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Touchy-Feely Servers

I like to eat at locally-owned, independent restaurants and I prefer trying new restaurants over visiting old favorites. However, for drinks and appetizers after work we typically end up at family-style chain restaurants a la Applebees or Montanas because there are about a dozen within walking distance of our workplace.

We regularly go to one restaurant after work, and we are always served by the same waiter because we sit on the lounge side and he's the only person who works during the mid-afternoon. When he takes our orders, he stands behind us and rubs our backs. When he walks past to other tables, he'll pat our shoulders. When we stand up to pay at the debit machine (it's Canada!), he'll put his arm around our shoulders. It doesn't matter if we're 25 or 65, fat or thin, friendly or rude, he touches us. I don't think I've ever been touched by a server before. All of my colleagues think it's really weird, but we don't know what to say. We've let it go on too long!

Is this a new trend in food service? Have you experienced this elsewhere? What's the appropriate customer response a) the first time it happens b) when it's gone on too long?

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  1. You people up there are way too nice (it's Canada!).
    The appropriate response, whatever the time, is for someone to calmly politely confront him and ask him to please stop.

    1. You've become regulars and he's become over-familiar with you. Honesty really is the best policy. Here's how I'd handle it (explanations in parenthesis):

      We really like you and enjoy coming here after work. We always get great service. This is very awkward to say (admitting the awkwardness helps ease the awkwardness while still acknowledging it) but several in our group (doesn't single anyone out yet protects everyone) aren't comfortable with being touched. It's a personal space thing.

      Just one person saying something could change the behavior (no "u" because it's America! - at least where I am). ;-)

      11 Replies
      1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

        The only problem being I would fear him being embarassed and annoyed by the comments and then seeking retribution by tampering your food. Eeek!

        1. re: lynnlato

          Why, why, why do people persist in thinking that food tampering by servers is common? I've been a waiter for 15 years and have never ever actually witnessed any fellow waiters doing this. I'm not saying it has never happened, but it has to be quite rare.

          My guess is that he will be quite embarrassed, but not necessarily annoyed.

          1. re: hilltowner

            I don't think it's that rare. I remember when I was in my late teens/early 20s talking to people I knew who were servers around that age bracket and it was not uncommon to hear stories about food tampering.

            1. re: queencru

              That's exactly it. You heard "stories". Urban myths. War stories to impress. Spin a good yarn to amuse.
              I'm sure it happens, but not 10% as often as these "stories" might imply.

              In these times, it would be treated as bioterrorism and the restaurant would be shut down. Hidden cameras are everywhere.

              1. re: Leonardo

                Uh, it's naive to think it doesn't happen . Especially in this day and age. Haven't you ever watched reality television? LOL

                1. re: Leonardo

                  These were people who would tell me what they did after they finished a day at work. It wasn't someone talking about a story they heard from someone else. I am not saying that people did it everyday, but just hearing 2-3 people say they did it at least once in their serving careers is more than enough for me to be cautious.

                  1. re: Leonardo

                    I'm with you Leonardo. I've been in the business for 16 years and have NEVER seen anyone tamper with food. I think alot of these stories are started by the paranoid people who are convinced that servers are out to get them. Give me a break!!!

                    1. re: srr

                      I'm with you Leonardo.
                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                      What exactly are you *with* ? His view on stories of/on *urban myths....or where he says *I'm sure it happens*?

                      1. re: srr

                        Or maybe they saw "Fight Club?"

                        Hunt

                  2. re: hilltowner

                    Umm, I've been in the business... well, lets just say longer than 15 years (yikes). I never said it was common. However, it has happened.

                    I wouldn't want to risk the chance , was my point.

                  3. re: lynnlato

                    My thought was that by admitting the awkwardness, it would help ease that potential for hard feelings. There's probably no helping the being embarassed but a nice tip (after a no touching visit) should alleviate any annoyance or bad feelings.

                    All that said, my ex and I had become quite friendly with a few regular servers. We would affectionately greet them (hugs). I'm, now, concerned that we might have crossed the line and made them uncomfotable.

                2. "I normally charge $50 bucks for that sort of touching. Shall I take it off the bill or would you like to run a tab?"

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                    Hah! I wish Chowhound had a function to mark favourite comments.

                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                      "My husband/boyfriend is VERY territorial. If he saw you touching me, he'd open up a can of whup ass on you!" <said as you removed his hand from your shoulders>.

                      1. I would probably take the server aside and explain that it may not be wise to touch customers, because many people may take it the wrong way and stop coming to the restaurant. I wouldn't mention anyone specific in your party, but I would try to make it clear that this type of behavior is just not acceptable regardless of whether it's your party or another group of patrons.

                        1. Servers shouldn't touch customers. Period.

                          I often shake hands with the man in a dining party; if the couple's familiar to me, often the woman proffers a cheek for a smooch. These are regulars who expect the treatment from the manager. If a customer is pouring out his/her heart to me I'll take them by the hand by way of validating their feelings.

                          But no, an employee shouldn't overtly touch diners, ever.