“Oh, and this one is my husband’s absolute favorite! I don’t even try to make it at home any more. It’s so much better here, so I tell him he’s welcome to have it any time he wants—all he has to do is show up here.”
The waitress was in full spate. With the menu in front of her so we could see it, she was gushing over one featured entrée after another. It was like a preschool teacher with a little too much drama training reading a picture book to a group of four-year-olds who already knew it by heart.
I wanted to grab the menu out of her hands and snarl, “I can read, thank you very much. And I don’t care what your husband likes. Just go away for a few minutes and leave me in peace to decide what I want to order.”
We had been in the restaurant for less than ten minutes and had already been reminded why we don’t go there very often. This is a well-known seafood chain. It has quite good food, a pleasant dining room, and reasonable prices. It would be a perfect place for a slightly-special-occasion evening out.
Except for the staff. Not that the service is bad. Quite the opposite. Everyone is obviously trained to be friendly and make light, breezy conversation with the customers. They take this training much too seriously.
It starts with the host or hostess: “Welcome! And what brings you out this evening?”
Um—this is a restaurant. Probably it’s because we’re, you know, hungry?
“Are you celebrating a special occasion tonight? Or off to the movies?”
Um—if I thought that was any of your business, I would tell you.
This chitchat gets us to a table, where the conversational baton is passed to the server. Usually they introduce themselves, ask about our plans for the evening, and enthuse over the menu. On this particular evening, our waitress went far above and beyond her training. She flooded us with conversation like a nervous hostess giving her first big dinner party who had fortified herself by over-sampling the wine before the guests arrived.
Every time she stopped at our table, she was chattier. By her third visit, my partner, who was sitting with his back to the room, had his shoulders hunched in a defensive posture and had begun to flinch whenever a shadow fell across his plate. I at least had the advantage of being able to see her coming. I tried to keep her from interrupting our conversation by avoiding eye contact. It didn’t work.
Trapped by good manners, we tolerated her chatty interruptions and ate as fast as we could. By the time we had refused dessert, paid our tab, and made our escape, we had learned far more than we cared to know about our server’s husband, her previous job, her food preferences and those of half the members of her extended family, and her opinions of several current movies.
We didn’t care. We didn’t want to know. We had gone out on a date. Our plan was to enjoy a nice dinner, a quiet conversation, and each other’s company. It wasn’t our intention to share the evening with a server whose goal was to become our new BFF. If we had wanted to include a third party, we would have invited one of the friends we already had.