Sunday, September 03, 2017

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.”

26 comments :

Ellen said...

This is LA speak, Ken. Except for the "perfect," I don't hear these things in New York.

Earl Boebert said...

Oh, for the days when a hash house waitress would drop a plate of bacon and eggs in front of you and say "There you go."

Peter said...

This was a rather novel experience for me when I visited LA some years back, as it's not something we're used to here in the UK, where waiters and waitresses are usually sullen and rude.

Visiting a Johnny Rockets, I ordered a cheeseburger, which was "fantastic" and on ordering a Sprite, I was told "Great choice!" Maybe it's because I'm not used to it that I actually found it rather pleasant and fun. Maybe if you get it all the time it can get annoying.

But if it's a choice between a grumpy waiter who just scribbles down your order without making eye contact one who responds with an enthusiastically fake "Great choice!", I'll take the fake any day.

Diane D said...

".....as f there were a handbook." There is, and woe to the manager whose staff doesn't abide by it. There is a chain restaurant in Hawaii which REQUIRES every waiter to say, "Where are you folks from?" And, "Aloha" at some point in every customer's visit. Auditors visit restaurants regularly to see if this is happening (they are checking on other things too, I presume). Managers are threatened with termination (by Corporate heads) in a very ugly way if their staff is discovered not saying these two phrases to every customer. I have seen the nasty memos.

I'm sure the language you describe is verbatim from an employee handbook. New staff probably need some suggestions to help them develop a friendly, accommodating manner, but to force them to act like robots saying the same thing to every customer, using incorrect English in the process, is just disgusting.

Ralph C. said...

Will that be all, sir?

David Russell said...

Lately, in the Vancouver area, the server handbook seems to include, "So, do we have any big plans for this evening?" This can be asked upon arrival, departure and sometimes both. It seems as if she is asking us out, either my wife, me, or both of us.

Similarly, when we leave, so many servers, bartenders, hosts and hostesses say goodbye to us I feel like we're breaking up,with the restaurant.

Jeff Maxwell said...

A friend in the food business told me that most waiter-speak is "crafted" to gently move us in and out as quickly as possible. He also suggested most managers are idiots and terrible writers. They need a writers room for waiters. If my server is too weird, I get the dessert to go and go quickly. Is there method to their madness?

Marv Wolfman said...

You left out the one that bugs me the most: "You guys." As in: "Can I get you guys anything else?" Guys of course being both men and women (so at least it's neutral. But c'mon, you guys, you don't have to keep saying you guys. Instead, you guys can simply say, "Can I get you anything else?"

William Kelliher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald Benson said...

A few decades back I bought a sports jacket. Approaching the register to pay, the saleslady, an older woman, cheerfully declared "I'd been HOPING would like that one!"

I owned and wore the jacket for some years, and was never really sure what the saleslady meant.

Diane D said...

Off Topic: is there ever going to be another good movie? I saw two movies this week---Tulip Fever and Valley of Bones. I can't say anything good about either one; and the subject matter of both was very interesting! I couldn't help but think about the recent posts on this blog concerning all the non-creative people involved in changing everything a writer puts in a screenplay.
There were actually two reviewers who said the photography in Valley of Bones was outstanding. I assume that is true, but for me all I noticed was that every scene was shot at night, very early dawn,very late dusk, or under dark, stormy clouds, so I couldn't see anything that was going on. And it was shot in the BADLANDS, some of the most spectacular scenery in the country! I do have to say that the stormy day photography in that location was beautiful. Every scene in Tulip Fever was also dark, dark, dark.

Hank Gillette said...

I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but I ate at a place where the response to every question or statement was “No problem!” This might be appropriate sometimes, but not always.

“Could I get some more napkins?”
“No problem!”

“I need to use your restroom.”
“No problem!”

Brian MacIntyre said...

Waitresses around here (Toronto/Mississauga) are likely to say one of two things: "Mmm, yummy, my favourite!" or "Excellent choice!" when you order no matter what. This improves the dining experience not at all. I also have a pet peeve about those who think it's o.k. to refer to me as "Honey".

Robert Forman said...

Your post today made me think of a question for you. Have you ever had a person who was a waiter for you show up shortly thereafter for an audition for a show you were helping to cast? If so, did they recognize you? How fun would it be for your rude waiter from a previous night show up an an audition the next day?

Lionheart said...

No one speaks this way unless instructed. And, no matter what a waiter says or how it is said
someone will object so nuts to the complainers.

Steve Daly said...

I remember a million years ago. My family would take an annual trip to Annapolis to watch a Naval Academy football game. And we would have a dinner at a pharmacy (yes, a pharmacy that had a restaurant) and it was a great top-off to a great day.

The pharmacy got replaced with a restaurant, so the first year after that happened we dined there, and, as if from a "Vacation" movie, this literally happened. The waiter approached our table, pulled a chair from a nearby table, turned it around and straddled it and said, literally (as in "literally" and not "figuratively" and I am not kidding), "Hi I'm Brad. I'll be your waiter tonight."

My parents as well as we juvenile siblings all groaned in our hearts. The food was okay--it might have been better than what we had had in the pharmacy days. But what we had had at the drug store was fine enough.

But this was, for all four of us, our first experience of having a server's cloying need to express themselves overcome any enjoyment we might have found in the meal. We did not come to the restaurant to be entertained by Brad.

A great server...you get to the end of the meal and you think "Wow! What excellent service!' Not "Gee! I wish Brad was my friend!"

Chris said...

A couple weeks ago I found a "Server Manual" for some brew-pub-like chain of restaurants on the bus. I grabbed it for a laugh and, holy hell, everything you complained about is in this 109 page document.

Two columns of "Instead of saying... Are you here to eat?" "Better to say... Are you here to dine with us this evening?" [To which I always think 'No, we're here for the orgy!'] The differences between an "Order Taker" and a "Salesperson", which sums up this whole thing up perfectly.

And my favorite bit: "Think of your tables as real estate, it si your area to generate revenue." So all the cleaning and wiping down is called "real estating".

And this is FOUR PAGES of the manual. Jesus...

Compare and contrast this with the burrito place I go to, where I'm a regular and, y'know, they just ask what you want in a friendly way, remember that I'm there again and I get my food. Tahdah!

Pat Reeder said...

There's definitely a handbook, but it varies slightly depending on location. Most of these must be specific to LA, but here in DFW, we do get "Perfect" and "Did we save room for dessert" a lot. I get complimented with "Great choice" no matter what I order. I wonder if I would be expected to feel shame if I ordered the hamburger at an upscale bistro, and the waiter responded, "You tasteless clod." Per Marv Wolfman above, we also get collectively addressed as "you guys," which really annoys my wife, who would never be mistaken for a guy. She notes that "Perfect" has also permeated her hair salon, where she tells the staffers she'd like a Diet Dr. Pepper and is told, "Perfect!" She likes Diet Dr. Pepper, but come on.

I've also noticed that everywhere I go these days, cashiers who used to say the dreaded "Have a nice day" now tell me, "Have a good one." The vagueness of that always comes across to me as a bit of an innuendo. Next, they'll be greeting me when I walk up with "How's it hangin'?"

ChipO said...

Ditto for hotel front desks and hotel front line service folks. We KNOW they are ordered to speak per script as well.
Hey Ken's Kin, let's print the column, carry it with us, and hand it out when confronted with same - but not to the wait-staff, they're stuck with their script, we have to seek out the senior manager at the time.
If we can change this, maybe we can change more important things as well.

VP81955 said...

From ordering a Scottish Breakfast at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to the checkout at my local supermarket, everyone now uses "have a good one." I presume nice days are now deemed in the past tense; more's the pity.

Anonymous said...

Went to Islands last night. Not one waiter/server "speak" word. Left her an extra $5 tip......

Cap'n Bob said...

Oh, for the good old days when everything I ordered was AWESOME!

Betty said...

"Perfect" has even permeated Pittsburgh, which is at least 10 years behind the times. Thank goodness we still have coffee shop waitresses that call you "hun"!

Peter said...

I hadn't heard of Tilted Kilt till Ken mentioned it here. I went on their website.

Now I wish we had one in London.

Jahn Ghalt said...

So far as I care, waiters can say whatever they want - so long as they respect the proper distance and use "radar" - which uses not-varbal signals: When I or anyone at the table expects some waiterly attention, they glance, the waiter receives it, and appropriately shows up "on time" (depending on the waiter/customer ratio) to "converse" yet again.

Why is it:

1) So many waiters fix their gaze directly ahead when passing near?
2) Come around and ask "how is it tasting?" (OK I guess I DO CARE what they say)?
3) Interrupt a leaning-forward-head-to-head conversation?
4) Ignore the patrons' setting down of menus (without conversing) - another signal: "we're ready to order"


Instead of the appropriate:

1A) using peripheral vision or ordinary head movements to receive the glance (i.e. "radar")
2) Staying away until "the glance".
3) Coming back on "the patron's time" (signalled by "the glance"), or merely pass by casually - sending the waiter's own "glance", and continue like that passively until the patron's are ready.
4) Respond to menus-down semaphore: "What will it be? MAy I tempt you with appetizers/specials/another cocktail/etc/etc/etc?"

All this supposes the joint is not a 'diner' where more interaction and a faster pace seems to be de rigeur.

Anonymous said...

The "waiter speak" I have noticed in the midwest is opening with the question "Is this your first time at {name of restaurant}?" I noticed it because against my wishes I found myself at a Red Lobster where the waiter asked us this. I answered for the table, "Maybe. I'm not sure." It was the perfect response because how could the waiter follow that? After this, I noticed every waiter or waitress asking if it was our "first time." A "yes" reply gets "Great! Welcome back!" A "no" gets something like "Great! You are in for a treat!"
But all of Ken's other "waiter speak" examples we see here in Michigan too.