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Waiter, Waiter, Please Leave Me Alone

Jonathan Schofield doesn't want to be asked seven times if everything is all right

Written by . Published on January 19th 2015.


Waiter, Waiter, Please Leave Me Alone
 

LISTEN, as Syria crumbles, Boko Haram and ISIS run amok and an election looms this isn't a big issue, but here's some advice for waiters, waitresses and restaurant managers.

Leave us alone, would you?

We want to be looked after, to be talked to when necessary but please don't keep asking us how we feel and if everything is all right? Most customers aren't desperately in need of this level of motherly love and affection from a third party. We don't want a restaurant visit to resemble a trip to the shrink. 

On every recent dining occasion I've been over-asked the 'everything all right' question. There are so many better ways for me to identify the good waiter from the bad than the interruptive question.

Critic Jay Rayner reviewed Manchester House in The Observer awhile back and adored the food - just as Confidential does. He wasn't keen on a couple of things, particularly the waiters and waitresses who wouldn't 'sod off and leave us alone'.

The problem of waiterly persistence is reaching epidemic proportions across the UK. Diners are being swept away in a tide of "Is everything all right?" 

Thing is waiting staff, usually things are absolutely peachy. We'll tell you if they're not.

You can tell this by the fact people around the table are having a good time, laughing, chatting, joking and bringing sunshine into the restaurant. 

You can tell because the diners have their heads bowed together in serious political debate or over business matters of extreme urgency; maybe they're planning a naughty assignation in the nearby Premier Inn.

So don't interrupt. The meaningless platitude of "is everything all right" might make them lose their thread, or miss the punchline of a joke.

So here are a few dos and the don'ts when, dear waiting staff, you feel the urge, mid-course, to chuck down a few questions.

1) Don't ask if "everything is all right" if people are talking in a lively fashion and seem more interested in the conversation than replying to a needless question.

2) Do ask if "everything is all right" if they are staring at the food with an anxious frown, a quizzical look or the utmost contempt.

3) Don't ask if "everything is all right" 21 seconds after the plate has been delivered and while the first forkful is only halfway to the mouth. It's hard to tell if "everything is all right" with the food prior to tasting it.

 

The restaurant manager/waiter who literally bends over backwards for his customers in French classic cartoon Belleville RendezvousThe restaurant manager/waiter who literally bends over backwards for his customers in French classic cartoon Belleville Rendezvous

4) Do ask if "everything is all right" 21 seconds after the plate has been delivered if one of the guests is frantically waving at you and has turned a funny colour. In fact don't ask them anything, get the first aider.

5) Don't ask if "everything is all right" if people have just placed a full fork of food in their mouth. The wait, while they masticate can be excruciating for both parties. It might lead to embarrassment and waiters shouldn't make guests blush.

6) Do ask if "everything is all right" if people have thrown down their napkins in disgust and are bellowing in rage.

7) Don't ask if "everything is all right" if you've seen a colleague just ask the diners if "everything is all right" thirty seconds before.

8) Do ensure you never ask if "everything is all right" more than once per course (probably once every two courses is best). And never ask more then three times during a meal. Instead maybe get a little chit-chat going with the customers as you deliver the dishes, perhaps about the previous courses, and then get the hell out of there. 

9) Only ask "if everything is all right" when there appears to be a natural break in conversation - otherwise walk on by. The principle is this: Would I like being interrupted with my mouth full, or while I'm in the middle of a right good conversation, to answer a nothing question?

10) Do make sure you ignore the training protocols, the restaurant manager and anybody else who tells you to needlessly pester the guests because we bloody hate it.

The only problem with all this is a personal one.

I've fallen into the trap of airing a grievance in the manner of those god-awful Sunday supplement columnists with their non-problem middle-class irks.

But I'm the editor of Confidential, and it's my shout, and we do a lot about food and drink, and the issue has been annoying me for a while.

Finally one last bowel-blast of disdain over the endless enquiring after our satisfaction/ joy/ lust for the food.

On the various occasions I've said, "No, this is terrible." absolute panic has ensued.

In the end the restaurant manager has come running, ringing his or her hands, bending over backwards and sighing apologies like the waiter in the best French cartoon ever Belleville Rendezvous (see trailer below - waiter at 1 minute 14 seconds).

So why was I asked the question in the first bloody place. 

I feel better now.  

If you were to ask me, I'd say, "I'm feeling all right."

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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72 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

David in CheshireDecember 3rd 2013.

You don't go far enough. I can reduce the rules to just one: Don't bother me with pointless questions. If the food is wrong or I'm not happy, I will call you. Otherwise, deliver the food and then leave me alone until I've finished. I've had waiters insisting on interrupting a conversation I was having with my wife, I've had waiters asking for confirmation of the "all rightness" of the food while I have a gob full of bacon sandwich. Go away. Really, don't bother me while I'm reading the paper and chewing. I was taught not to spray strangers with scrambled egg. And while I'm ranting, don't clear away plates by leaning across me while I'm still eating, causing me to have to stop reading the paper, drinking my tea, talking to my colleague, etc. Clear the plates when everybody at the table has finished the course.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

David, you'd be surprised how many people don't/ won't call if the food is wrong/ their not happy, and then decide to write several days later expecting a 100% freebie 'because they didn't want to spoil the evening' at the time. Until people learn how and WHEN to complain (i.e there and then) continue to expect the incessant 'is everything alright' culture.

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

Sorry *they're

David in CheshireDecember 4th 2013.

So perhaps I need a sign which tells them that I am prepared to complain if there's something wrong.

AnonymousDecember 3rd 2013.

This annoyance is very much the American way, but they're dependant on lucrative tips of around 15%. Clearly it's the decision of the management, not waiting the staff. If it bothers any readers of this topic that much, just have a quiet word with the waiting staff member or someone senior on your way out. They'll soon stop doing it.

AnonymousDecember 3rd 2013.

I

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 3rd 2013.

Fair point...

Phil MurphyJanuary 20th 2015.

...well made.

AndrewDecember 4th 2013.

As a fellow human, I have no problem with interacting with waiting staff. With the publics purse strings pulled tighter than ever, it is great to see people striving to give the customer better service. I eat out a lot and have to say I have never encountered the levels of badgering the article suggests goes on. I know the article is a little bit of fun, but jesus, some of the comments. Try smiling once in a while and maybe they wouldn’t keep asking “Is everything OK?”.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
GimboidJanuary 19th 2015.

The behaviour described is NOT giving better service. It's giving the veneer of service while annoying the customer. That's entirely the point of the article. I don't eat out particularly often and even I've experienced this habit often enough to be irritated.

GimboidJanuary 19th 2015.

Responding to a year-old comment because I didn't notice the date. Mea culpa.

Peter KirwinJanuary 24th 2015.

How come comments to an article Published last Monday at 11:21 AM - are from Dec 2013 ???????

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

A couple of things, I believe 1 pub chain would ask 'is everything ok' as the first mouthful to minimise the amount of complaints. If you've said it's ok how can you complain. Although that could be urban myth. Secondly 'bedroom tax' isn't a tax.

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

I agree on the point regarding Manchester House, as a inexperienced fine diner I just assumed the awkwardness brought on by the waiters frequent visits was my fault. In hindsight, 2 people sat cooing over the food didn't need asking if they're alright mid-mouthful. Maybe if a waiter just said that it was OK to get their attention if they ever needed anything would cover all avenues.

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

I think to be asked once is perfectly acceptable a minute or two after your food being delivered. As for the American reference by another poster I completely disagree. The standard of service in the USA is above and beyond anything you'll experience in this country. I suppose it's because being a waiter/waitress is seen as a serious career option (you can earn a very good living from it in a decent restaurant in the states) rather than something people do as a 'stop gap' or whilst they are studying or in need of extra income here in the UK.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

You misunderstood. I didn't say the US standard of service was poor. It shouldn't be if customers over there are expected to pay 15%! They don't always declare all of it to the IRS either! For students that work in retail over there, they don't get tips. Despite that, they're just told to bend over backwards for the customer, just so they can keep their jobs. The British aren't used to tipping in restaurants, nor are they required to.

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

I always tip, and do not not anyone who doesn't in the Uk.....

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

Why should I tip for average service? Do I look like a walking earnings top-up service? Why should I top up the earnings of some bearded "dude" who lives in the NQ who moans about only earning minimum wage as a "barkeep" ?

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

No mate, from this comment you look like something else altogether.

Poster BoyDecember 4th 2013.

And do not ever, ever address the customers as "Guys..."

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

Even if your Mrs hasn't waxed her moustache!

AnonymousDecember 4th 2013.

Most people in my age bracket now use "Guys" as a gender neutral form of address, but I guess it might be a bit informal for a restaurant.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

I too hate GUYS..Even worse if called mate!!!! Guys is gender neutral these days but too informal....

AndrewDecember 4th 2013.

F&!k gender neutral address, it is an awful expression.

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephenDecember 5th 2013.

Absolutely. You only ever hear it from Chuggers & Waiting Staff. It just grates me whenever I hear it.

DavidDecember 4th 2013.

Restaurants like Nando where you choose from the menu and then go to order at the counter,encourage their staff to go round asking you if your meal is Ok,because it's an excuse for a further sales pitch.They know customers are unlikely to be bothered to que up at the counter and order desserts or more drinks,so they are using this as an excuse to push further sales.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
tblzebraDecember 4th 2013.

Somehow I doubt Jonathan is including chicken chains like Nando's in his complaint re waiting staff - 'go to order at the counter' is the clue.

DavidDecember 5th 2013.

The system of ordering Nando have is exactly the same as that trendy burger joint Almost Famous he no doubt has been,whose staff also come around and ask how your meal was.My point is not specific to Nando's it applies more generally.

AnonymousDecember 5th 2013.

Have you even bothered to read the whole article David? Jonathan isn't complaining about staff asking how someone's meal is, he's complaining specifically about the manner in which they do it, the frequency and the timing. Do try to keep up.

DavidDecember 5th 2013.

Yes I have read the article,clearly you don't grasp the point.Waiting staff are being told to make frequent requests about whether your meal is Ok,because they are told to by management who use it as way to excuse a further sales pitch.

Lynn CullimoreDecember 5th 2013.

There is an opposite but equally irritating version of the waiter asking if everything is all right every 30 seconds - and that is when you've finished, you want to get the bill, pay and leave, and then ALL THE RESTAURANT STAFF DISAPPEAR. I've lost count of the number of restaurants where we've been sitting waiting for the bill for anything up to 10 minutes after asking for the bill and having the plates cleared away, waving bank cards and looking grumpy. Standing up and putting coats on seems to bring all the waiters back again but I don't want to have to pretend I'm about to walk out without paying just so I can pay and get out of there.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
John HarrisDecember 5th 2013.

Seems to be a particular problem in Indian restaurants for some reason. I have a simple system. If I have to ask twice for the bill, no tip. If it still doesn't arrive, I start to walk out. Up to them to catch me before I'm gone

AnonymousDecember 5th 2013.

I've found the service in Indian and Chinese restaurants fine. It's Pakistani restaurants that are dreadful, both in food and service. It's as though they just don't want you to be there.

AnonymousDecember 6th 2013.

be specific on which Pakistani restaurants please....

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

Ooooooo Racist ^

TimbucDecember 5th 2013.

Jonathan, your point number 10 is pretty crucial, most restaurants that have waiting staff constantly pestering you have trained them that way. Your issue isn't with the waiting staff, it's with the management. Have a word.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
TimbucDecember 5th 2013.

PS Wringing their hands.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

Good point.

FoodographicDecember 6th 2013.

Jay Rayner didn't universally 'adore the food' at all. Just because you want it to be doesn't make it so. He described the turbot cabbage dish as misjudged and the desserts too processed.

1 Response: Reply To This...
KranerDecember 7th 2013.

He also said that Aiden Bryne was a fabulous chef full of exciting ideas. There's always some idiot on here panting to split hairs.

FoodographicDecember 7th 2013.

Thanks for the character assessment Kraner. To universally and blindly gush is akin to madness and does a progressive creative like Byrne no favours. We all want Manchester to have a better food reputation. Keeping it real and balanced does not make me an idiot or a hater.

Manci DoodleDecember 16th 2013.

Absolutery right. Even some pretty decent restaurants suffer from this problem. I imagine they feel they are more likely to get a tip.

Marl FraseeApril 19th 2014.

This whole article is so annoying. My advice if it annoys you that much eating out then stay in doors and cook your own meals. Then you can ask yourself if everything is alright!!!!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 22nd 2014.

Or those running the restaurants could take steps to not do things that annoy their customers. Otherwise they might just stay at home and eat, or go elsewhere, then said restaurants would go bust.

DanApril 21st 2014.

I dislike when the food has just been delivered to the table, and you're about to take your first bite and then it comes... " Is everything ok? ".

SleuthJanuary 19th 2015.

Sleuth has republished this because the repeated interference by waiting staff happened about three times last week

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Poster BoyJanuary 19th 2015.

Name and shame.

EdwardJanuary 19th 2015.

:(

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

I do not want to be badgered by a waiter while I have a mouthful of food. It's rude, and every time it happens - no tip.

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

We were in Bill's once and didn't leave any tips because the same waiter kept peppering us with questions during our meal. There is enthusiasm but he was overly keen to know where I was from (he guessed it wrong), whether we were out for business or leisure (business), whether we were from Manc (yes), what we're doing next (none of his business), getting drunk he guessed (no). I think on a quiet weekday evening, we reached a point when all of us stared at our plates wishing he would go away. I have no idea who trained this guy but he had zero common sense and couldn't tell how annoyed we were at being interrupted and eavesdropped...

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

The best restaurants don't tend to tell their staff to ask if everything is ok. They just make sure they have enough staff on the floor at any one time so if someone does want to complain, someone is always available.I went on a hotel management training course in the U.S. The optimal time to ask if everything is ok is when the plates are being cleared away between courses and if the plates are empty you usually don't need to ask. Having said that I don't have any major objection to being asked ONCE, a few minutes after the first course has arrived. The biggest issue comparing here with the US is that a waiter/ waitress is a career and can lead to a good salary, more training and opprtunities are available. Over here it is a stop gap usually short term prospect. This means the management are not willing to invest the time and money in proper training of staff, as they wil probably be moving on soon. Unless the whole experience has been awful I am usually happy to tip 10% as a minimum. I will tip more for exceptional service.

AnonymousJanuary 19th 2015.

Zouk staff were keen to clear my table recently. So much so that a waiter grabbed the plate I was eating from out of my hands.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

That could be a cultural thing.

Ghostly TomJanuary 19th 2015.

It could be worse. I remember a restaurant in San Francisco where the attention from the waiting staff was like a rash. Ours, after explaining every detail of every dish on the menu, turned to leave. He then turned back and said 'Already missing you!'

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

We visit family in US often..They are TOO MUCH....Great to visit but they celebrate the opening of a door....

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

Yeah...just ask Rinkydink about it.

Manci DoodleJanuary 19th 2015.

You are right to raise this issue. Although I don't think Mcr is any worse than anywhere else.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

First published in 2013 - still has terrible spelt incorrectly!

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2015.

If you eat really loudly they usually stay away from your table.

DigsterJanuary 20th 2015.

Asking all the time is bad enough but if one more bloody persons says "enjoy" when handing over my coffee/cake/burger/meal I will be done for murder.

1 Response: Reply To This...
DigsterJanuary 20th 2015.

person

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2015.

@THE PERSON WHO WROTE THIS ARTICLE : As a Restaurant Manager and have been in this industry my whole life as my parents owned restaurants. You can't win you lot are never happy ! If you don't check back and provide a service then we have negative feedback if we do its too much . There are standard procedures that are in place due to the legalities of serving food ! We need to bother you to make sure you pay for your food and we get paid or the service !! We need to make sure you don't have an allergic reaction and die ! I suggest if you don't want service don't go to a restaurant, order a take away or treat yourself to a buffet . I admit if a waiter or waitress is intrusive and practically sits at your table that is too much but most of them don't they don't care about your life they just want a tip 10% ! I'm sure if you came to my restaurant and we didn't check back or didn't offer you anything and gave you literally the most basic service you would be the first person to write up a huge rant on the lack of service so in conclusion : GET THE F*** OUT OF MY RESTAURANT AND GO HOME AND COOK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6 Responses: Reply To This...
rinkydinkJanuary 21st 2015.

What is your restaurant so I can make a mental note to avoid it? You've missed the point completely and for a restaurant owner, are rude and obnoxious. And that dear, is my job!

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2015.

@Anon When a restaurant takes the liberty of adding a service charge to the bill, what's the correct and polite procedure to have them remove it? Especially so as not to offend them if they're foreign or their English is very good?

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2015.

*isn't

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2015.

I agree with Rinkydink. Please let us know the name of your restaurant so it can go on the 'avoid' list. I bet you won't.

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2015.

This guy sounds great I want to go to the restaurant I'm not being sarcastic.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

Pay your waiting staff a living wage if they have to beg and scrape for 10% tips then you tight get.

Peter KirwinJanuary 24th 2015.

How come comments to an article Published last Monday at 11:21 AM - are from Dec 2013 ???????

2 Responses: Reply To This...
SleuthJanuary 24th 2015.

Sleuth has republished this because the repeated interference by waiting staff happened about three times last week

ChrisJanuary 24th 2015.

Poor Sleuth :(

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