Hominy & Hash
SERVICE WITH A SMILE
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- If I were to title this Service With A Snarl it would likely be closer to the way I feel but less than likely you would read it.
"Good evening, y'all. My name is Nicholas and I'll be your server tonight." There is no question in our minds that "y'all" is tossed in for local atmosphere because most of the diners are tourists who love feeling that touch of the south. Is that Nicholas' contribution to the greeting or does the manager suggest it? Every server says "y'all" and some say it three times: "Good evening, y'all, y'all want to order drinks before y'all order dinner?"
Oh, it's not just here, it's all over. Regionalisms creep into the language of the wait staff - in Pittsburgh you'll hear "yinz."
"Yinz" is how it's said, "you-uns" is how you might spell it and "you ones" is what it means - but don't hold me to that. "Yinz going to have a cocktail before dinner?"
I do not mean to insinuate that the service is any less than perfect because the staff is ingratiating itself with the customers, it's just that in all its friendliness, I feel a lack of sincerity. It's probably the same lack of sincerity reflecting in my own smile as I look back at them, patiently listening to the specials of the evening they have memorized and recite impeccably. They are good. I'll grant them that. But, I'm there for what I always order.
The manager has them looking good but it's at the expense of my feeling good. Plates are cleared from one place at our table while someone else is still eating. I do put my foot down if a dessert tray oozing chocolate is presented to my husband while I'm still eating lasagna.
He once gave me "the look" to ibndicate that I was being rude to have the dessert tray taken away, only to be brought back only when I finished. So now I just give in and ask for a "to-go" box, suggesting with a smile that the rest of my dinner will make a nice midnight snack.
Courtesy is wonderful; I advocate it at every turn. And I have practiced it all my life; lately, however, I find so much courtesy is just mechanical. It's baring teeth into a wide, smile, doing their dentists proud, I'm sure, but where is the chuckle behind it or the sparkle in the eyes?
We live in a rude, frenzied, chaotic world yet generally we can surround ourselves with genuinely lovely people. We know them when we are with them. We frequent places that provide a relaxed atmosphere for those times when we want to sit back and just escape the frenzy for an hour or two.
Three minutes after our meals are placed in front of us, the server will lean in, hands behind his back, and say - just as my fork slides out of my mouth (no doubt leaving spinach in my front teeth) - "Is everything all right?"
I smile with lips closed and head nodding yes and then turn back to my plate. (John never looks up when this exchange interrupts his eating.) Five minutes later, the waiter returns to ask again if everything is all right. I'm not shy, you might have guessed, and if it weren't all right, I would have flagged anyone on the crew to send our waiter over.
We've learned, however, that we don't send mixed up orders back to the kitchen if the mix up is adjustable at our own table. If John's rare steak is on my plate with my mashed potatoes and broccoli and my well done steak is on his plate with his baked potato and peas, we just spear the meat, synchronize the passing, and switch.
Sometimes the rare steak drips and extinguishes the candle, but basically it's a smooth transition. No, nothing goes back to the kitchen. It's not safe to get cooks angry; after all, what goes on in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.
No matter what I write, I sense I'm coming across as pompous and pretentious. I do know the entire establishment is geared toward my pleasure and I appreciate that. I'm not asking for service from a scowling, growling waiter, I just want service.
I'll place my order as efficiently and pleasantly as I can, and the waiter can serve my needs as efficiently and pleasantly as he can. Many places handle customers just that way. When we find those places, we go back.
After all, fine cuisine is only half the pleasure in dining out.