It’s Time to Retire These Waiter-isms

The San Francisco Chronicle’s new restaurant critic, Soleil Ho, wrote a wonderful essay recently citing a melange of words she vows never to use in her restaurant reviews. This got us thinking about all the flaccid phrases and tired terms waiters peddle around the dining room every night that should be expurgated from the lexicon. In the spirit, we’ve compiled a list of things waiters should stop saying to their guests. 

“Have You Dined with Us Before?” – This phrase has become a common waiter crutch to suss out first time diners, but it has also become comically overused. A simple “May I help you with the menu?” would better cut to the chase. Greeting the table with this question can also come across condescending—as if the diner will be lost without the server’s road map for placing a proper order.

“Served on a Bed of…” – First of all, there is no such thing as a food bed. In fact, there is nothing remotely mattress-like about a pile of Brussels Sprouts. It’s perfectly sufficient to say a dish is “served with” something. Why does conjuring pieces of furniture paint a better picture? We don’t eat beds, so why should we use the term to describe a dish?

“Medallions” – Servers use this word to describe pretty much anything that is cut circular. The thought of eating an actual medallion is not even appetizing. Bottom line: this term makes everything sound like banquet hall catering food and waiters should remove it from the vocabulary of menu descriptors. What’s next… Doubloons of Hakurei Turnips??

waiter-speak

“Housemade” – It can be exhausting sometimes listening to servers describe ingredients on the menu as “Made in House”—Housemade Pancetta, Housemade Tartare Sauce, Housemade Cheesecake. It’s obviously a term meant to make the food sound more homespun and appealing, but nice restaurants should make everything in house without having to call attention to it. Also, the proper English is to say homemade.

“Pan-Seared” – This term began popping up in the late 90’s as a sexier way of describing the way certain fish and meat are cooked. Apparently, guests were supposed to be impressed that the chef was using a pan to sear something. Todays diners are more savvy about food so maybe waiters can leave the pan part out now. Let’s just go with seared.

“Cuts the Richness” – This phrase is often deployed by servers when recommending a wine pairing. It’s meant to suggest that the wine has good acidity, but it’s totally unnecessary to speak in such abstract terms. Waiters love to overcomplicate the description of things because they think it makes them sound smarter.

“Our Signature Dish” – The notion that chefs must have “Signature Dishes” has stifled creativity in restaurant kitchens. In the era of social media, groupthink has homogenized the way people order and waitstaff couching its recommendations around what is popular reinforces these bad habits.

Size Does Matter

If the number of people in your party changes last minute, let the restaurant know in advance. The Maitre’d or host may have a specific table planned for your party and unexpectedly arriving with more or less people may throw that plan out of whack.  Don’t just assume that the restaurant will have a larger table to accommodate your augmented group. Showing up with less people, on the other hand, may result in the restaurant wasting precious real estate by holding a larger table for you than is needed. It isn’t as easy as you think to get all parties seated on-time and situated in the appropriate tables over the course of a given evening. Throwing a wrench in our plan could end up adversely affecting your experience and/or sabotage some other innocent party’s. It isn’t fair that another group’s experience should suffer because of your lack of consideration. Don’t expect to be seated incompletely either.  Make sure your party arrives together or as close to the same time as possible. Seating incomplete parties can disrupt fluid service and most busy restaurants, worried about the potential domino effect, won’t do it.

Closing Time

imageNo one is going to prevent you from sitting down in a restaurant right before before they close, but you should never do it.  We understand your right to patronize an establishment within their advertised business hours. Why should a restaurant advertise that it’s open if it’s not hospitable to guests at any time of the night? It’s purely an issue of courtesy. If someone calls you at your office job and keeps you on the phone for an hour and a half after you were scheduled to leave work you wouldn’t hang up the phone on them but it would certainly be considered an inconvenience. People often take advantage of the flexibity of restaurant hospitality and feel entitled to it. Friendly late-night places often attract a similar crowd—romantic couples who enjoy having an entire dining room to themselves, solo diners who seek a quiet place to bring reading materials, or Europeans who are accustomed to dining at a later hour.  Enter at your own risk. Restaurants do not often perform at their peak in the closing hours.  For staff, there is usually an elaborate regimen of busy work associated with the end of the night—kitchen and waitstaff have a tendency to take their hands off the steering wheel when it’s time to go home.  A kitchen filled with cooks standing around waiting for you to order and finish your meal is a room full of enemies. If you work in the industry there is an unwritten code about being the last one in or out. We just don’t do it. And neither should you. Be respectful of the long hours the staff puts in and don’t take advantage of them by arriving right under the wire or overstaying your welcome. If you are planning a late visit, give the restaurant a call right before. Firing a warning shot will soften the blow.