Surely you’ve had this experience:
You’re at a nice restaurant, engaged in meaningful conversation. Maybe you’re in the middle of making an important sales pitch. Maybe you’re about to hear the punch line of a joke. Maybe you’re about to ask someone to marry you.
Suddenly from stage left, you hear this:
“So, how’re you guys doin’ here? Everything taste OK? Want another drink, ma’am?”
Well, “we guys” were fine. Until we were interrupted.
What is it with L.A. waiters and waitresses? Are they required to attend special classes, Interruption Ed, to get a job here?
I said at the outset that you’ve surely had that experience because if you’ve dined at any place in Los Angeles that’s decent enough to have a “No shirt, no shoes, no problem” sign, I know you’ve been interrupted by a waiter. The math is overwhelming. I’ve been in Los Angeles seven months, I dine out about three times a week, which comes to something like 80 dining-out experiences at sit-down restaurants. And it’s happened to me at every restaurant I’ve patronized here. Every one. Every time.
What’s more, the waiters typically refer to us as “you guys” when they interrupt, adding the insult of unwelcome familiarity to the injury of the interruption.
Sure, waiters and waitresses interrupt their diners at every gin joint and Marie Callender’s from sea to shining sea. But it’s especially egregious here. It’s like this town is the wellspring, the mother lode, of unrepentant interrupters.
I long ago grew inured to the lapse of protocol when the waiter served the food. They used to announce your selection as they put your plate down: “Duck a’ l’orange with pepper sauce. Filet mignon, exceedingly well done.” That kind of thing. Now, they plunk down your plate with a chirpy “There ya’ go.”
Fine. I’ll accept that. Same with surly store clerks. It irks me when I ask a clerk to check in the back for something that’s not on the shelves and he says, “Nope. Sold out. Bummer, man,” before he even bothers to look. He probably just got an advanced degree in anthropology or something and can’t get a job except at Best Buy, so you can understand why he’s surly.
But we diners – “we guys,” if you will – should not accept being interrupted.
I blame the restaurant owners. I mean, it’s their business and their image at stake. They can take one minute – 30 seconds, really – and tell each waiter or waitress not to interrupt. All they need to do is say something like this: “Say, you, new waiter: when you talk to your diners, it’s fine to call them ‘you guys.’ Just don’t interrupt them. OK?”
I know this can happen. I was a waiter once, and all new waiters went through a training class. I remember that the restaurant manager was very clear about a couple of things. First, we should always, always, recommend the most expensive wine. But he was also clear that we should not interrupt our diners. He showed us how to hover around the table conspicuously for a few moments now and then so that the customers could see you. The customers would ask for something if they needed it.
What to do when a waiter interrupts? Personally, I don’t say anything to him. I know how an angered waiter can get revenge, and it’s not pretty. Instead, I leave a straight 15 percent tip. And I skip the expensive wine.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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