Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Name Game

There is someone, somewhere who is responsible for starting a custom that is distinctly American and annoying at the same time. I don't know who that person is, but they deserve a kick in the pants.

I'm referring to the custom of a server at a restaurant approaching your table, usually with a wide-eyed grin, and telling you, "Hi, my name is ________ . . ."

It isn't really that useful because even if you're looking for your waiter or waitress, most of us are very unlikely to approach another server and ask, "Excuse me, have you seen Scott?" Why? Because it just feels weird.

Scott isn't our friend, and we are unlikely to ever lay eyes on him again. We're only here to eat. Sure, instruct our server to be cheerful and attentive, but our server can behave in this manner without telling us his/her name.

As this column from San Diego magazine notes, a lot of diners seem to agree with my view:

Once again, it’s perfectly clear most San Diegans aren’t seeking a closer, personal bond with their waiters. “I don’t want to know my waiter’s name, and I don’t want my waiter to be my friend,” sniffs one reader.

But, apparently, the name game can get even worse. According to this post at Complainable.com

. . . why in the world do I need to know my waiter’s name when I eat out at a restaurant? Furthermore, why does it need to be written in purple crayon on my table? I’m sure you’ve had it happen to you before. You walk into the Italian restaurant and some overly friendly kid from the junior college comes over and scribbles his name. Even worse, the waiter or waitress will often embellish their name with a heart or maybe a balloon.

Actually, I have never had such a "scribble" incident occur at my restaurant table. And I sincerely hope this practice is limited to a class or category of restaurants that I don't tend to frequent.

Who the hell does this? Applebees? Buca di Beppo? Say it ain't so.

Maybe there's a simple compromise. Why don't restaurants approach this like hotels? Have waiters wear small, unintrusive name tags, but stop making it part of their job to tell us their name.

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