So here’s something that really pisses me off. When people talk down to their server, or when people ask when one might get a “real” job. Because servers/bussers/food runners aren’t real people, right? I am sick to death of those in the service industry being treated like they are the lowliest members of society, and I haven’t even worked in the idustry very long. I can’t imagine the feelings of a life time server.
Regardless of my short time in this industry, I have a tendency to be sensitive to the idea of a server’s inferiority. Very sensitive, apparently, because I took great offense to this article. My curiosity was sparked by the title, “Is it O.K. to eat while texting?” My initial reaction was “Of course it is!” And so I read the article, and much to my surprise, this article is not so much about ettiquite as it is a tutorial on how to blow off your server. This article got me so heated that I felt the need to pick it apart here. So, as we say in the service industry: please enjoy!
First off, the terrible article is authored by this guy, Josh Ozersky:
Surprise, surprise, he’s into meat. According to Wikipedia, he’s known as “Mr. Cutlets” and writes books for the meat lover. Something I most certainly am not. Though, in his defense, I’m sure he prefers the better tasting meat of the fields, and not the cheap meat that comes from factories. Anyhow, it has become apparent in my research that a lot of people think he’s a complete asshole. Another shocker. So let’s get into the article.
“Is there anything worse than being told, at the end of a big meal, that the place doesn’t take plastic and that you have to slink to an ATM? Restaurants like cash because it allows them to cheat the IRS, but that’s not your problem. If a restaurant wants to pull that move, they need to tell everyone up front when they sit down. You’re right to hate them if they don’t. And if they send a food runner who doesn’t speak fluent English and you can’t figure out what he’s saying, you have a right to ask your waiter to come over and explain it himself, which should have happened to begin with.”
What high class restaurant only accepts cash? Really? Aside from that, I most certainly take offense to the idea of the “food runner who doesn’t speak fluent English.” Never in my life have I heard of a server passing off his or her responsibilities to a food runner who doesn’t speak English. I am a busser and a food runner and I speak English extremely well, and if I were called upon to explain such a thing, I most certainly would with elegance. Not that any of the servers I know have so little confidence that they would pawn an annoying task off to their assistant. Another thing that really grinds me is the use of only “him”, “he” and “his”. I hate that. The minute I see this I instantly lose respect for the author. I mean, is this the 1950’s? Women do have jobs now, right?
“Restaurants where the waiters wear T-shirts and rock music blares from the speakers aren’t casual in the sense that you can take it easy there. Get that out of your mind right now. You still can’t put your feet up, relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check or talk on your phone.”
You’re damn right you can’t relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check. Turning tables is how we make our money, how ever trivial you feel the profession is. We don’t get paid to blast our opinions around on the internet like someone gives a shit (though that would be awesome, got my fingers crossed). Servers and their assistants are hard working people, and every minute you are at that table longer than you should is a dollar we might have made. This is not to say that in certain situations we mind, because most of the time I really don’t, as long as you remember to say thank you when the time comes. And talking on the phone? No one cares, unless you are disturbing other patrons. Please step outside to use the phone, or keep your voice down, it’s just polite. Try a slice of humble pie for dessert, no one is that important.
“The Waiter Is Not Your Friend: This is especially tricky, since so many waiters are so grotesquely unprofessional in the way they talk to you, and then get offended if you want them to shut up and go away… Reply to queries with friendly but short answers. If you are subjected to a pedantic lecture on the terroir of your mind, express impatience by looking away, saying ‘O.K.,’ ‘Oh,’ and so on, and if that doesn’t work, say, ‘Thanks a lot.’ Due to the evil of tip pooling, there’s no way to punish the person for ruining your meal, but the key is to be firm but friendly, as you would with a young person importuning you to sign a petition.”
This statement is wrong in so many ways. First of all, most patrons want to talk, they want to tell you about their lives. This is usually a problem for the server, more so than the patron. We’re so grotesquely unprofessional? Take a look in the mirror, pal. You are food critic, you owe your livelihood to food service. You are damn right we are offended if you want us to “shut up and go away” as any human being would be. But, as I said, the fact is that most patrons do not want us to shut up and go away. Like your conversation and dumb questions are so enthralling that we cannot peel ourselves away to attend to a full section and other looming and pressing responsibilities. And you think it’s hard to get rid of us? What a thrilling tutorial on how to make a person feel small. The “pedantic lecture” is simply in place to see what you want, so you don’t order the veal when you are really in the mood for cod, preventing you from sending your dish back, and even further, making sure you enjoy your food. Gasp! As though a server really cares… (we do.). Due to tip-pooling, there is no way to punish a person for ruining your meal? Are you freaking kidding me? Ruin your meal? Most diners can’t tell the trotters from the octopus, and you are saying the staff’s explanations are punishable? You are insane! Not to mention that tip-pooling is put in place to ensure that you receive great service. In fact, a lot of service people hate tip pooling. But thanks a lot for treating us like “a young person importuning you to sign a petition.” That isn’t degrading at all. There is nothing worse than a paternal, condescending attitude from a food critic trying to boost his or her ego. A food critic! Unbelievable!
“Wave Off the Bread Man: Nobody wants more bread. Nobody wants to be interrupted. Wave him off before he even tries to speak. His bread isn’t even warm anyway.”
Does this statement really need to be picked apart? This guy is an asshole based on this comment alone. Wave him off before he even tries to speak. Wow.
“A reservation is like a wedding vow, except more binding. If you make one and break it, you are stealing money from the restaurant; if they don’t honor it or make you sit at the bar for more than 10 minutes, they are stealing your time and killing your buzz, which in both cases means stealing your money.”
Hmm, if we don’t honor it or make you sit at the bar for more than 10 minutes we are stealing your money. I would like to refer to this quote from the same article: “You still can’t put your feet up, relax at the table for 45 minutes after you get the check.” Yeah. Technically, it is that table that puts their feet up and relaxes for 45 minutes after they get the check that’s stealing your money. We don’t want you to wait either, because inevitably you punish the server for this phenomena which is totally out of her or his control.
“One thing that has become annoying about modern restaurants is the use of the reservation line as a propaganda device: by claiming that there are no tables between 6 and 10 p.m., many restaurants hope to attain the popularity they claim, in an evil interpretation of Dale Carnegie’s positive-thinking program. Don’t allow them to do this. Never accept any reservation earlier than 7 or later than 9 unless you want it.”
The idea that restaurants use propaganda is laughable. We will take any reservation we can get. We want your money! No self-respecting restaurant does this. It is this type of statement that sets the tone of this article, that it must be patron vs. restaurant, and the patron really has to be on their toes to avoid being taken advantage of! Give me a break. We’re not an auto shop, we don’t barter, you see the prices right there, plain as day. Never accept a reservation earlier than 7 and later than 9, huh? Then don’t accept a reservation that night. Empty threats get you no where, when we’re booked, we’re booked, and we go as far as clearing the wine table to give you a place to sit. This guy must have really been burned a time or two to spit this garbage out.
“There’s a tug of war going on between you and the restaurant. It’s a battle of wills, and in such a battle the restaurant always wins. The most nakedly coercive form of control, of course, is the dreaded tasting menu, for which the chef sends out 11 tiny portions of food, each one carefully designed to not satisfy you, with the experience requiring less input from you than a nurse requires from an obliging spinal-trauma patient. Even when the issue is simply what’s on the menu; what sequence you can have it in; what, if any, substitutions you are allowed; how you may order the meat; or even so small a matter as having salt and pepper, it is an ongoing negotiation.”
The most nakedly coercive form of control, the tasting menu. Well I agree with this portion of the article, because, frankly, I can’t tell you how many times a server has held a gun to my head and told me I must order the tasting menu, no requests, substitutions, salt, pepper or anything! Anyone is free to order anything off the menu, at any time. Period. No one is forcing anyone to do anything. Jeeze. Also, 11 courses, no matter how small should satisfy anyone with a healthy appetite.
“And every restaurant will, out of sheer terror and self-preservation, act on any warning about food allergies.”
Also, out of sheer humanity, we don’t want you to go into anaphylactic shock. It might be difficult to ensure that not a single peanut touches your plate, but you bet your ass we will, not out of fear, but legitimate concern for your health.
Here is my favorite quote about serving, from the movie Life is Beautiful (La Vita e Bella):
Guido: (learning how to be a waiter) How far do I bow? I suppose I can even go 180 degrees.
Eliseo: Think of a sunflower, they bow to the sun. But if you see some that are bowed too far down, it means they’re dead. You’re here serving, you’re not a servant. Serving is the supreme art. God is the first of servants. God serves men, but he’s not a servant to men.
This is so true. Food is a cultural gift, it is arguably the most important element of life, and it is reflective of our communities, who we are, and what we stand for. Serving is a similar reflection. I work at two restaurants, both families that I am so proud to be a part of. The people I work with are some of the kindest, hardest working individuals I have ever met. They work very hard to give each patron a good experience. We work with integrity, and pride. Sure, we want your cash, but further, we want to welcome you in to our establishment warmly, treat you like a guest in our own home, with the utmost hospitality, and have you leave satisfied with a full stomach and a smile on your face. Every night when I come in to work I am amazed by the attention to detail given by every single employee, from the big boss to the dishwasher. The meticulous placement of the truffle, smooth table cloths, spotless glasses, the perfect acidity of the tomato sauce, and the heavy and heavenly truffle cream sauce over fusilli noodles. It’s a product we can stand behind. The food is outstanding. The service is outstanding. There is no request too large, up to and including running down the block to feed your meter. Service people talk a big game, but deep down, we all love to make you happy. Truly.
All this is why I find this article so offensive. This is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship, your money+tip theoretically equals the cost of your food+experience. The server and the patron are equal, there is no better or worse, no important and unimportant. And both deserve the highest level of respect. Restauranteering is a legitimate industry, we are not trying to rip you off, waste your time, or cut corners. This may not be true of every restaurant, but even so, every person needs to be treated like a human being, not waved off like a servant, not ignored, not spoken down to. You should treat us with care and kindness, we handle your food and water, the most essential elements to your existence (and no, no one will spit in it, we have a little more class than that). The service industry is full of honest, hard working people making a living who, deep down, love to please. So won’t you please come in and see, we’d love to have you. And you’ll get the best damn service you’ve ever had in your life. Please enjoy!