Saturday, May 28, 2022

Weekend Post

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 from JUSTIFIED 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.”


slgc said...

My bigger gripe is with customer service agents on the phone. I'm calling in the first place because I'm upset about something, they go through their asinine scripted conversation, they leave me on hold for 10 minutes, and then say, "Thank you for your patience."

I have no patience at that point. My patience has been used up. And more often than not I tell them that (being old and crotchety has its benefits).

And hey - if you want to use this scenario for a 10 minute, two person play, you have my blessing :)

Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Anonymous said...


Keith R.A. DeCandido said...

I think it's an L.A. thing, because I haven't noticed that in NYC or any other east coast or midwest restaurant I've been to lately......

Milton the Momzer said...

When a waiter brings something and I say "Thank you," I want to hear "You're welcome," and not "No problem." I don't care whether it was a problem or not. It's doing your job.

Earl Boebert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Earl Boebert said...

Oh, for the days when Hazel Hashslinger chunked your cheeseburger in front of you with a gruff "There ya' go."

DublinerIRL said...

While I agree that most of this is very annoying, the phrase "And for yourself?" is a common one here in Ireland. Was your waiter Irish?

Anonymous said...

Here in southern New England I haven’t experienced much of this (pretention is not the Yankee way) but I have noticed in recent years that the server will ask “How does everything taste?” I guess so you can’t complain about portion size, doneness, the meal is cold or whatnot.

Lemuel said...

Of course I looked up The Twisted Kilt and studied pictures of the waitstaff (thank you lord for unpierced navels). If a jernt like that opened in my Arizona town, they'd stick it at the end of the city limits with the pot dispensary and strip club.
The "enjoy the rest of your day" isn't just LA, it's national. I get it from medical professionals all day long. It's like "Mrs Simpson pinched our king".

Steve Mc said...

"Have you dined with us before?"

"No, but I'm assuming that I pick something and you bring it to me."
"Yes, but the restraining order has expired so I'm back."

Barefoot Lance said...

Well, I know that Spanish speakers use the word "perfecto" much more casually than English speakers use "perfect". Because of the large Hispanic influence in LA I can easily see the language drift, with more English speakers using the English word "perfect" but with more of the Spanish meaning. And from there strictly-English speakers could easily take the formality of "perfect" and extend it to other phrases that they use in that context. The separation of English and Spanish, then rejoining with similar sounding words that have slightly different meanings, and English evolves. Just a theory, but one that doesn't require a conspiracy :)

former server said...

Landry's rolled out what they called "Professional Service Standards" 15-20 years ago. It all sounds exactly like that. Let's see how much I can remember and how much is obviously BS.

"Approach" 1. (Yes, they really called it "approach".)

"Welcome to [restaurant], may I interest you in a cocktail or a glass of wine?"

The particular restaurant I worked at was in a business district, so this never went over well at lunch, yet we were supposed to say it even to all the people who were clearly not going to have an alcoholic beverage with their meal. And, "may I interest"? what kind of wording is that?

We have many appetizers both hot and cold, many of which are perfect for sharing. May I have our chef [name] prepare one for you?

It went on and on like that. We didn't say "Is everything outstanding?" We were supposed to day, "Is everything prepared to your liking?" I don't know which is worse.

As to "Perfect!", we were giving a list of "Affirmation Terms" to use. Never say "You're welcome". Always say, "My Pleasure". Never say "Yes" or "sure", always say Absolutely!

And, never, EVER say no! If a guest asked, "I'm allergic to seafood. Can I still get the surf and turf?" "" is not the right answer. "Unfortunately, we would be unable to offer you the surf portion of the surf and turf and so...."

This all rolled out right at the time I was able to duck the requirements for reasons. A couple of months after it rolled out, we had lunch at said restaurant. New server (no prior experience) served us. They went through the whole spiel. (8 different "approaches") I told them three separate times they could drop the script and talk to us like regular people. They were incapable of doing such.

Long winded way of saying I feel your pain. From both sides of the table.

Jason Gracey said...

Well, they're trying to be actors, not writers.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I took my mom to Mother's Day brunch at an upscale restaurant this year, and that was something that she picked up on about not just ours, but just about every server in the restaurant, the certain words and phrases they used when speaking with and responding to the diners and customers - of which, I honestly didn't even pay that much attention . . . and yes, she noted that they often responded, "Perfect" whenever people placed their orders and such.

One thing I have been genuinely curious about is this . . . say you go to a more casual dining restaurant, like say, Applebee's, Outback, or something along the lines of that . . . the servers almost always wear all-black outfits, and has anyone ever noticed that it seems as those the women quite often wear little black tops that are so tight it's like they're practically wearing leotards? I know why they do that . . . there's a "hidden camera"/"undercover" investigation about that on YouTube (however, specifically in a bar, not a dining restaurant) to show that women with larger breasts tend to rake in bigger tips than others who either have small busts, or wear looser-fitted clothing that don't accentuate their shape. I've definitely been to some places where a manager would probably have to come out and force Hawkeye or somebody to leave, because I've seen my share of some really well-built and perky waitresses, including one who coincidently served me twice on two separate occasions at a Ruby Tuesday.

But, I digress. It's not just the restaurant world though, there are a number of things in life where you kind of have to be given some sort of a language lesson to understand what to say, what not say, in order to make a good impression. I can remember growing up and being taught about what to say or not to say during job interviews and the like, and one rule that was constantly hammered into me was never say the word "stuff," because it sounds immature and childish . . . i.e. "Stuff like that," or, "Other stuff."

AlaskaRay said...

Ken, you must eat at much better restaurants than I do. The last thing I recall a server saying to me is, “do you want fries with that?”

cd1515 said...

Another thing that annoys me is how the waiter never writes anything down anymore.
Am I supposed to be impressed by that?
(And of course I invariably get some part of the order wrong)

D. McEwan said...

"Perfect" drives me nuts. It's not just waiters. Receptionists at the various places where I go for medical treatment use "perfect" also.

What's your name?"

"Douglas McEwan"


"No, 'McEwan.' And if it were perfect, it would be easier to spell."

Two days ago on the phone, a doctor's receptionist asked me for my birthday, as they usually do, to find me more easily on their computers. I told her my birthday (Which is tomorrow, thank you) and she replied "Thank you." I couldn't resist saying, "You forgot to say it was 'perfect.'" She didn't get it. Usually "Perfect" as a response to my telling them my birthdate prompts me to reply, "No, if it were perfect, the year would be a more recent one."

Leighton said...

I'm in another state, and haven't heard much of this. HOWEVER...“Did we save some room for dessert?” THAT one I do hear, and it drives me crazy. "No, asshole, I stuffed myself like a pig during the main course, so I won't be able to enjoy your $10 slice of 'green' key lime pie."

KLAC Guy said...

There’s a local restaurant here in my little town in Connecticut that I have been going to for 5 years. During the pandemic, they lost most of their staff, which was a shame as they were all old school and spoke like real people. They were also very efficient. The replacements were all trained at waiter school and use all the terms that Ken described. The only problem is that they’re lousy waiters and waitresses. The last time I was there, I ordered a side salad with my meal. The meal was delivered without it and the waiter came back and asked if everything was “outstanding.” I replied that I really would like my side salad. He said he would “get right on it.” About 10 minutes later, he came back and again asked if everything was “outstanding.” I answered, “yes, my side salad is still out standing in the kitchen.” He apologized profusely. I never got the salad.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

It's not the waiters, it's their bosses. It's the modern version of 30 pieces of flair.

Wait. You went somewhere and *ate in*??!


Wendy M. Grossman said...

PS. Ken, have you ever read George S. Kaufman's one-act play, SCHOOL FOR WAITERS? I can recommend it.


Michael said...

Just about every Russell Baker column was a classic, but one of them was about "the English mafia" of William "The Funster Punster" Safire and Edwin "Dry Laugh Eddie" Newman, among others. He talked about how they ate at a restaurant where "the menu's illiteracies had been expunged by Newman the previous night," and I bet he intended the passive voice there.

Anonymous said...

Often heard everywhere "No problem"

Lemuel said...

Michael: I remember Newman well. His book Plain Speaking taught me to hate the word "slather".

VincentP said...

No wonder Edwin Newman had such superb rapport with David Letterman on the latter's short-lived 1980 NBC morning show.

Colin Stratton said...

They could easily ask, "What the fuck do you want?". Working for the public is not an envious position. I am surprised there are not more Carla Tortellis or Basil Fawltys out there.

Gary Crant said...

1) This is indeed an L.A. thing. Sorry, but pretentious shallowness just runs rampant there. It isn't quite like this everywhere.

2) Waitstaff are trained to talk in stock phrases, from McDonald's on up. "Would you like fries with that?"

DBenson said...

Gag I never found a home for: Waiter sets down plates, saying "Enjoy!" The diners eat while having a serious conversation. The waiter returns, smile a little forced. "I said, 'Enjoy'." At various times the waiter passes by, finally getting belligerent in his insistence that they visibly ENJOY their meal.

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

As long as they’re polite and competent, who am i to question how they go about their jobs. Food service work is a tough gig, especially dealing with customers, so how they speak is like last on my list of potential restaurant complaints.

Cap'n Bob said...

Now that my selections are no longer awesome I feel demoted. Oh, perfect isn't bad but it lacks the scope of awesome.

Yourself and all the other "self" words are often misused and it drive me nuts. They are called reflexive/reflective pronouns and must be used with another pronoun or noun. For example, I cut myself shaving. Myself reflects I, who was cut shaving. But you can't say Myself was cut shaving.

Andidante said...

I love today's posts and the comments are hilarious!!

Kosmo13 said...

Waiter: "Do you have reservations?"

Customer: "Yes, but I decided to eat here anyway. I want to give this place one last chance."

Leighton said...

@ Randy

I'm paying to eat in a restaurant. I have no trouble being annoyed by how they interact with me, including what they say.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Another issue--No sense of humor.
Them: Would you like fries with that?
Me: I wish, but my doctor put me on the no-fry list.
Them: (blank stare)

Steve Lanzi f/k/a qdpsteve said...

Ken, if you're not already, look for Drew Talbert on Instagram.

For a couple years now, he's written and produced a whole series of 'reels' (really, short comedy sketches) on working at various positions in a fictional restaurant, called Bistro Huddy. Most of them are hilarious and it's obviously turning into a career for him. Besides already having at least one sponsorship account, he recently got Guy Fieri and his son to appear in a few segments. Anyway, there's real talent there, and he plays *every* role, except for the aforementioned Fieri bit.

Here's a sample:

Bronson said...

My guess is that a lot of these interactions are ways to minimize time spent per table. If you ask a closed ended question, which normally can be ended with a yes/no boolean, there is less chance of getting detained at a table in chit chat.

Example: "Is the food to your liking?" Sure.
Versus: "How are things?" Well, we had to wait 30 minutes for the table; what's up with that? Also, there were water spots on the silverware, and there aren't enough napkins at the table! (Note that none of these are the servers responsibility).

More table turns equals more customers equals more tips. If a wait staff is too personable (and this is really unfortunate, if you think about it), then the customers at the table may want the server to stop and chat a bit, get to know one another.

If something is declared "Perfect" then there are no action items to be assigned to complete right? Nothing to do but eat up and be on your way.

I think it may have been Ken in this blog who talked about a bad experience he had at a restaurant that not would seat his party until everyone had arrived (it was an on demand type seating arrangement). The author of the post pointed out to the waitstaff that this was not a helpful way of treating customers, and the waitstaff completely bungled the experience by just pointing to policy. The waitstaff should have said that in the past when one person arrives late, inevitably they wind up with one person sitting all alone in that formerly larger party's booth taking up space that the next party of 4 is hoping to get. They could compare it to people that follow around people in parking lots hoping they are going to leave so they can take their parking spot.

For my part, I side with the customer. The goodwill and references that you get by treating the customer like a friend will far more enhance the profit line than the incremental bumps you get by rushing customers to hurry up and eat and get out so the next table turn can occur.

Will there be situations where a group of 8 church ladies come in and hog up two booths for two hours while just drinking coffee? Sure. Those can be dealt with on a case by case basis. But adopting a one size fits all policy where customers are subtly (and sometimes not subtly) nudged to hurry up and get out is not the way to go.

Joyce Melton said...

I've never heard a living server use any of these lines. Actors in films from the 40s, maybe.

D. Scott said...

Bronson, I agree with your overall sentiment, which contradicts your statement about water-stained utensils (admittedly something I wouldn't complain about) and a need for more napkins. If it's not the server's responsibility to fetch a clean fork or more napkins, who's is it? And yes, I've heard waiters say some of these things in the midwest. I think Ken't point is they sound a bit pretentious.

Peter said...

I laughed all the way through. Now, I live in a less sophisticated Florida city that still has pretensions and has a lot of chain restaurants ranging from Mark's Steakhouse, PF Chang's, and Outback at the top end to Waffle House at the low end. But this still rings true to me, though we have a foot planted in the rube market.

Waiter speak that irks me in the circles I travel--and that you probably do not hear--is the question when they want to clear the dishes and ask if "we have reserved room for something sweet." Wait staff will ask about a plate with remaining food: "Are we still working on that?" I never feel as much like a cow out in a pasture being bred for slaughter as when asked if I am still "working" on a meal, presumably adding to my girth and ingesting all sorts of antibiotics and hormones to make my carcass ready for dismemberment and shrink wrapping on a styrofoam platter. If I answer no, I feel I have not done my duty to the agribusiness feeding me so plentifully. If I answer yes, I feel a supremely Catholic guilt for gluttony.

Joe Walters said...

Haven't heard many of those exactly, but similar things abound. Even here in New Mexico they have their little phrases. "I'll have the combo #3." "Awesome!" Awesome??? You have six combos, I chose one, and that's awesome? And my great pet peeve: "Can I get this plate out of your way?" "IT'S NOT IN MY WAY! IF IT WAS, I WOULD HAVE MOVED IT ALREADY! IT'S RIGHT WHERE YOU PUT IT WHEN YOU BROUGHT IT OUT! I THEREFORE I ASK: WHY DID YOU PUT IT IN MY WAY???"

Leighton said...

And plates should not be removed until EVERYONE has stopped eating. I have had to hold my plate to prevent the server from grabbing it. Slower eaters should not be rushed.

Michael said...

Lindy's, now best known as the place were Sinatra tried to get Brando to eat the cheesecake in "Guys and Dolls," was famous for its waiters being insulting.

Customer: "Do you serve crabs here?"
Waiter: "We serve anybody. Sit down."

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Leighton This is exactly why servers generally ask, "Are you finished with/still working on that?" before they take your plates away.

Alex Gheorghiu said...

I find it quite arousing when an attractive female waitress or an attractive female worker at any place tells me “perfect” in reply to something she asks me. The phenomenon of the “perfect” reply is not restricted to waiters: if you have dealt with any in health-care service lately they do that too, and so do most in customer service these days.

Dennis Hartin said...

In 1947, the legendary playwright George S. Kaufman wrote a piece for the The New Yorker in which he claimed to have visited a school for waiters where they learned all their annoying habits, including coming to the table to ask how the meal is exactly when one of the diners is reaching the punch line of a joke- ruining the joke. They also learned how to diminish their peripheral vision, so they don't see diners trying to get their attention. It's in an anthology of his writing called, naturally, By George.

Alex Gheorghiu said...

I see that I specified “female” waitress above: one might think that was a typo since I typed up and posted the comment at 2:17 am; but no, actually I could have sworn that I’ve seen some male waitresses before, so I had to be clear and specify. Some of the waitresses and other female customer service workers say that “perfect” in a sexier way than others; while others don’t even say it in a particularly sexy way.

former server said...

They could easily ask, "What the fuck do you want?". Working for the public is not an envious position. I am surprised there are not more Carla Tortellis


So... In addition to being a former server, I've also been a bartender and mostly for restaurants.

There was one bartender who any Saturday that we worked together would stop and ask me at least once a shift:

She: "Uh... do you know that person?"
Me: "No. Why?"
She: "Because you totally just insulted them to their face."
Me: "Oh. Yeah. But I smiled when I did it, so they thought I was joking."

The only one I really remember (because we were on an almost two hour wait and I had already clocked at least 10 hours that day) was when someone asked, "What do you recommend?" and I said "Bottled Beer." I have no clue what you like. I have no clue if, say Rum is too sweet for you or tequila makes a puke. I do know I can open a bottled beer in seconds and move on to the next person when we are three deep of people wanting a drink.

So, there are some of us Carla's out there, but it's *really* hard to get away with. :-)

Jack Zullo said...

There has seemingly been some push to reinvent the wheel in the service industry. I think competition for business is at it’s highest, and to compensate management pushes a higher level of commitment from employees to make a restaurant seem superior. It’s like craft cocktails. There’s still booze in them right? Yup? Great. That’s all i need.

Russ DiBello said...

I'm fascinated by some of the witty retorts suggested here, like "MAD's Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions": "do you have a reservation?" (etc.).

Maybe it's me, but I've found that as the years move on, you are more likely to encounter a frozen, glazed-over stare and a bit of dead air, if you try to initiate witty banter with just about any stranger in the working world.

And it's not like "I don't find your joke funny". They invariably don't even know it's a joke. It's not like they don't "get it". It's like they're not aware that there's anything to "get", because they don't utilize that kind of repartee with their contemporaries. Which they generally do via messaging, where the nuance of anyone from Cavett to Letterman would likely fall flat.

At the risk of sounding like the old man who shakes his fist at a cloud, I am sadly convinced that anyone under maybe 35 has grown up in a world where a friendly, mildly witty remark or flirtation, intended merely to break the ice and put the other party at ease, instead makes the perpetrator look like a space alien.

This phenomenon, which I've also heard about from many older folks with similar bad attitudes (you know... "Boomers"! ACK!), has taken "the art of conversation has been lost" thing to a whole other level. Verbal conversation in these times is not only not artful, in many cases it's nearly impossible.

Randy Horenstein said...

I've always thought that waitstaff leaves $$ on the table when it comes to dessert. Many times I'm too stuffed at the time, but "How about a slice of pie to go" might get my order.