Suggestions for the Wait Staff and Their Supervisors

I have a couple of gentle suggestions to restaurant waiters and their supervisors. To the waiter: it does not impress me when you try to memorize my order, thus not writing down what I am requesting for lunch or dinner. It actually irritates me when you attempt to memorize my order and then get it wrong. The irritation is magnified as the number of people at the table increases, and the potential number of mistakes goes up as well. I am perfectly happy for you to carefully write down my order, and even read it back to me to confirm. However, if you are memorizing my order because your supervisor demands that kind of service, then you are clearly not to blame. So, to the supervisors: encourage your waiters to write down their orders for the sake of getting it right the first time, which leads to better customer satisfaction, less incorrect orders going back to the kitchen, and more revenue for the restaurant.

Here is the second suggestion.  Please learn these two important phrases, which can never be overused and are appropriate in a multitude of situations during the course of a dining experience: “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”  I don’t expect you, as a server/waiter, to become ingratiating, and I’m not overly impressed with the exaggerated Chik-Fil-A-style response of “my pleasure” either.  However, when I hand you the menu back after placing my order, or if I hand the bread basket to you when it is empty, a simple “thank you” from you would be nice.  Likewise, I should say the same to you when you deliver items to the table and when you refill my glass.  It’s common courtesy. Obviously, you should thank everyone at the table at the end of the meal, especially when payment is being made and received.

Lastly, and this is most important, do not substitute “you’re welcome” with the phrase “no problem.”  The latter implies that you have gone out of your way to do a favor for the diner by providing service, which is not the case. The phrase implies that your action, under normal circumstances, would have caused undue stress or required a sacrifice, but you were willing to do so out of your generosity and graciousness without expecting any compensation.  That is not the arrangement you have with the diner at the table.  Unfortunately, I am hearing this phrase more and more often in restaurants, even very fine ones.  So, if you have a polite diner who is courteous enough to say “thank you” for your good service, please respond with “you’re welcome.”  Supervisors should make this simple dialogue central to training their wait staff.

Waiting tables may not seem like a career that one might typically aspire to seek, but it is certainly respectable.  In fact, I have had the pleasure of dining at some very fine restaurants where I was convinced the server was far better educated than I and had much better cultural awareness than I could hope to achieve.  On these occasions, dinner was far more than just a meal — it was a rich experience.  I have memories of such a dinner at a restaurant in Carmel by the Sea in California at a place called Casinova. Our waiter was a well-spoken gentleman, probably of Mediterranean heritage, in his mid to late fifties. He never smothered us, gave us just the right amount of information, and made us feel like we were his only customers, which was certainly not the case. He was as polished as any professional you would meet from a wide spectrum of fields.  He took his job seriously, and he was good at it.  He made the evening for my wife and me one to remember and cherish for the rest of our lives. And, he never once uttered the phrase “no problem.”

I Shouldn’t Need a Tool for This

I am getting old and crusty.  I am coming to terms with the transformation, recognizing the clear signs that it is getting more difficult for me to cope with certain circumstances.  No, I am not referring to aches and pains, fatigue, stiffness, or any other physical ailments.  I have them, but they are few and for the most part do not pose any real threats nor create significant obstacles.   My job is complex at times and generates the typical amount of stress that most professionals have to manage, but I certainly have no complaints there either.  From time to time, worrying about my children and their future keeps me awake at night, but considering all the grief some parents face with their kids, I consider myself rather fortunate.  I have the best wife a man could hope for — in that respect, I am the luckiest guy I’ve ever met.

So, what makes my blood pressure rise?  What makes me angry enough to use language that only comedian Sam Kinison would have dared use?  What makes me question if the advanced technology in this country may wind up destroying civilization and leaving us all in a helpless heap of hunger and despair?  Here it is: modern product packaging.  Surely you know what I’m referring to here.  For heaven’s sake, Wikipedia even has an entry for it titled “Wrap Rage.”

A girl is attempting to open a plastic package containing a light bulb.

When I pay good money for a product, I should be able to extract it from its package without undue hardship.  I should not have to hunt for a tool in my house to open the package containing my new screwdriver.  I should not have to look for bandages to cover the cuts on my hands from attempting to open my new box of Band-Aids.  I surely should not have to risk slitting a vein with a sharp object to get to my new pair of scissors.

Even the most common product packages sometimes send me into a tantrum.  I have practically crushed an entire bag of potato chips just trying to open the freekin’ thing.  The same goes for the semi-clear bag inside the cereal box, that must be sealed with glue used on the exterior of satellites.  And who hasn’t wrestled with the package containing those incredibly energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, like the poor woman in the photo?  How much energy do we lose just trying to get the damned thing out of the impregnable plastic?  I have come very close to throwing away a brand, spanking new CD rather than be forced to find a knife to slit the micro-thin, impenetrable covering that was apparently sealed onto the jewel case by magical forces beyond common human understanding.

And so, I find myself at the point in my life when I must ask the question that, sooner or later, all of us who reach the middle years will ask: why does it have to be so difficult?

My Grandmother’s Raunchy Side

I was raised in a morally-conservative Southern Baptist home.  Most of the cousins that I knew best were all Southern Baptists, as well as many of my friends, mainly because my circle of friends largely came from our church.  Drinking alcohol was a sin, plain and simple.  Dancing was frowned upon but tolerated by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s.  My mother was not fond of playing cards, unless they were game-specific like Old Maids, and much later, Uno.  She was suspicious of regular playing cards because she associated them with gambling, another sin of the infidels.  Most of all, sex was something extremely private and reserved ONLY for the sanctity of marriage — end of discussion.  There was no wiggle room on this point at all.  And it was not a topic of conversation in our home, instructional or otherwise.

My maternal grandmother was also a strong Southern Baptist and beloved by many in our church.  She lived with us through all of my childhood and most of my adolescence.  My mother worked outside the home, so my sister and I were largely raised by our grandmother.  She held many of the same convictions that my mother did; however, there were times that her rural upbringing emerged, sometimes in irreverent ways.  She had some wonderful little “sayings” that verged on being nasty, which made her giggle to the point of losing her breath.  I always thought they were rather inconsistent with our family’s moral code, and I loved them.  Here are a few examples.

If someone in the room exclaimed that somebody “tooted,” she would rattle off this zinger: “The fox is the finder, the stink lays behind her!” Of course, this is an old variation of the later line: “The one who smelt it is the one who dealt it.”  Coming from my sweet grandmother, it was hilarious.  Speaking of farting, she did it quite often in our home and found it to be quite entertaining.

Another even more priceless example to me was what I heard my grandmother say one time when she saw a very tall woman with a very short man.  I will never forget it.  “Well, when they’re nose to nose his toes is in it, and when they’re toes to toes his nose is in it.”  Now that’s mighty raunchy humor coming from a Southern Baptist grandmother in the 1970s.  I have so many more wonderful memories about my grandmother that I intend to document in this blog at some point.  She inspired a song that I wrote and have performed many times, mostly because it has been requested so often, especially by seniors at gatherings where I have entertained.  It never fails to bring laughter, just like my grandmother did for us so many times.

The Little Girl in the White Dress

Isn’t it odd what scares us?  Oh, this is not to be a discourse about death, doctors, dentists, or dogs (some folks seem to be horrified of them).  I am fascinated and quite intrigued by the unusual things that scare us, especially harmless ones that, under just the right circumstances, can be bone chilling.  You know what I mean.  A perfect example?  Clowns.  What could be more cheerful and fun than a clown?  Unless, of course, the clown has daggers for teeth and lives in a neighborhood sewer.  Even the most innocent clown can be frightening, particularly to small children at birthday parties.  Must be all that makeup.  There are plenty of full-grown adults who shiver at the sight of a clown.

Then there is the terror that is invoked by certain elements of situations, environments, or settings.  An illustration is the best way I can describe what I mean here.  A colleague and I were riding home one night through the dark countryside.  It must have been overcast, because the only thing we could see was the portion of the road illuminated by his headlights.  For some reason it occurred to me that seeing something on the side of road in the headlights for a brief moment could be terrifying, like a little girl in a white dress, all alone, just standing there watching us as we pass by her.

Why should a little girl like the one pictured here in this 1935 oil painting by Rose Trellis Caracciolo be so frightening, standing on the side of the road on a pitch-black night, perhaps with even a faint smile on her face?  I asked my colleague, the driver, that very question.  I will never forget his answer, and it is as good an explanation as I have ever heard for the situation.  “Because you know she ain’t supposed to be there.”