Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Waiter-speak

Is there a language course waiters are required to take these days? Must they pass Waiter-speak before being hired? Who started this current trend where waiters are no longer allowed to converse like normal people? If it were one or two I’d say it was an affectation but they all talk like this now – as if there were a handbook. Maybe this is just an L.A. phenomenon, you tell me. And if you are one of these waiters, would you let me know your side of things? Perfect!

Whatever you ask for now is “perfect!” Salt, a cheeseburger with onions, a cheeseburger without onions. “I just stabbed my date to death and need another knife. “Perfect!”

There’s a formality that is now the standard.

A waitress will take my companion’s drink order then turn to me and say: “And for yourself?” I then must say: “Get myself a beer please.”

No longer can a waiter ask, “Ready to order?” Now it’s “Have we decided?” “Yes, I’ll have what you’re having.”

They use “we” a lot.

The variation is: “So what are we thinking?” “You need your teeth fixed before you go out on more auditions. I’ll have the halibut.”

The only time they don’t say “we” is when they’re reading the specials and then it seems like they own the restaurant and are the chef as well because they’ll say, “Tonight I’m featuring…” Sometimes they do this in a fake accent. You can just picture their headshots and resumes. Special skills: foreign accents, baton twirling, yodeling.

They’re forbidden to ask how you want something cooked. Instead: “What temperature would you like?” “Gee, I’m not sure. 423 degrees or 425?” “Perfect!”

When serving they are now required to say, “Please excuse my reach.” In some places, like Tilted Kilts, that's the only reason you do order food.

And this is a relatively new thing that has caught on quickly: “Are we enjoying the first few bites?” Who started that? And woe be the maverick waiter who asks: “Is everything okay?” Now it’s “Is everything outstanding?” Imagine asking that question with a straight face at the Olive Garden?

When they want to be specific waiters now inquire: “Is the veal to your liking?” It’s as if Boyd Crowder wrote the handbook.

After the meal there are two options. “Did we save some room for dessert?” or “Can we tempt you with something sweet?” Either way you want to trip them so they'll fall into a pie.

The bottom line: real people don’t talk like that! But it's great if you're a screenwriter.  As a writer I’m forever fascinated by dialogue. And in crafting a script, giving a character a certain turn of phrase can greatly help the actor define him. Good writers are great listeners. “Thanks and you have a lovely rest of the day.” 

UPDATE:  As per your request, writing my review of the first ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.  Will post it soon.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ken, you write a great blog and have written amazing television. You've made a mintload of dough. But in case you didn't know, it's hard being a waiter and having to be nice/subservient to assholes in exchange for tips all day long. YOU try it. All of those niceties that real people wouldn't dare utter are just ways waiters get through the shift being nice to assholes.

Gary Campbell said...

I have noticed that too! Perfect! I imagine they must have corporate classes or manuals in waiting etiquette now.
And they all put smiley faces on the check. Studies have shown that increases tips.

Pete Grossman said...

Superb, Ken. Bill Flanagan from MTV touched on your subject on CBS Sunday Morning: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50147680n

John Leader Alfenito said...

And let's not forget the new (apparently) universal response to "Thank you."
"No problem."

Pete Grossman said...

Exactly, John. That's the piece I link to in my previous comment. Superb as well - thank you :-D

Jen White said...

I live in the Dallas area and most of these mannerisms are not something you would hear from a typical waiter here. I did, however, hear “Please excuse my reach.” for the first time many years ago during high tea at the Plaza in San Antonio, so I don't think that is a new one :)

Bamboo Harvester said...

Nothing to worry about, they are just perfecting the dialog for the androids who will replace humans.

Hobbes said...

I live in the Great White North (Saskatchewan) and our waiters talk much like this. I understand what anonymous is saying about it being a trying job, but is the conclusion from that comment that waiters always assume the person they are serving is an ass? Perfect!

Jake Mabe said...

It took all the restraint I had the other day when a server asked, "So what are we having?" for me not to reply, "Well, I can't speak for you, but I'm having a hamburger."

I HATE this trend, but I'll take robotic politeness and efficiency over a chatterbox who can't get my order correct.

Emmett Flatus said...

No problem.

Mac said...

You've got to hand it to them - how they stay nice and smiley is a miracle I'll never understand. I was a waiter and after my first shift I wanted to kill everybody with a steak knife. I couldn't fake it so there was no second shift. They do a tough job, so I'm always nice to them, even if they say dumb things.

Eric J said...

Think about it. Restauranteurs go to trade shows. They talk with one another, with "consultants" and presenters. They come back home and pass these things on to the wait staff. Same with all the ridiculous scripted phone dialog. Wait staff and call center employees talk that way because they are told to talk that way. So, yes, it is organized. Still it's remarkable and made an interesting post.

Kyle said...

While I'll never have the guts to actually use it, I like this response from Seth McFarlane: Waiter: “And have you eaten here before?” Me: “No, but I’ve eaten at a restaurant before. I think I’ll figure it out.”

Hollywoodaholic said...

I hear "Absolutely" a lot whenever you ask for something at a restaurant these days.

And, drive thru order takers all seem to use the phrase "My pleasure!" when you finish your order or thank them, thereby setting new lows for the standards of an actual pleasurable experience.

ScottyB said...

Friday question related to today's subject: I've always wondered this: when "Frasier" was being created and written, who came up with the idea that this was how Niles and Frasier would speak, and how do you write it well if you don't speak that way yourself all the time? Study waiter dialog? The uberpretentious sort of dialog was perfect and Grammar and Hyde-Pierce nailed it every time, making it even more perfect.

MikeBo said...

When we are greeted by the server with, "Good Evening folks, I Clyde and I will be your server tonight," I always take a moment to introduce everyone at my table, and if I know anyone at the adjoining table, I introduce them, too.

Pete Grossman said...

Don't be too catty with the wait staff. It never serves you.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

The "I" drives me nuts. Unless you own the place, or you're the chef, stop it. Also, "I'll be taking care of you." And yes, I've waited tables. Pretty sure I managed it without being creepy.

Corollary advice to patrons: Your server is not interested in your life story, does not want to share his/her own, and doesn't think your funny.

Editor in chief said...

"...and doesn't think your funny."

Why would I care what they think about my funny?

Wayne said...

Perfect!

Sherri said...

The one that drives me crazy is "How is everything tasting?" when they come by to check after you started eating. I don't know, I don't think the food is tasting!

chuckcd said...

Must be a LA thing. We don't have as many actors here in the OC.

John Dean said...

The really efficient waiters usually call me at home the next day to ask if the food stayed down.

The "perfect" response has always gotten under my skin. Same with "no problem," which has almost universally replaced "you're welcome" these days.

Another one I hear all the time is "You got it!" after I order something. I've got it? No I don't.. YOU'VE got it. I don't have it yet. When you bring it to me, then feel free to say "you got it."

On second thought, don't say it at all.

Dan Ball said...

I'm in Kentucky and Southern hospitality kinda prevails here. Usually, if you go to a nicer restaurant, you'll get the "perfect" treatment. Average restaurants, on the other hand, usually have friendly waiters.

I think chatting with your waiter is one of the most humane, endearing things you can do--if they're up for it. It's off-the-charts customer service for them and you feel better knowing that you brightened up their day a little. I've never been a waiter, but a retail cashier's kinda similar. I loved it when friendly customers came through. I'm pretty shy and not the best at breaking the ice on a whim, so it was nice when a customer would do it for me. It was even better when those customers came back time and again and you actually had a good rapport and relationship with them.

Janet T said...

Even in our tiny city in Oregon we get this treatment. But since we are in a tiny city, we get to know our waitstaff really well (and they get to know that we tip well) so our exchanges are more friendly than just niceties.

layla said...

I am in health education and OH it's so tough to train some med students to stop it with the "Perfect!" response. They ask a patient a question, get an answer that shows the patient is in great distress, and the automatic space-filler response (while their brain leaps ahead to "is this cancer?" or such) is "perfect!". NO NO NO! Sigh.

Bill Rabkin said...

To Mr. Anonymous -- I do have great respect for the hard work it takes to be a good waiter, but please believe me that Ken, as a TV writer and producer, has spent many, many years having to be nice/subservient to assholes. It's just that our tips are bigger.

RG said...

My favorite restaurant story is from an experience in 1991 at Hamburger Hamlet in Westwood. A friend of mine and I took two lady-friends out to eat. It was after a matinee and our meal was either late for lunch or early for dinner so our entire section of the restaurant was empty. The four of us ordered hamburgers. The waiter brought the ladies their hamburgers and left. Of course as gentlemen we suggested they start with their meal. For the next 10 minutes the ladies are eating while the waiter is standing next to the door that leads to our section. Finally, the waiter comes to our table and asks: "So how is everything?" My reply was simple: "It would be better if we had our hamburgers."

McAlvie said...

Ha. Let's not take this trend out on the wait staff, since it's not limited to them. Communication skills in general aren't what they used to be.

Anonymous said...

It must come from some online waiter's handbook as we have it in small town Midwest restaurants, too. We also have the new standard question, "How is everything tasting?" -- which is just the waiter's way of saying "Don't get me involved -- let's just keep any complaints you may have between you and the cook."

Cap'n Bob said...

When did "perfect" replace "awesome"? I need to get out more.

Danale's Ramblings said...

Funny, but kind of denigrating to those that work in the business. It's not easy waiting on a lot of jerks all day long.

http://danalesramblings.blogspot.nl/2013/05/why-everyone-should-work-in-restaurant.html?utm_source=BP_recent

Anonymous said...

Over here in Los Feliz you may get a server who tags her exit with "...,Hon." I always thank her back with a "...,Babe."

The male version is "...,Bud." which earns an
old-fashioned "...,Dude."

Dan H said...

The waiter-speak I find the most annoying is when the server states, following my choice from the menu, "My favorite."

Makes me want to change my order.

Nixon said...

I think that 'perfect' is the new 'absolutely' which was the new 'of course' which took over from the worn out 'fabulous'.
'Absolutely' was the closing word for the formerly popular self-interview...am I liking this restaurant?...I sure am, is the food good?...delicious, will I come back?...absolutely.

Ted said...

We try new restaurants from internet deals. The internet deal says "348 already sold." I print the coupon. I make the reservation and mention the deal. We go to the restaurant. I present the coupon - and the waiter does a huge double take worth of Laurel and Hardy. "Well, this is interesting," he says, " I'll have to check this out with the manager." And he's done this same bit 348 times already! This is good experience for a long Broadway run.

D. McEwan said...

"They’re forbidden to ask how you want something cooked. Instead: 'What temperature would you like?'”

I'm reminded of a bit early in Mike Todd's film of Around the World in 80 Days. Sir John Guilgud, as a flustered valet who has just quit the employ of Philias Fogg in frustration, is railing to the employment agency person, Sir Noel Coward in a ridiculous wig, that Fogg demanded his toast be a certain precise temperature, not to vary by even one degree. In his cultured, lovely tones, Sir Noel muses aloud: "Fascinating. Just how does one take the temperature of toast?"

D. McEwan said...

I have tended to reply: "No, Diana Rigg is perfect. This is edible."

JC said...

I couldn't care less how they speak to me, I just wish they would write the order down and not try to impress me with their memory skills. I'm not as bad as Sally Albright when I order, but by the time four of us specify our salad dressings, sides and drinks, 90 percent of the time something is ultimately forgotten. And yes, I waited tables for 11 years.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The humorous British political writer Simon Hoggart has often written with fascination about the US's "fawning waiters". The ones you quote sound like the nurses in Jean Kerr's old columns about getting stuck in the hospital.

I have a copy of one of George S. Kaufman's more obscure plays, a one-act called School for Waiters. He surmised that somewhere there was a school where prospective waiters learned to ask stupid questions, get orders wrong, and so on. Sounds like you could update it, :)

wg

RepubAnon said...

In Stardance, one of Spider Robinson's characters had the following exchange with a waiter:

Waiter: "How would you like that cooked"?"

Customer: "Gee, that would be terrific!"

Storm said...

@D. McEwan: Weren't she and her daughter Rachel fantastic on "Doctor Who"? I'd recently seen Rachel Stirling in "The Bletchley Circle", and thought she looked like someone, but couldn't figure out who. Then I realized who her Mum is.

Oh, and I mostly popped in to say I hope you had a lovely birthday. Cheers, darling!

Storm

cadavra said...

A waitress once asked me how my steak was, without bothering to look to see if I'd actually started eating it (I hadn't).

And whenever someone says, "Hi, my name is Monica and I'll be serving you," I smile and reply, "Hi, my name is Mike and you'll be serving me."

RareWaves said...

I empathize with waitstaff and am always polite, but I don't like restaurants where the waitstaff tries to be your friend. That whole "we" thing and so-called "engaging" language comes off as trying too hard to connect and has the opposite of the intended effect on me.

What will impress me is attentiveness. You get that down pat, and I'm a returning customer.

Diane L. said...

I'm always overly polite with waitstaff because they have access to my food before I do and that's a powerful motivator to be nice to someone. I will say that when I lived in AZ, they always asked how my food was tasting so far. That made me worry, like they knew something I didn't. They probably did.

Whatsername said...

“And for yourself?” sounds like something an Irish person would say, was your waiter/waitress Irish? (I'm Irish and live in Ireland and I probably say this all the time, I certainly hear it all the time). Or maybe there was one Irish employee in that restaurant and the reset of the staff picked up the expression.

Nathan Partyka said...

In our industry we call these people "waitrons" the automated, script reading drones that take orders and bring orders.

The human element is key, why can't it be like you are serving friends in your own home?

A lot of the corporate restaurants do give servers certain "required" things to tell their guests, basically creating a small script for them. Their aim is for consistency and also to increase their sales with these prepared sentences.

Things don't need to be over complicated and I agree with you, why can't we just talk like humans and only use the appropriate restaurant terminology when it's needed.

Nice post.

DMT said...

I remember at one of the places where I worked they brought out scripts we had to follow.

It was strange hoity toity stuff. We felt like planks having to say it and the customers sure as hell didn't like it either. We told the management that the customers were looking at us like we had two heads when we followed the scripts, but of course they knew better.

Down the line business was failing so they did a survey the customer feedback was unanimous "your staff sound like robots, your staff sound condescending and pretentious" The script was scrapped we were told to be natural and polite when serving customer and with that business started to improve again.

So remember folks, you're not the only ones who find waiter speak annoying, the servers don't like it either.

Anonymous said...

How can't they be happy? They pretty much get paid right after the diner leaves. Where most people have to wait weeks. I don't really find how a waiter talks to be to annoying, I find it very rare to have one that is terrible. And I have been to thousands throughout the years, but the only one where I went straight to the boss was the one that cames up to me and asked. How may I help you while chewing her gum.