I’m not sure if most servers realize how important their salutation, greeting, approach, or comments can be when greeting guests. It is very important and sets the tone for further conversation.
Over the years I have viewed many consumer surveys regarding servers, their appearance, attitude, and menu knowledge. I have never seen an article in the general press dealing with their salutation or small talk — until now. It was written by one of our most popular columnists, “Dear Abby.” I have taken the liberty of sharing it with you.
Waiter’s effort at small talk fails
DEAR ABBY: Last week I was out with my family of 13 for dinner. My sister-in-law was sitting relaxed in her chair, stretching her back and extending her stomach. The waiter came over and, trying to make small talk, asked her, “What’s the occasion? Are you pregnant?” My sister-in-law isn’t pregnant, but her posture may have suggested it.
Well, my brother, her husband, went off on him, calling him names, swearing, and causing a loud, uncomfortable scene. We all agreed the waiter was stupid to ask the question, but wasn’t my brother wrong here? He embarrassed all of us, and I don’t think there was any malicious intent on the part of the waiter. My brother stands behind his outburst and insists he wasn’t wrong.
This has happened before, and I’m sure it will happen in the future. What’s your suggestion for a better way to handle a situation like this, so maybe I can get through to my brother?
—LOST MY APPETITE IN GEORGIA
[Abigail Van Buren’s response:]
DEAR LOST: The waiter should have quit after he asked if your party of 13 was celebrating a special occasion. To have asked whether your sister-in-law was pregnant was a blunder, which I am betting was reflected in his tip. While I appreciate your brother’s desire to “protect” his wife, he accomplished nothing positive by creating a scene and embarrassing the family.
Because you mentioned that this has happened before and may happen in the future, it’s time for “the family” to suggest he get professional help for his anger issues. If this is how he behaves in public, I shudder to imagine what he’s like in private.
My conclusion on small talk:
When I said at the top of this article that the server’s approach and comments will set the tone for the remaining course of the meal, I didn’t have anything like the above in mind. Abby’s comments were right on the money, though, including the harsh treatment the server suffered. While his inquiry was off the mark, his intention was understandable.
Note that a number of server comments considered unacceptable appear in many server surveys, such as:
Number one is whenever a guest is paying with cash, even before the server has any idea as to the amount of the tip, comes the refrain: “Do you need change?” This is not the way to end the dialogue between server and guest. “I’ll be back with your change,” is certainly friendlier and allows the guest time to determine the amount of the tip. And return every penny of the change.
The next most disliked server greeting when addressing a mixed group is, “How are you guys doing tonight?” Or, “My name is ‘Art’ and I’m going to be serving you guys tonight.” Not only do female guests resent it, many men in the group feel likewise.
I’m aware that my readers are more than familiar with most aspects of this industry, and that my comments address issues that are well known. Despite this, such habits continue to prevail. When an esteemed columnist such as Abby gives coverage to this topic, it might be smart for management to look and listen as to how their guests are greeted.
One last item: How about asking “Is everything all right?” after the guests have had a chance to taste their selections. How about, “Is everyone happy?” Don’t worry, today’s consumers will not take more than five seconds to say if they’re not.