I am a reasonable human being who has accepted that there are certain vagaries of this business that one must sooner or later learn to live with if he is to avoid being driven certifiably insane. Obvious examples would be the occasional idiot who undertips, the elderly four-top who just can't get enough of that delicious bread, and small children who enjoy the hell out of dropping silverware on the floor (my limit for retrieving it to humor the child, who should have been left at home given our price point, is twice). I am very fortunate to work in a place where these phenomena aren't too terribly frequent, but there are certain phrases that I would do ANYTHING (spend the night in the walk-in cooler, eat three dozen pana cottas and a stick of butter, give birth to a flaming porcupine) in order to avoid hearing again. Almost all of them, admittedly, seem to be motivated by a good-natured desire to entertain the waiter and other guests present at the table, and if taken out of context, are pretty harmless.
HOWEVER, I have always believed, even before my tenure as a waiter, in considering what the day-to-day routine is like for any individual who is in the act of serving me. This means trying not to say things that I know they must have been hearing throughout their day, or at least trying to say them a bit differently. It seems to me that the greatest difficulty in serving others, in any capacity, from shining shoes to tearing off movie ticket stubs to emptying septic tanks, isn't the physical or mental gymnastics of the task itself--it's the MONOTONY. The sameness of it. Both having to ask the same questions and hear the same reponses, or vice versa. Say what you like about finding jobs that stimulate your brainpan more than ones that deal with the public, but I believe we would all do well to make the world a bit less tedious of a place by mixing it up a little, whatever our occupation is--we all spend time in the act of serving one another in some capacity. To be fair and avoid a double standard, I do my very best to avoid greeting or addressing any two tables in the same way when there are a million different ways to do it............
--Good evening. How's everyone?
--Hi folks! How is your blood-alcohol content tonight?
--Ladies, it's Saturday night, which means two things: 1) I have on the expensive cologne, and 2) we have specials.
--I'm not sleeping with any of you tonight.
You get the idea. That said, I would dearly appreciate it if patrons could make the same effort. One of my personal heroes is an English gentleman who once asked for 'the William' instead of 'the Bill'. Shut-up--it was funny. And yes, I realize there's only one way to ask certain questions, like what a waiter's favorite dessert is (hint: if he's smart, his favorite is the quickest one both to prepare and to consume, as this enables him to drop the check sooner, make room for new guests, and move on with his shift and life). So I'm not going to insist that questions not be asked. All I ask is that we try to curtail the use of the following hackneyed, banal, commonplace, overplayed, witless announcements and feeble stabs at humor.
<wraps loudly on water glass with fork>
Here they are. My top 5 most frequently heard and hence most hated guest phrases:
5) When greeting a guest at the front door just after opening, the dining room still completely empty:
"Gee! We must be the early birds! You think you'll be able to fit us in???? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"
4) When serving or refilling coffee:
"Now, is that really decaf? Are you sure? Because I'm gonna get your number and call you in the middle of the night when I can't sleep if it's not!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"
3) When reaching for a plate that someone seems to be finished with but is actually just taking a break from:
"Ah! Ah! Ah! You may lose an arm if you take that!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"
2) When clearing plates and offering to-go boxes (Incidientally, I never ask "Do you want this to go?" Saying "Would you like to take this with you?" is much more eloquent, I think. See above discussion on showing some variety):
"Yes, can you please wrap that up for me? I'm going to have it for lunch tomorrow." This one isn't really so bad, it's just startling how many people (I estimate about %70) volunteer this highly pertinent and captivating detail when I'm really just after information in the form of a yes/no response. Just the facts, ma'am.)
And the biggie.......If there are any waiters here who can tell me this isn't the most common and annoying guest-ism, I will have no choice but to believe you and would love to hear from you............
1) When clearing and stacking finished plates to take to the dishroom:
"Boy that was terrible! I really hated it! Please tell the chef I did not enjoy it and remove it from my check! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!"
This one I must hear at least a dozen times each and every night. How incredibly droll and witty. You should be writing monologues for a late-night talk show host.
Sermon over, but please spread the word. The golden ideal that everyone seems to be in the pursuit of in this business is continuity. Employee turnover is plain hell in restaurants, and if you avoid these phrases you may help a skilled service professional survive just one more shift without putting a fork in someone's eye. Concerning the bigger picture this is good, as your favorite restaurant will be a bit more likely to retain the same staff for your next visit, giving you that nice, comfy feeling of confidence that you will have just as good a time as the last getting your little ego stroked and having delicious, overpriced items brought before you to devour in a ritualistic orgy of unbridled avarice that you have worked hard all week for ;)
Cheers and thank you for your patronage.