By David R. Wheeler, Editor
Remember when hosts and servers welcomed you to a restaurant? Remember when they made you feel at home? Made you feel important? In other words, made you feel like a customer?
Beware: A wretched virus has infected restaurant management across the country — and it’s coming to a restaurant near you.
The main symptom of this disease is the cursed question managers now make their servers ask: “Have you dined here before?”
In other strains of this rapidly evolving virus, the question might be: “Is this your first time?”
Is this my first time? Well, that’s a personal question, now, isn’t it?
Here’s the problem with this question. If the customer comes first — and last time I checked, this is America — then it shouldn’t matter whether this is my first time. This question, quite obviously and nakedly, benefits only the restaurant, not the customer.
It supposedly lets the server know not to go over the same script, the same song-and-dance, to someone who knows it well already. Well, guess what: I have a bad memory. I might have “dined here before,” and yet still be clueless about which soup is served on Tuesdays.
Have I dined with you before? Well, what if I did, but it was a long time ago? A lot of things might have changed since then. You might have new soups. New sandwiches. Items I might not have even dreamed of.
What if I’m with three other people, and half of us have “dined here before,” and the other half haven’t? Which half takes precedence?
What is this — a midterm exam? What’s the right answer here? All I did was walk into your restaurant, and I’m already nervous about saying the wrong thing. I feel like I need to take my blood pressure medicine — and I don’t even have high blood pressure.
Isn’t it better to say, “If you’ve already dined with us before, you might remember that Tuesday is potato soup day”? That takes the pressure off.
And another thing: An additional symptom of this wretched disease is the fashionable new question managers are making servers ask after your food has arrived: “How does it taste?”
What do you mean? You’re a server! You’re not a cook! Why are you asking me how it “tastes”? This seems like an ingenious way to get out of having to do any additional work. What other choice do I have but to say “Good!”?
Can you imagine a server saying, “How does it taste?” and you replying, “Like crap!”
No, the reason management makes servers ask “how does it taste” is to save the servers’ time at the expense of the customer. It gives the impression that someone came to the table, said something to the customer — “checked in” — and now they’re off the hook.
Isn’t it better to ask, “Can I get you anything else?”
Or even: “How is everything?”
That leaves it open-ended for the customer to say anything he or she needs — a refill, more ketchup, another fork. Oh, and the French fries that were going to take a few minutes extra — are those ready yet?
Indeed, an open-ended question puts the customer first.
When I graduated from college, my first job was waiting tables. Luckily, my manager didn’t make us ask anyone if they’d dined with us before. I didn’t have to ask how things tasted. Instead, I welcomed them. I told them about the specials. I asked them how I could be of service, and if there was anything else I could get them.
But the HYDHB Virus (“Have You Dined Here Before”) hadn’t hit the country yet.
It was a simpler time.
David R. Wheeler is the editor of AliveTampaBay.