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Your Waiter Really is a Monkey


synaesthesia
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Our server greeted us with Disneyesque agressive friendliness and a canned speech that began with "Is this our first time here?" Dude, it's OUR first time here but I'm pretty sure you're a regular...and it was a bit absurd to hear the exact same canned intro delivered with the same inflection and pacing to the table next to us. I'm all for consistency - but surely there is a better way to deliver consistency than through memorized scripts.

GOD.

Again back to the next-life consultancy stuff ... Servers: Don't EVER say this to a diner over the age of six.

1) Watch all episodes of Grammar Rock.

2) Treat adults like adults.

3) Phrase your question like an optimist, e.g., "Have you dined with us before?"

Taking that example:

3a) It establishes an air of confidence, assuming the guests are repeat visitors.

3b) "Us" implies teamwork at the restaurant.

3c) "You ... with us" maintains the division between guest and restaurant while at the same time providing a comforting aura, i.e., "you're a guest in our house (i.e., "with us"), and we're going take care of you." Delivery is important here.

Is this so difficult?

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3) Phrase your question like an optimist, e.g., "Have you dined with us before?"

I'm not even sure this is necessary (though it is preferable to the other construction). Perhaps I'm too easily annoyed, but it irritates me to be asked if I've been to an establishment before, as though there's some initiation required before I'm knowledgeable enough to eat there. There's a certain presumptuousness in greeting a customer with that question that just irritates me. There are times it feels almost confrontational. If the menu is so complicated or highly conceptual that it requires an interpreter, perhaps it needs to be rethought.

The fact that (in my experience) that kind of query is often followed by a hard sell of particular menu items doesn't help matters. I think most diners are capable of saying: "I haven't been here before. How many of these small plates does a table of two typically order?" And if someone orders something radically weird due to the menu setup, it's possible for a server to say something diplomatically to provide a course (ha) correction.

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I'm not even sure this is necessary (though it is preferable to the other construction). Perhaps I'm too easily annoyed, but it irritates me to be asked if I've been to an establishment before, as though there's some initiation required before I'm knowledgeable enough to eat there. There's a certain presumptuousness in greeting a customer with that question that just irritates me. There are times it feels almost confrontational. If the menu is so complicated or highly conceptual that it requires an interpreter, perhaps it needs to be rethought...

Amen, sister friend.

The big ASSumption packed behind that type of question is "if you are new, you will need some hand holding, or at least an up-sell." No matter how phrased, such queries always smack into my consciousness as slight insults, an affront to my self-efficacy.

The best greetings I receive are along the lines of "If this is your first time dining with us, I would be happy to walk you through the menu/restaurant concept/biography of our chef/insert-other-differential-advantage here. Let me know if you would find that helpful, or if anything else would make your visit with us even more enjoyable..."

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I'll take the six-word question, which fosters a one-word answer, and allows a skilled server to instantly gauge whether or not the diner wishes to be chatty or to be left alone.

The key word there is "skilled." I think that one of the reasons I don't like the question is that it necessitates a particular kind of conversation with the server. I have not encountered a server yet in this situation who will take "No, I haven't, and if I have any questions I will ask you as they arise" as an answer. Maybe it's part of their training and they have to follow the script. I don't know. I've taking to lying and saying I've been to places I haven't just to avoid the conversation. Saying "yes" doesn't necessarily pre-empt the conversation either.

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The key word there is "skilled."

Agree. Also, I think that type of question comes across better in a fine-dining situation (e.g., Adour, where you're mere moments away from facing down an ominous-looking sommelier), as opposed to an everyday restaurant (e.g., Sweetwater Tavern, where it could sound more pretentious and pointless (although even there they may wish to mention their house-brewed beers only on a diner's first visit (although you could still say you've been there before, and the server could still reply "Well then, you know about our house-brewed beers listed right up here on the chalkboard!" (although I don't think Sweetwater Tavern actually does this; I just picked this example out of the air))))) ERROR +178E IMBALANCED PARENTHESES.

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Agree. Also, I think that type of question comes across better in a fine-dining situation (e.g., Adour, where you're mere moments away from facing down an ominous-looking sommelier), as opposed to an everyday restaurant (e.g., Sweetwater Tavern, where it could sound more pretentious and pointless (although even there they may wish to mention their house-brewed beers only on a diner's first visit (although you could still say you've been there before, and the server could still reply "Well then, you know about our house-brewed beers listed right up here on the chalkboard!" (although I don't think Sweetwater Tavern actually does this; I just picked this example out of the air))))) ERROR +178E IMBALANCED PARENTHESES.

If I went to, say, Minibar or Alinea I would expect to have the menu/dining concept explained to me. It's just that this approach seems to be spreading to places where it's a conceit to assume that the menu has to be explained. It's often a selling technique in the guise of helpfulness.

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Ugh. I hate the overly perky, overly corporate-speak-laden 5-minute explanation of the menu that ensues if you answer no to "have you dined with us before?" in a casual restaurant so much that I will always lie and say yes when it's asked. I've had some really painful experiences with staff in newish restaurants who not only did the uber-detailed intro spiel including a full recitation of the menu, but also kept coming back every 2 minutes to make sure we hadn't somehow gotten confused because we were new to the restaurant.

On the other hand, I don't find the question annoying in a fine dining context, because it's asked politely and with (at least on the surface) a genuine desire to be helpful, rather than as a corporate requirement to push the Signature Chicken Toenail Appetizer .

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On the other hand, I don't find the question annoying in a fine dining context, because it's asked politely and with (at least on the surface) a genuine desire to be helpful, rather than as a corporate requirement to push the Signature Chicken Toenail Appetizer .

I agree. Whether or not I have ever been to the Italian Garden or (insert any other chain of the month), I bet that I can figure out their menu and what to order without hearing the speech written by some corporate marketer.
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3) Phrase your question like an optimist, e.g., "Have you dined with us before?"

Coincidentally, this is EXACTLY what my server said at BlackSalt tonight. I almost started laughing!

"Have you dined with us before?"

"Yes."

'So you know our daily specials are here' (or something close to that, pointing to the upper-right of the menu).

It didn't come across as affected at all, truly.

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Different strokes for different folks, remember.

I've had tables complain about the waiter NOT introducing themselves by name, NOT checking in "every few minutes" to make sure they're alright, and yes, I've gotten complaints about the server NOT asking if it's their first time dining with us so they can better explain the menu, concept, etc. to a "new" diner.

I find all of the above very annoying and bothersome, but some customers have been conditioned to expect it or else they consider it a service misstep. That's the hard part about running an effective service staff--you have to determine what every person in the building wants without them telling you beforehand.

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