If I could wave a magic menu and change dining out forever, I would start by eliminating the three words that leave me mentally mutilating my napkin: “How’s everything tasting?”
Nothing irks me more than sitting with my newspaper open in mid slurp of a first spoonful of soup or having a mouthful of meatball with a piece of pasta precariously perched on my chin and having some server swoop in to ask how everything is.
Staff at Rick’s Diner or Rico’s Bistro would be trained to wait a few minutes at least before disturbing someone’s meal. They would instead approach the table discreetly and simply pause long enough to make eye contact with a sincere, silent smile. That provides diners with the opportunity to address any concerns without intruding on the mood or interrupting the flow of conversation.
Although this may come as a surprise to the new wave of servers, not everyone eating out wants to share the moment with you or respond to your rehearsed robotic banter. Circumstances can cause people to have to plan a funeral, close a business deal or deliver the news about a messy breakup over a meal. Whatever the reason they chose your establishment, there’s a plausible probability they’re not there to chatter with the hired help. Unless, perhaps, they’re a regular customer seeking your service because of a relationship forged over previous repasts.
Back in the ‘60s I worked on the Jersey Shore at a restaurant that catered to Legionnaires who hated hippies on general principle with a head topped by what most Americans considered horribly long hair. Whenever I had to trade in my cook’s apron to wait on tables, my silent treatment and polite smile approach out-tipped my colleagues, a collection of college students who couldn’t wait to tell their customers where they went to school and what they were studying.
If you you’re in agreement so far, here’s another bone of contention I’d like to toss your way. When did it become common practice to pile two pounds of potatoes translated into French fries as a side on every plate? Next time you’re on your way out of a place that serves the humble spud in that preferred fashion, take a look at the amount of fries left behind. Instead of wasting acres of crops and freighters full of fryer oil, cutting back or offering refills would save money and might even promote healthier eating by addressing the ballooning problem of obesity that is expanding waste lines across the country. Let those who insist on overindulging fill their boots, but spare the rest of us from the canola-coated carnage.
Finally, although this may sound like an old nit nattering away at a much younger gnat, can someone please explain why “No problem” has officially replaced “You’re welcome” as the go-to response de jour in the service industry?
Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.