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Jul 31, 2014 12:56 PM

A beef: "Is this your first time here?"

Have been meaning to write this for a while now - and wonder if others share my real dislike of this question which is now so frequently posed in Toronto restaurants when your waiter first approaches your table.

Regardless of intention, to me it is both annoying and awkward as well as pointless. Whether I am dining with one, three or five others - more so with the latter - it smacks of some intrusive quiz or invitation to trivia night moving around the table just as one is settling down - and often it falls on the host to say well most of us have but some haven't - or whatever. So what!

The query is not the slightest bit helpful or necessary. Waiters can assume that hosts have either direct experience of the restaurant or familiarity through the Net or word of mouth.
And that they are intelligent enough to ask about anything on the menu as necessary.

The sophisticated approach to convey important information and invite any questions would be, "While I take any drink orders and let you look at the menu I should just remind you that as of a few weeks ago we are only serving table d'hote in which the entire table needs to participate." Or "We are encouraging sharing experiences as all our mains and many of the appetizers and desserts are served family-style."

But please not the "are you a member of the club?" type question thrown to the table. Almost as embarrassing as Morton's showing us a one pound potato as an object of surpassing rarity deserving of comment if not veneration. But that's another subject for another day...

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  1. I can see asking if it's a restaurant with something really unusual in their product mix -- the first examples that come to mind are Dick's Last Resort, with scissored-off ties, bad attitudes, and communal dining; and Fogo de Chao/Texas de Brasil, where the service on skewers is an atypical meal service.

    By asking, the server then gets to "Oh, okay, they're already familiar with it, so I don't have to waste everybody's time by explaining" or "ah, newbies -- I'll give them a heads-up so they're not offended/confused"

    In any other "normal" restaurant(sit down, place your order, your food is served, you eat) I don't get why it matters.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      But sunshine, even in the case you mention, wouldn't it be better to say, "Hello everyone. Just in case you don't know, some mean guy's going to come around and cut off your ties if you don't take them off" then to ask a question, wait for the awkward reply sequence, then give the news?

      1. re: Bigtigger

        No. Because if you've been there before, you already took your tie off.

        The question is then a good one to ask, just in case it was a more casual group...but I've seen people get up and leave who didn't know that part of Dick's schtick is servers with bad attitude.

        1. re: Bigtigger

          Bigtigger, i'd say "no" is the answer to your question.

        2. re: sunshine842

          Definitely want to asked that question at Dick's! Also, Texas de!

        3. There's a very popular restaurant on the UWS that gets great reviews here on the Manhattan board. It's in my neighborhood and Ive been there at least two dozen times. It's a small plates salumeria and the waiters always ask that question. It makes me nuts. I mean, come on. As though NYC doesn't have any small plates restaurants and we don't know what that is. And god forbid five people at the table say yes and one person says no and you have to listen to the whole spiel for the umpteenth time. And even sometimes when you all say "yes," the waiter says, "Oh, well then, you know that . . ." and goes into the whole damn spiel anyway. Aargh! Can you tell you hit a chord? Don't know why it bugs me quite as much as it does, but it does.

          14 Replies
          1. re: JoanN

            Hit a chord indeed - I just was annoyed, yet again, by that question taking my 11yo out to lunch today - seriously? Does it matter? Agreed - unless there's something really out of character at a restaurant it's none of your business and you don't care so why are you asking? Seems to be because they want to know if they should say "Welcome" or "Welcome back"

            Honestly? Welcome is just fine for anyone. sheesh

            1. re: cherieamb

              Next time a waiter-person asks if it's your first time here, say no, we have eaten here 18 times in the past 3 months, and then see if they say anything!

              1. re: foodyDudey

                I once replied, to a waiter I hadn't seen there before, "I've probably been coming here for longer than you have." He didn't take it well.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    Three weeks ago Mrs. B and I went to a local restaurant. We've been there many times. The waiter greeted us by name (he'd seen the reservation list) and proceeded to ask if this was out first time there.

                    I replied: "I've been signing your paycheck for 8 months, I'm here every week at the same time.

                    The waiter turned bright red, walked away and asked the host to reassign the table. He was to embarrassed to serve us that evening.

                    I don't own the place. The owner died 8 months ago. I'm handling the estate and probate. I had a staff meeting with all employees, which the server had attended, and each Wednesday I'm there at 11 AM with the checks. In about 60 days the late owner's children will have title and I can go back to being an occasional customer.

                    1. re: bagelman01

                      good lord. Talk about phoning it in!

                      he *should* have been too embarrassed to serve you.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        Especially since the paychecks he's been receiving are from my trust account, not the restaurant's account.

                        I did ask the manager to have him meet me in the office later that evening and tried to put him at ease. I assured him that his job was not at stake, and reminded him of the first rule inn trial law:

                        Never ask a question for which you do not know. the answer. This avoids getting blindsided.

                        When I brought the paychecks this past week he was on duty and served me lunch, no problem.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          Huh? Never ask a question you do not know the answer? He didn't. He knew the answer.

                            1. re: rasputina

                              but he didn't know the answer -- he didn't realize that Bagelman had had a staff meeting that the server had attended, nor did it register that Bagelman hands him his paycheck every week.

                            2. re: bagelman01

                              So you succeeded in embarrassing him and making him stressed during service. How does that benefit the restaurant? The manager was there and should have been the person to have a discussion with the server, privately, after service was over. Rule #1 in customer service – never deal with employee performance issues in the customer service area.
                              I would not be too keen to eat what that kitchen serves you after you publicly humiliated an employee. Just sayin’…

                              1. re: EM23

                                um, Bagelman signs the manager's check, too, as I understand it.

                                Bagelman also talked to the guy **in private** -- see the post above.

                                Bagelman signs the kitchen's checks, too....buys him spit insurance that a regular customer wouldn't get.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  What does signing checks have to do with this? The manager's job is to manage staff. Bagelman embarrassed the server in public and later, realizing the guy was upset, assured him, in private, that he won't lose his job.
                                  I don't think I'd feel too confident with spit insurance.

                                  1. re: EM23

                                    Hey, folks, we removed a whole bunch of posts here. We know these etiquette threads sometimes get a little testy, but when you find yourself assessing the personality flaws of your fellow hounds, please take a step back.

                1. Try saying "You, you don't...remember me?" Then burst into tears. I can't stand the practice either. A simple "if you have any questions about the menu, let me know" would surely suffice.

                    1. re: LeoLioness

                      Neither do I. Seems odd to me that anyone would be annoyed by it. I'm more annoyed (and even then, only mildly so) by upselling efforts that are a bit too persistent, or lack of knowledge about what they are serving. Or criticism of my food choice, such as " can you eat liver? That's pretty disgusting...". Believe it or not,that's a direct quote.

                      Different strokes, I guess.

                    2. It is moderately annoying but it serves 2 purposes I can see - one 1. is it's an icebreaker

                      "no, we are visiting from out of town, we read about your restaurant on Chowhound"

                      "welcome to South Bublefuk, hope you are enjoying your visit, we have some local specialties on the menu - you really should try the raw scrapple pate"

                      "yes, we come here all the time, we just love the Kale Cesar"

                      "welcome back, we have some specials and new items on the menu, if you love the Kale Cesar you may enjoy our new Brussels sprout pancakes"

                      I gather from other posts on this board people just hate talking to waiters and would prefer to order by tablet and be served by drone. I don't mind a bit of banter with the wait staff -

                      2. its a bit of information gathering - why are people coming here? are they returning? Why?

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: JTPhilly

                        I usually find this question asked mostly in restaurants that focus on small or shared plates. Yes, most people don't go into restaurants blind anymore, but at these types of places it's helpful for me to know how much they recommend we order.

                        But in general, I agree that a lot of people really prefer a very seen-seldom-heard server.

                        1. re: JTPhilly

                          While I get the intention of it being a conversation starter - I think it rarely achieves that. Instead of the response being "no - we're from out of town", the response that usually happens (from tables I'm with) is "yes", "no" or "some of us have, some haven't". I don't mind banter/talking to my waiter, but in all situations I remember it puts a quizzical tone over the table and stops conversation.

                          While it may be information gathering, I think it does make people feel as though they're expected to perform or take a test. I also think the fact that (at least in DC) it seems pretty pervasive takes away from the conversational nature.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            Perform or take a test? It's a yes or no question.

                            1. re: LeoLioness

                              I'm just commenting on how I've seen tables that I've been at respond to the question. That it doesn't serve as a natural conversation starter to either elicit if people are from out of town, regular patrons, first time with small plates, etc.

                              Perhaps the phrase 'take a test' is a bit extreme, but when I've been out with a group there's usually this pause amongst my table, we look at each other, and there's this moment of "how do we answer this?" I'm only contributing anecdotal observation that it's function is more odd than a natural conversation starter.