Monday, September 19, 2005


My family was eating breakfast at a local Bob Evans restaurant the other day (not my choice), and my 14 year-old nephew got really annoyed at the waitress, who kept calling him "sweetie." He wasn't a sweetie, my nephew protested, which is true. Besides, referring to a complete stranger (no matter how young or how sweet) by such a familiar term is highly unprofessional.

It happens to me all the time. There's one counterperson at my local bagel shop who insists on calling me "hon." I am not a "hon," I have never been a "hon," and I am extremely annoyed if not downright offended to be referred to as such. In this case the countergirl is about half my age (she in her 20s, me in my 40s), which doesn't excuse anything. (At least she didn't call me "gramps.")

Then there's the guy at the sub shop who always asks me about whatever book I happen to be reading. (I always take a book to lunch, in order to keep from getting bored while refreshing my nutrients.) I didn't go to lunch with the expectation of giving a book report, and it's no one's business what I'm reading, what the book is about, or whether or how much I like it. He tends to get offended when I answer his "what're you reading?" question with the curt phrase, "a book," but at least he gets the point. Let me read in peace, bub.

I'm also not a big fan of waitresses and waiters who sit down in the booth with me while they're taking my order. This seems to be standard operating procedure at my local cheap chain steakhouse. This person who I do not know sits down, completely uninvited, and starts conversing with me like I'm some long lost friend. Well, folks, if I wanted a conversation, I'd eat dinner with someone I actually liked, not this stranger who has an uncanny knowledge of the specials of the day. Excuse me for being surly, but I really didn't go to that restaurant with the express purpose of being chatty.

You might think that my dislike of overly familiar waitstaff contradicts my previous rant about impolite waitstaff -- you know, the guys who offer a lackadaisical "no problem" instead of the expected "thank you" and "you're welcome." But they're really two sides of the same coin. It's not so much about being friendly or not, it's about being polite and professional. When you call me "hon" or try to make unwanted conversation, you're not acting in a professional manner. Overfamiliarity is just as much a service-industry sin as not thanking customers properly for their business. What I want is a professional greeting, prompt and attentive (but not overly attentive) service, and then for the staff to fade into the shadows. I don't want to be their friend. I want to be their customer, and be treated accordingly.

But that's just my opinion, hon; reasonable minds may disagree.

No comments: