Eating out in America

You are deep in conversation with your companion (in this case my wife) in a restaurant. The occasion is intended to be romantic, and you really could do without intrusions. When suddenly, actually four times during the meal, you are interrupted in mid-sentence by the waitress: “Is everything o.k?; “Have you got everything you need?”; “Good, that sushi roll, isn’t it!”; “Would you like more saki?”

My father was a bon viveur, an excellent cook and a great supporter of good restaurants. I remember him saying, “In France the job of a waiter is a profession that requires training and discretion. The trick is to be seen, not heard. He or she is a facilitator in the background; the meal is not about him or her. You should be able to get through a meal and not be able to remember whether the waiter was male, female, black or white, French or Italian. The chef, if he ever appears, is a different matter.

My wife tells me that American waiters are specifically trained to interrupt, just as they are trained to whip away your finished plate, even if everyone else at the table is still eating. Both the interruptions and the whipping-away are regarded as unacceptable in Europe. I now quietly explain to waiters that my wife is a slow eater and hates being rushed and left isolated as plates vanish from around the table. (“Get that group out. The table is booked for a new group at 9pm”).

You are expected to add 15 to 20% to the bill for service. But what kind of service?

One Comment

  1. I suspect that to enjoy American dining at its best, you are no better served than in a typical American home. Jimmy Carter preferred to stay in people’s homes rather than eat out in fancy restaurants and hotels. Sometimes the most modest things in life are the finest, particularly when they’re free!

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