My friends and family have endured my pontification on the subject for years... Now, they will be relieved to know that I'm creating another outlet for my angst... A blog about service.
First, I should explain the title. It's from one of my pet peeves of restaurant service. Someone is enjoying (or not) a nice (or not) meal, and he makes the momentary error of putting down his fork. The waiter will swoop by and ask, "Are you still working on that?" Whenever someone asks me that question, I'm tempted to say, "I'm not working. I'm eating." My point being... eating in a restaurant is not a job; it's a pleasure (or at least it should be). You should be allowed to relax, take breaks, take your time, enjoy the company of others or just sit still and chew. When I'm done, my knife and fork will be at 4 o'clock and I'll probably ask you for the check, or dessert, or something.
So now you're beginning to sense (with horror, no doubt) what a huge pain in the ass I really am.
But in my own defense... I believe everything I care about is universal. These are not arbitrary opinions, or based on some arcane book of etiquette. I formed my sense of good service while waiting tables, or more often by watching other more skilled staff wait tables, in a wide variety of restaurants.
Let's begin with... My basic rules for Waiters:
- Eye contact. Walk past your tables. (Through your "station.") If a customer doesn't look at you, they don't want to talk to you. You never need to ask, "Is everything OK?" or, God forbid, "Are you still working on that?" ("Why yes, and I'll be..." Oh, never mind.) This is the number one rule of good service, and sadly the most violated one. Really really, you do not need to ask if I'm enjoying my food while I'm still chewing it. Not only have you interrupted the meaningful (or trite) conversation at our table, but you've basically forced me to be rude by either ignoring you or talking with my mouth full of your wonderful food. Bad waiter!
- Personal but not intimate. I'm very sorry, and I'm sure you're a wonderful person, but no, I don't care what your name is. And I am not here to make friends (at least not with you). To be fair, some people love it when a waiter disgorges personal information and hovers about like long-lost pals at a high school reunion. I don't.
- Four o'clock. A thoughtful (dare I say educated?) customer will place his cutlery at the "four o'clock" position on his plate when he would like the plate to be removed. There are variations on this in practice (fork and knife crossed, for example), so you'll have to figure it out if someone deviates. And eventually, if a customer is apparently done but not employing the four o'clock technique, you might have to abandon this tactic and just ask. But please, no reference to work in your inquiry. TYVM.
- Serve from the left, clear from the right. Or is it, serve from the right and clear from the left? I don't really care about this one, to be honest. It does add a bit of predictability and slightly reduces the chance of catastrophe. But really, this is nonsense. Let's move on.
- Rule number one is the most important rule. Seriously. You can skip the other four rules. They're just there for symmetry and weight. Rule number one is key. (Maybe next I'll write Five Rules for Restaurant Customers including the number one rule: Make eye contact with your waiter if you need something. Don't yell out "Miss" or "Sir" or -- God forbid -- hiss at them like a snake. That's a sure-fire way to get ignorified...)