Sanders: Smooth servers
Sometimes when we least expect it, we get “schooled.” One of my early lessons in France was when I ordered in a restaurant. As I think we all do I said, “I want the ham plate.” The server looked me seriously in the eye, moved closer and said, “You want or you would like?” The waiter’s point is that “want” is a demand; “would like” is a request. Americans usually say, “I want” so I had no idea. But I never made that mistake again.
While traveling or living in various places, we naturally come across things we like — or don’t. We can’t help but compare experiences. When we talk about them we run the risk of “snob syndrome,” but we are simply expressing our appreciation for learning to see things differently.
In most areas of the Midwest and west, servers in restaurants have two things in common; they are female and they are working in that capacity until they get through school or find a different job. A few consider it their calling or career and stick with it.
Their training is on the job by the employer or chain’s standards and it is not formal. Shadowing is how most servers learn. A day or two doing that and they are turned loose.
A typical American waitress begins an encounter with, “Hi, I’m Bambi and I’ll be your server.”
That is what they are told to say, but what do customers want — hot food, uninterrupted quick service and cleanliness. We have noticed where the waitresses are women, not younger girls, they don’t introduce themselves, but when they approach they ask, “Coffee?” They are efficient and very busy. After they deliver your order, they may fly by with the coffee and ask again, but they don’t hover nor interrupt.
A friend and I were having lunch in a nice place. Once we got our orders, the waitress kept coming back often to see if we needed anything. We even told her we would be chatting for a while and didn’t need a thing, but that didn’t stop her from pestering. I suppose she was trying to be attentive but it was annoying.
I just prefer another way: be observant, watch for signs yet keep your distance. If I need something I will let you know. At least that is the way I prefer; others may be want to be smothered with attention.
Then there is the matter of the check. Normally around here the server asks if you want dessert then promptly brings the check, always saying, “There’s no hurry,” but a diner certainly feels there is. The implication is, “I need to clear this table, get others seated so I can make more tips.”
In some places it is not just implied, but stated. A friend who lives in New York City told me many restaurants there flat out say you have a two-hour window in which to eat and leave. I’ll give them this — there are no misunderstandings. ❖
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