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June 20th, 2007

More on restaurant language

by Barbara Wallraff

Recently I asked you to share your peeves about expressions restaurant employees use. Boy, did I get an earful -- not just from restaurant patrons, but from employees too. For instance: “I am so glad that you and many of your readers find the time to pick apart the language choices of their servers. However, many of the patrons are far worse in this department.” And “You people are going out to dinner to relax, and all you can do is ridicule and judge the staff grammatically. Next time maybe instead of worrying about everyone’s food in the dining room, I will sit down at the table with you to get a grammar lesson!!! I would love to tell you about our complaints, but you never post how we feel about customers!”

OK, let’s change that. Anyone who works in a restaurant and has peeves about the patrons’ language, please share. I’ll discuss those messages -- along with those I’ve already received -- in a future column. But for now, tell me this: If language is so unimportant, how did I manage, using nothing but language, to enrage you?

Note the words like “hate,” “offensive” and “very upset” in the patrons’ complaints below. It’s a two-way street. Also note that I received a number of messages like “I liked your article on pet peeves in restaurants. I concur with all of them. I can only hope that restaurant owners read it and pass the peeves on to their employees.” So, restaurant staff, listen up. Every one of the complaints below was made by more than one person -- some of them by many more than one. That and space considerations are the reasons I haven’t quoted my correspondents by name this week.

“My most hated comment is ‘Do you want your change?’” one reader wrote. Another echoed him and added: “Of course I want my change! Don’t you want your change when you buy something? If I am leaving the change for a tip, I’ll tell you.”

What a waiter or waitress says shortly after bringing the food can also rub diners the wrong way. One reader wrote: “Here’s the one I dislike the most: ‘How’s everything so far?’ Why ‘so far’? Are things going get worse?” Another wrote, “It drives me crazy when someone comes to the table and says, ‘Is everything delicious?’” And yet another: “I hate it when wait staff ask me, ‘How’s it tastin’?’ or ‘Everything tasting OK?’ Both of these seem so vulgar. I would much prefer to be asked if I needed anything or if everything is OK.” Good idea.

Many diners -- diners of both sexes -- dislike it when a server calls them “honey” or “hon” or “sweetie.” One male reader explained, “Using ‘honey’ to refer to someone you don’t know, and he knows you don’t really care about, is offensive.” And single diners had a special complaint: “I get very upset when they ask, ‘Are you alone?’ I am a widow, and yes, I am alone, but don’t remind me. Maybe ‘A table for one?’”

A despicable thought expressed cleverly can win many people over. Unfortunately, we all know that. But the other side of the coin is that the most innocent thought expressed badly can be infuriating. This is equally worth keeping in mind.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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