Waiters shall be nameless

Good waiting is an art form all its own. Good service in a restaurant can be the making of a meal, a good waiter the difference between a middling experience and one to remember.

A competent waiter walks a fine line. A whole collection of lines really. A good waiter is professional without being officious, warm but not intimate, personal but not invasive, efficient without ever appearing to be hurried, responsive while staying calm and measured in every circumstance.

That said, one thing I’m ambivalent about is knowing my waiter’s name. It’s common in the US: ‘Hello, I’m Amy and I’ll be your waiter today.’ I’ve noticed the practice creeping in here too. Like my experience a few weeks back. As soon as we sat down, this energetic young man bounced up behind me and pressed his hand onto my shoulder: ‘Hey guys, I’m Gary!’ Thanks Gary, but I really don’t need to know, and about my shoulder.

While I do get the personal thing — I certainly don’t want Gary to be invisible, and I’ll go out of my way to be responsive and to express gratitude when it’s due — at this particular meal with my beloved or my family or friends, I’m not looking for a buddy. What I need is a waiter: one who’s attentive, responsive and competent. As a guest, I’ll owe him my respect but never my phone number.

Call me grumpy, but the writer Andrew Toddhunter agrees. And he’s American!

“… the anonymity of the waiter helps to define what is an ancient, respectable, and specific relationship. The waiter, when he is your waiter, is not Jonathan. He is not a married father of two with a bad knee and a gambling habit. He is in possession of a greater or lesser amount of grace, charm, skill, knowledge, warmth and decorum, but he is your waiter, and should remain nameless.”

Andrew Toddhunter, A Meal Observed, Anchor Books, 2004, 9.


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