COLUMN: Service with a polite pause and silent smile

When did “No problem” officially replace “You’re welcome” in the service industry?

By Rick Stiebel

If I could wave a magic menu and change dining out forever, I would start by eliminating three words that leave me mentally mutilating my napkin: “How’s everything tasting?”

There’s nothing worse than getting set to slurp that first scoop of soup or having a mouthful of meatball with a piece of pasta perched precariously on your chin and some server swoops in to ask how everything is so far.

Staff at Rick’s Diner or Rico’s Bistro would be trained to wait a few minutes before disturbing diners once they’ve started their meal.

Servers would approach the table discreetly and simply pause politely long enough to make eye contact with a sincere, silent smile.

It provides customers with the perfect opportunity to address the situation if there is a problem, without intruding on the mood or interrupting the flow of conversation at the table.

This may come as a surprise to a few servers, but not everyone who eats out is there to share the moment with you and respond to rehearsed robotic banter.

Circumstances can cause people to have to plan a funeral, close an important business deal or deliver the news about a messy breakup over a meal.

Respect the fact that whatever the reason they chose your workplace, there’s a good chance that less chatter is what they’re looking for, unless they’re a regular customer you have forged a friendly relationship with during repeated repasts.

I speak from experience on this one because back in the 1960s I worked with horribly long hair at a restaurant in a resort town that catered to American Legionnaires who mostly hated hippies on general principle.

Whenever I had to occasionally trade in my cook’s apron and work in the dining room, I almost always out-tipped my fellow female servers – all college students who couldn’t wait to tell their customers where they went to school and what they were studying – with my smile and silent treatment.

If you’ve managed to read this rant and ironically agree that less can be more, here’s another personal bone of contention you can weigh in on.

When did it become common practice to pile two pounds of potatoes disguised as French fries on every plate? Next time you’re on your way out of a place that serves the humble spud in that preferred fashion, have a look at the size of the portions left behind.

Instead of wasting acres of crops and oceans of fryer oil when obesity is a growing problem, cutting back and offering refills could be a money saver for management that promotes healthier eating. Let those who must overindulge fill their boots, but spare the rest of us the canola carnage.

And finally, although this may sound like an old gnat over-picking a nit, can someone please tell me when “No problem” officially replaced “You’re welcome” in the service industry?

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Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.