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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?"


                  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.

                          1. One "get out of jail card" only.

                            a) response is approach the server out of earshot and tell the server not to touch anyone at the table. second time is approach the MOD and ask for a different server. then it is a choice of leave or stay with significant tip reduction.
                            b) never approaches "too long"

                            1. I agree, it's kinda weird....Does he touch male customers as well?

                              1. Mixed feelings. What he is doing, I wouldn't do. I did when I waited down here in FL had 3 elderly customers. I used to give them a hug and ask them how they were and they loved it. I also had several friends I knew came in I would do the same. I had a few regulars I would give a light touch on the arm and say, Nice to see you, how have you been, but nothing more then one very quick touch, but they also did the same to me. That is different that what you are experiencing.

                                I would just politely tell the manager, not him but make sure that it was done without your name. The manager should be able to talk to the waiter/waitress just mentioning he saw this and that the server shouldn't do it. Nothing more.

                                I have run into many people that are more affectionate than others more so in small town or smaller restaurants vs a larger city restaurant. But it doesn't bother me, but I can understand the feeling of being uncomfortable.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  I just don't think talking to the manager is the best way to go about it, since there's no way of knowing for sure if and how the manager will address it with the server. At least if you take the server aside yourself and make a mention that such behavior tends to make some people uncomfortable, you know that he's gotten the message. If the behavior continues, then I think it's time to talk to a manager about it. It may very well be that this server comes from a smaller town like you described where more affectionate behavior is acceptable.

                                  1. re: queencru

                                    That is fine with me. As a manager, I guess I normally would suggest that, but talking to the server would work. The server may not think anything of it just his personality, but I agree in some restaurants it is not appropriate. That is not to say a small town restaurant is appropriate but most people know one another and overall most people seems to be closer and sometimes even related. When I worked in a small town diner I knew everyone that came in, their families and their kids, their jobs, everything about them. That is much different that a big city restaurant.

                                    Either or, it should be addressed if it makes the guest uncomfortable.

                                2. Something similar happened to me at a very upscale restaurant last year. It was our second or third visit in a few months and the waitress was unkown to us. Everytime the WAITRESS came to our table she caressed my arm, my shoulder my back etc. (I am a woman). I thought maybe I was being overly sensitive until the couple with us asked "what is with the waitress all over you?" It was very weird. I was so taken aback that I was speechless.

                                  1. yeah i'd be weirded out by that. I've had a few clingy servers, or those who overshare, but I don't think i've ever been petted by one. And I come from a culture where it's quite common to call people you don't know "My love". I don't like it when people I don't know are huggy, although I do tolerate it if someone is offering thanks or what not. Can't see how that fits into the restaurant environment unless you really know the patrons well.

                                    And this guy WILL end up doing it to the wrong patron one day.

                                    I don't think it's a trend.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: im_nomad

                                      > And this guy WILL end up doing it to the wrong patron one day.

                                      Bingo. It only takes one to complain to the MOD for it to become verboten.

                                      As far as the server touching people, he's become over-familiar with his customers and thinks this keeps them sitting his section. I've seen servers (usually girls - not usually men or women) do this but not frequently enough that it doesn't stand out as unusual. I don't like it and would be sure to move to an interior portion of the booth if I were to continue patronizing the restaurant. If others were really uncomfortable about it (versus just "weirded"), the suggestion of having the "spokesman" of the group is a good one.

                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                        This was not a GUY- a woman who man(woman)handled me. My husband thought it was funny.

                                      2. Wow. I've had servers (male/female) put their hands on my arm for a brief moment but none of them did the whole rubbing back thing! I think I would have been very put off if I were in your shoes. As he does it to everybody in your group, I'm sure he just feels comfortable with you guys.

                                        No, I don't think this is a new trend. I've never seen that type of behavior before at restaurants. Of course, the best way would be to confront the server alone and explain how some people may be uncomfortable by it. But I can understand if this may be super-awkward, especially because this has been going on for so long. If you feel hesitant about that approach, you might want to try an anonymous letter that can help the server "save face."

                                        1. New Trend-No
                                          Experienced it elsewhere, Unfortunately yes.

                                          Approximately 10 years ago my ex and I were dining at Dakota (a small steakhouse chain in CT, VT and Mass) in Orange, CT. I had a problem with a waiter who kept touching me. He put his arm on my shoulder, later his hand on my back. I told him that I did not appreciate being touched by anyone but my wife.
                                          He continued to ignore my wishes, He now had two strikes against him. When he brought out the main courses and set then down, he placed his hand on my shoulder and enquired how everything was...............

                                          My ex had had enough. She picked up the paddle shaped breadboard and gave him a smack on the wrist. I called the manager over and demanded that another waitperson take over our table.

                                          The manager was livid. He informed me that he told the waiter that he was to stop hitting on males accompianed by females, but that males alone were fair game.

                                          Needless to say, the waiter with the offensive hands got stiffed, and not the type of stiffy he was seeking.

                                          We never went back, and are not unhappy to see the building sitting empty these past two plus years. If management tolerates employees touching and trying to pick uo patrons they don't deserve to stay in business.

                                          I am old school. The waitperson is there to serve the patron. We are not buddies. Don't touch, spare me the details of your private life, give good service and be unobtrusive>>>then you'll receive a generous tip and we'll ask for you again.

                                          1. There is one restaurant my DH and I frequent and have for over 10 years. We are greeted by a firm handshake (for DH) and either a peck on the cheek or hand (for me) from the over-70 male owner. We wouldn't have it any other way.
                                            But if anyone else in that restaurant--or any other--rubbed our backs or touched us like you describe or touched us period, well, it wouldn't go unnoticed as either DH or I would be quite vocal about it. Clearly not appropriate in this situation.

                                            Perhaps one of you should go in alone (rest of the group wait outside as backup) and address this server one on one. Politely say his touching behavior that makes everyone in your group uncomfortable and that as a consequence you will no longer be customers.

                                            1. I've had servers do a quick pat on the back, which I don't mind (I'm on the touchy feelier end of the spectrum, myself). But a back RUB? Yaugh.

                                              At least this guy is an equal opportunity toucher!

                                              (As a separate, but related, issue, I also find it a tad creepy when a wait person is very flirty and leaves a personal business card with the receipt. It may not be a pickup attempt, but it sort of feels like it.)

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: cimui

                                                Yes this is pretty gross.
                                                It reminds me of when I go to seminars. Often they have us do a stretch break where we are to gave a back rub to the person next to us. We are to get in a big chain!
                                                Excuse me? Give/receive with a random stranger?
                                                Even if I know the person, that is just not something I do!
                                                I always stand off to the side or take a bathroom break.

                                                And I agree with others who say it's never "too late" to say something.

                                                1. re: Leonardo

                                                  Oh my gosh, I can't imagine. Ugh.

                                                  1. re: Leonardo

                                                    Those are some crazy seminars you're attending, there.

                                                    1. re: cimui

                                                      And these seminars are for self-proclaimed serious business professionals!

                                                    2. re: Leonardo

                                                      yeah, i've been at a few workshops where we were expected to hold hands with people next to us for a period of time. Once was for some form of an aboriginal blessing, once for the purpose of an exercise where we had to pass a "pulse" along. I don't always feel like holding the sweaty hand of a stranger either, but a backrub is asking a bit much for sure !

                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                        Just say you can't because you are currently suffering from a MRSA infection.

                                                  2. Sounds to me like your server crossed the line because you're regulars(which in no way excuses his behaviour) and thinks of you more as friends than customers. Big no-no.

                                                    I think the first/umpteenth time it happens you speak to him away from the table and ask him to keep a professional distance because it's making you uncomfortable...the trouble is because it's gone on for awhile it'll be harder to talk to him but really for your sake and his something has to be said.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: maplesugar

                                                      Yeah, it is like when soemone who serves you all the time at a restaurant sits down at your table for a chat. Unless I invite you... no. And that means any time I come in. I invite you to sit once, does not mean every time.

                                                      You know what is strange, some restaurant management wants you to be overly friendly.

                                                      Servers: I do not want you squatting as if to pee by my table in order to take my order. No sitting to take the order either. No recommending food if I don't ask either. Do not touch me, pick food off my chest or tie a bib on me. Do not comment on what I have or have not eaten or HOW I have eaten it.

                                                      I know. Off topic. Sorta. It IS under the category of overly touchy feely. Yes. That was my defense.

                                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                        I don't think it's off-topic. It is in the overly familiar arena when they remark as to how fast/slow/much/little I ate.
                                                        "Wow you certainly snarfed that down" "Gee you must've been starving" or my fave "You must've hated that [har har har]!" the snarky response to when I ate every bit of it.

                                                    2. In the nostalgic days of the Bacchanal Room at Caesars Palace, the 6- course prix fixe meal included toga-clad goddesses pouring bottomless wine and doing neck and shoulder massages. Was it tacky? Yes. Did I enjoy it ? Yes. Was the food OK? Yes.
                                                      Would I ever again let a server invade my personal space like that? Not until Catharine Zeta-Jones is serving grand-slam breakfasts.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Veggo

                                                        Hee! An honest reply. You men are too funny.

                                                      2. I've read somewhere that it's supposed to get the server a bigger tip. A waiter did the touchy act on me at an upscale restaurant (fleur de sel in NYC) a few years back and I found it offensive and unsuitable for a business relationship of waiter/diner.

                                                        1. There's a local pizza and wings joint near us (across from a junior college) where there has been one attractive young female server working for years. It is pretty well known that she liberally provides shoulder rubs for male customers while taking orders. My wife said I had bit of "'splainin" to do when she and I went there together for the first time and my shoulders got the treatment. It was...... boy scout's honor........ my first time there. The server's response to the uneasiness was to give my wife a rub as well.

                                                          Our son (around 25 at the time) had said something about her in the past, so it wasn't entirely a surprise. I'm sure her tips are much more generous than they'd be without the 'amenities'. The college guys must love it........... not so sure about their girlfriends.

                                                          This is not even close to being a dive bar and I've never heard of any serious altercations resulting from any of this. But......... who knows.


                                                          1. I can't believe that you allowed this to happen once, let alone numerous times -- let a total stranger give you a back rub? That's just weird.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                              what if you were at a small dinner party, and someone you didn't know except as a fellow guest offered to give you (and others) an upper back deep muscle massage as you sat in a straight chair (because they thought they could share their talented massage techniques to relieve stress)? don't you think it'd cause *more* stress or would you welcome a free (good) upper back massage??

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      Exit, stage left.
                                                                      This is the sort of innocent beginning that can lead to a 911 call and an article in the local newspaper.

                                                              1. Well, the "touching" might be.

                                                                That said, I come from near NOLA, where families had the same servers for decades, and even generations. My parents knew the names of our server's children and inquired of each, when we were in town.

                                                                In the Deep South, service is often more "familiar," than what one might experience elsewhere. Often times, patrons were treated as extended family. I do not resent any of that. To most, these folk WERE extended family, as well. There (the Deep South), I kinda' expect similar. Elsewhere, it takes a tad more time to get my head around it.

                                                                I love a friendly server, but until I know them a bit, I might be a bit cautious, should they start to share too much with me, too soon.

                                                                I know of my driver's family, and have met a few of them. I care for their well-being, and for his, as well. Still, should he start to massage me, or my wife, I think that I might be put off a bit. That would be too much, too soon, and we've used him for about 5 years.