Saturday, June 18, 2011

Restaurant Talk

Here are fourteen universal standard lines used verbatim by table servers in the USA.

1. Table for four? (...and until recently: “Smoking or non?”)
2. Can I start you off with something to drink?
3. Our specials today are...”
4. Can I take your order?
5. How would you like that?
6. Your order will be right out.
7. Fresh ground pepper? (Holding grinder over salad) Tell me when.
8. How's everything?
9. Are you still working on that?
10. Can I take that out of your way?
11. Room for dessert?
12. Warm up on your coffee?
13. Are you ready for your check?
14. I’ll take that when you’re ready.


Erik Bongers said...

A good occasion to illustrate some differences between American and European table habits.

Perhaps the most well-known difference is the holding of the knife and fork. In Europe we always cut the portion we are going to put on our fork in "real time". Thus we are constantly holding on to our knife, while in America you'll often see that the meal is cut to edible portions at the beginning and then the knife is placed on the table and the hand holding the knife is held under the table.

There's another habit that, as a European, I found most annoying in America. Whenever you're halfway through a meal and you put down your knife and fork, a waitress would quickly, and without asking, take away your plate. I was really offended the first time that happened to me. My food was being stolen!
I learned that I had to hold on to at least my fork, so what I did, whenever I had put down my knife and fork for a little chat with my table mates, was every time a waitress came by, I would quickly pick up my knife and fork again and hold them over my plate. This gave the right message but I cannot deny that, to me, this gesture was also to be able to physically defend my food!

What it actually boils down to is that Europeans tend to take a longer time to eat (at least in company), while an American dinners tends to go rather fast. And American waiters are simply not used to having customers who take hours to go through a simple dinner.

I'm sure there are similar stories on table habits from American visitors in Europe.

Erik Bongers said...

So whenever I hear (or in this case, read) impatient expressions like
"Are you still working on that?"
or "I'll take that when you're ready.", my eye still starts to twitch.

Harrison said...

I go to restaurants that ask "would you like fries with that?" and "Would you like to Supersize the fries and Coke". heheh. Just kidding... Love your blog!

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

The one phrase in French that one absolutely must know when visiting Paris is "L'addition, s'il vous plait". If you don't know how to say this, you can sit at your restaurant table until you fall asleep! I found this fascinating the first time I was an American in Paris; the contrast to the hurried Stateside routine is amazing.

r8r said... America, at least, restaurants are all about the turnover. Each of these 14 statements is geared to move us along through the meal and out the door, so that the next people can occupy the table.
we're socialized to take in the meal quickly and to move along. it's the ca$h, man.
I don't think we even know how to eat in a leisurely fashion.

M Althauser said...

Until today, I'd never heard the phrase "warm up on your coffee?" before. It wasn't here on the blog, it was at Cracker Barrel this morning.

I grew up in the restaurant business, and my family owns and runs a successful restaurant; I'm used to taking my time when I eat, but I also don't eat particularly slowly. However, it still bugs me when the check is brought out before I'm done with my meal. Conversely, having to flag the waiter down for your check when you finished 45 minutes ago is also annoying.

Anonymous said...

having to accommodate the needs of people from all walks of life and who have a huge array of eating habits, make these generic questions absolutely necessary in this line of work... we don't want to hurry you along, but we don't want you waiting for us either.

Robin said...

Try interacting in the same exact way with people who are essentially not that different in the ways that they respond 50 times in a day and see if you don't start using the same lines over and over.

Also, try using cues if you don't want someone to take your food, cutlery put tidily in the middle says you want the plate taken away but make it look like you just paused and they probably won't take it. Also, do them a favor and put your cutlery in the middle and if the napkin's paper put it on the plate to show wait staff that you're done. They're not trying to hurry you out, the person breathing down their neck is pushing them to stay on top of the floor because if shit builds ups it will be impossible to recover and everyone will have to stay later when you close.

Also, a person isn't an idiot if they're not the best wait-person ever, they probably just have better shit to think about than getting good at a job where people treat them like sub-humans.

Robin said...

Also that wasn't to be a dick, and I mean no disrespect, just don't condescend wait staff because it's a thankless job, most of them are in it while they fund something that they care about which isn't profitable, or they're just trying to get by, and it's pretty easy to get jaded if you repeatedly get treated like shit. So if you get a bad waiter/tress it's probably because they've been dicked around so much that they don't even care anymore and they get paid so little to be your bitch that it's not really worth being nice.

PAF said...

That list screams out for a Bingo card to enliven the meal.

James Gurney said...

Robin, I understand the frustration you're expressing, but please understand that I'm not judging condescending, just observing. We all use formulaic speech, including restaurant guests, and most of the time it serves us well. Breaking through standard speech to acknowledge the humanity on both sides can make a restaurant transaction more memorable.

Alyssa said...

A lot of people have mentioned turnover rates, in the US. But that depends on a lot of things, like the type of venue and the time of day.

I once worked at a restaurant that was busiest in the evenings. One pair of regular customers often came to eat during the early afternoon. Because the place was empty at that time of day, and the couple tipped nicely, the waiters were happy to let them stay and chat together as long as they liked.

Unknown said...

You forgot, "Sorry, this card didn't go through," and "Sir, please remove the silverware from your coat pocket."