restaurant began sending me lunch during the day when she knew my husband was at work. The most fantastic beef and macaronni soup you can imagine! If someone offered me the chance to have that soup again but I'd have to have the toothache too, I think I just might go for it! People can be so warm and wonderful.

                                          1. re: lcool

                                            That reminds me of similar stories. The 30 seat restaurant where I am employed has been open for about 5 years now. It's in a very small town, (pop. 1500 or so). Maybe 8 months after we opened, we found our first, true, regulars, S+D. They would come in maybe 3, 4, sometimes 5 days a week. And they lived 1/2 hour away. We were quite flattered, to say the least. After a couple of months of this, they didn't come in for over a week. You know what? We were concerned. We weren't worried that they didn't like us any more. We were worried that something bad had happened. As it turned out, they had just gone on vacation, but don't think that restaurants don't worry about their regulars. We have another older couple that comes in every Friday night at the same time. We know that the wife is sometimes in poor health. When they skip a Friday or two, we worry that she is ok. Restaurant people are not only after your money. We care about our customers and especially our regulars.

                                            1. re: hilltowner

                                              I've worked at places that had a number of regulars. You get quite fond of some and do worry when you haven't seen them in a while. Many of them you just know a few details of their life or only the first name, so even if there was an obit in the news, without a photo you would not make the connection...You always wonder about them and hope that it is just that they have changed habits.

                                            2. re: lcool

                                              15 or so years ago and prior, the card companies were definitely on the side of businesses showing genuine concern. Sadly, the identity-theivers have fouled it all up.

                                              I recently gave a totally botched-up take-out order to a regular customer. When I realized it, the first thing I did was look at his name on the credit card draft and used Switchboard.com to look for his phone number. When nothing came up, I called the card company and asked for name/address verification and also asked if they could call the customer (they can't give out the customer's phone number of record) to tell them that I'd be glad to drive over to his house with the *correct* order.

                                              The moron at Visa/Mastercard who answered the phone was curt and brusque with me. And I'd been forced by their computer to enter the customer's card number (not my own merchant number) to get to a "real" human operator. The operator announced that "there's nothing we can do but we're going to cancel the card for the protection of the cardmember, and we'll send them another." I was speechless. The operator was following a script and had made a wrong turn that went completely bad...

                                              Needless to say, I was telephoned by the customer (over the order being wrong) *after* they'd eaten what was in the *wrong* order. They didn't want to make a fuss. I had to drive out to their house with a cash refund -- and the news that I'd caused his Visa card to be cancelled, in a roundabout way. He was frosted at the time but has remained a good customer.

                                              1. re: shaogo

                                                I recently was trying to help a good customer who forgot their credit card. I had no way to contact the customer, so called the CC number to ask them to let the customer know the card was safe and where it was.

                                                They canceled the card...The next time the customer came in for food I found out the CC company never relayed the info at all.

                                            3. Sounds like a simple "culture clash" to me. I doubt very much they intend in any way to be offensive. To them, the greatest probability is that you have become "family," and while their directness and vocal inflection may seem "nosy" to you, to them it is likely their way of saying, "We were worried about you! Are you okay? Welcome home!"

                                              Why not a gentler answer than, "We just weren't here." That's a door slam. It would be just as easy to say, "We were out of town! We missed you too."

                                              There are many parts of the world where exchange of personal information and "getting to know you" is the standard BEFORE any sort of business transaction. It is seen as a way of building trust and friendship between client and business people. I'm curious why you're so put off with this? In many cultures, including some segments of our own, cooking for someone is a very personal act. You're family!

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                I'm with you on this one...i think the answer of "We just weren't here," may have been part of the reason they persisted. It just seems like there are better ways to close the conversation than that. A response like that would make me wonder.
                                                "We've been really busy."
                                                "We were out of town."
                                                "We've been eating at home more lately"
                                                There are plenty of responses that would close the questioning and not leave them wondering if perhaps they might be responsible for you not coming in as frequently. I'm sure they really are just trying to be friendly and provide good service and have no idea they've done something that is actually making you not want to come in anymore.

                                                1. re: iluvtennis

                                                  So the problem I have with those admittedly tactful responses is simply that they're fabricated... untrue... white lies. Are you suggesting it's necessary to make up an acceptable answer in order to appease their curiosity?

                                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                                    But from what I understand in your OP ("A couple of months ago, we did not happen to be in that town as we'd normally be, so we missed our weekly dinner there. In fact, I think we missed two weeks."), you were not in town, so you could have just said "We were not in town." That just seems less cold than your original response. But that is just my opinion.

                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                      CindyJ, I do understand where you're coming from. And in your original post, you do mention that the restaurant people insisted on knowing WHY you weren't there (which is, imnsho, very nosy). That would probably make me feel irritated and/or uncomfortable (it's nobody's business). But a noncommittal answer like many of those suggested are probably your best bet. And if it persists and you feel uncomfortable, stop going to the restaurant. I realize that you'd rather not do it, but if the questioning mars your experience (and it's more irritating than the food is good), you'll just have to choose between going there and getting the third degree. But make sure they weren't just worried about you before you quit them.

                                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                                        I know what you're saying about the white lies...and no, i don't think you should have to make anything up...but like Danhole says, you did say that you weren't in town. Maybe saying that would have closed the questioning. I know the suggestions i gave may not be true in your case, but i am just saying that maybe giving a clearer response to their question as opposed to just saying, "We just weren't here" might move them past the subject more quickly.

                                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                                      I think Caroline stated it very well. They probably see you as "family" now. You said you have a cordial conversation with both the hostess and owner every week and they even know the reason that you meet in this town is beacuse your husband works so far from home. Previously, you have had personal conversations about your life with them.

                                                      I think they were genuinely concerned about your whereabouts and were not interrogating you.

                                                    3. The US is thankfully a somewhat varied place that includes from old Yankee WASPs to new Cambodian Americans to First Nation peoples to ever increasing Hispanic Americans to African Americans, including perhaps a new president. No surprise, and perhaps a pleasant one, that cultural clashes can take place in the US. I'm usually surprised and bemused when I read threads having to do with people's discomfort when: dining comunally, dining alone, tipping, talking to servers, eating sushi (the silliest in my opinion), seeing fellow diners in baseball caps, menu folding, freebies following dining glitches, and more.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        So maybe life in these crazy United States really isn't as bad as the media would have us believe, if all that's on our minds is an overly-interested restauranteur, eh? I hear ya, Sam!

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          Ah yes, the overwhelming propensity to "Dine and Whine" ;-D

                                                        2. Hmm. This happened to me about three years ago at a cheesesteak shop in PA, Pudge's. I found out later on chow hound that the place is famous for very good food and also 'tude. When my friend went up to pay, one of the guys in back, it might have even been the owner, just said to my friend. "haven't seen you two in awhile, have there been any problems or anything?" My friend responded that we had just been busy. As we drove away we talked about it and the guy asked in such a friendly and genuinely concerned manner that we were utterly charmed to the point of feeling all glowy inside. My friend's take on it was that he really wanted to know if something had driven us away for awhile, something that we didn't like about Pudge's or something. Pudge's is really busy and thriving so we felt kind of honored. Don't know if my story will help, but maybe they were indirectly asking if they had done something to make you angry and stay away, and unfortunately by their manner of asking, they did the very thing they were trying to avoid.

                                                          1. cindyJ, i understand where you're coming from. i have a colleague (senior to me) who comes from a gigantic israeli family, who questions me in the same way about EVERYTHING. I mean everything. he asks about my romantic life, where i live, details about what i do when i go away on weekends, and since he sits in the office right next to mine, he even asks questions about the conversations he overhears me having on the phone with other people, at times. i used to find it unbelievably irritating and intrusive. but over time, i've somehow learned to kind of appreciate that he's not being a nosy ars on purpose -- it's just the way he was brought up, the way he interacts with his family, and the way he shows he cares about someone.

                                                            i don't know if this is the best way to deal with it at all, but for those times when i feel like he's completely crossed the line, the method i feel most comfortable with is deflecting. i'll answer the question with as little detail as possible and turn the direction of questioning. "yeah, i had a great time this weekend, thanks, how was yours? how'd your softball game go / how was the giants game / how did your daughter's parent teacher conference go?"

                                                            ask so many questions the waitress and owner can't get a word in edgewise once you've dispensed with as much info as you care to give. ("what are the specials, tonight? what about this weather we've been having lately, huh? wow, i really miss those <insert name of favorite food on menu>, how do they look, tonight, are you making them? how's the missus? how are the kids?")

                                                            once you do that a few times, they'll probably take the hint that you don't like to discuss your personal life in great detail.

                                                            i think you might be right that certain close knit cultures (be they old school chinese or israeli or anything else) can come across as nosy to those of us in urban areas, esp., who are used to not getting into personal details with anyone except our families and our closest friends we've known since grade school. as others have also observed, it sounded to me like the restaurant owner is treating you as a member of an in-group. given that losing a certain amount of privacy is kind of a tradeoff of being in the in-group, however, i think it's entirely fair that you'd choose to opt out. it's not necessarily the choice i would make, since i don't generally object to these kinds of questions -- but i certainly understand where you're coming from.

                                                            1. Cindy,

                                                              I admit I have not read all the responses fully, so maybe I am being repetitive. My guess is that they do not think of you as customers, but as friends, possibly approaching family. In their mind it may give them enough reason to ask questions that sound too personal. Just tell them that sometimes you aren't able to make it, but it has nothing to do with them or their restaurant. If they ask again, tell them - bluntly - that its not something they need to be asking. Perhaps explain that for americans they are inappropriate questions.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                "perhaps explain that for americans they are inappropriate questions"........eey-ouch. I don't think you can assume this to be a cultural issue. Also, please, don't tell me there are no inappropriately nosy people in America. Or anywhere for that matter.

                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                  point taken

                                                              2. hmm to some degree, you can't have your cake and eat it too...if you want a warm, caring and inviting environment to eat in, you're probably going to get some chatter.

                                                                I used to live somewhere that had a little hole in the wall joint that served fantastic food, and was run by an overly chatty woman. She was queen of the overshare and hovered constantly around the table talking about her personal life, what the plumbers had been up to, her taxes, complaining about her financial situation etc etc. On and on and on she'd go while your food would start to get cold. It was the dining equivalent of the coyote kill. For the most part though, i don't mind anyone noticing that i'm not around.

                                                                Just a question, what's the size of the town you visit? Something to keep in mind, is that in small towns, everyone knows everything about everyone, before they even know it themselves....boundaries are sometimes non-existant, no matter how much you don't like it.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                  This isn't a small town at all; in fact, it's a good-size town that attracts quite a few out-of-towners.

                                                                2. When I'm asked "Where have you been?", I continue the old nursery rhyme "I've been to London to visit the Queen."
                                                                  That ends it. No explanation is necessary, nor should offense be taken by a harmless question from one who simply missed you a little.

                                                                  1. Okay, okay... It's become clear to me from the overwhelming majority of the replies to my question that (1) I've done a really poor job of explaining myself in this post, and (2) I'm taking the inquisitiveness of these folks far too seriously. I guess I need to lighten up and treat these questions not as a literal inquiry into my whereabouts, but rather as a gesture of friendship, and to respond in a friendly way that will appease them and satisfy myself.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                                      you sound like the type of decent, introspective person i'd love to have as a customer. i can see why they want to keep you. ;)

                                                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                                                        I'm SO glad I took the time to read all the posts, especially your last post here. I was fully prepared to type a snarky post advising that the proprietors are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

                                                                        I, too, feel like they were just making conversation and showing concern and appreciation for your patronage. Maybe they just lack the subtlety we are accustomed to.

                                                                        I've learned that ALOT can be lost in translation when posting too, and perhaps some essential elements weren't articulated in your post. Either way, good for you for examining what happened and asking for input!

                                                                        1. re: CindyJ

                                                                          Your post was clear. I think it is that you are not getting the response you were looking for. People are sometimes inappropriate and out of bounds. Look thru some of the suggestions here on replies to thwart that. Try a few out and let us know how they work.

                                                                        2. While I agree with most of the folk here, I too can feel what you're going through. My SO and I met while working at a restaurant, which neither of us work at anymore. Although the food and service were excellent, we got tired of having to explain to EVERYONE what we'd been doing and HOW was the family, were the kids still in school, how we were doing at our present jobs, and then, consequently, having to listen to the current updates on the lives of the hostesses, the servers, the cooks, the busboys, and the owner and his family, both close and extended. Now that sounds like we're an uncaring bunch of jerks -after all, we used to work with all these people- but you know, when we get a chance to go out, having to spend our precious time together talking to everyone else about everything....well, that;s not what we want when we go out.
                                                                          So we only go there once in a while now, when we feel social and chatty.

                                                                          In your case, I'd do what most people suggested here and just say that you've been busy and immediately distract the interrogator with something like "is the soup tonight roasted asparagus?"