Excuse Me, What's This Waitress Doing In My Soup? by B. Elwin Sherman

(WARNING! The names of individuals and eateries below are fictitious, but the persons and places are not. Any resemblance to real people and restaurants is purely intentional.)

I don't pretend to be a gourmet, and this is not the place to find high-toned hints on where to dine out, should you have an epicurean palate and a double-platinum American Express card.

But, neither am I content with frequenting only drive-through burger shacks, where my comestibles and condiments are wrapped in foil packets, tossed into a bag, and shoved at me through a window and exhaust fumes.

I suspect I'm like most of us: happy with the minimal amenities of a knife, fork and spoon, a Naugahyde booth, the faux charm of “vintage” wall hangings, and a non-teetering table top. All the rest is good food.

If it must be the working man's rendition of gold chanterelle mushrooms baked in almond cream, I won't squawk. Just make sure I have a napkin and try not to stick me with a fork.

But, yesterday, when Tiffany, (not her real name) the waitress at Crocklebee's (not it's real meaning) announced, as she fairly lurched into position at our table with all the subtlety of a roadside bomb, that “Hey, guys, I'm Tiffany, and I'll be hanging out with you today!” my comic juices began to sizzle, and here we are at the do's and don'ts of food-servicing a humorist:

If you are my waitress, I don't want to know your name. Familiarity breeds contempt, and I don't want mine being inflamed or diminished because I can later accurately name you in my lawsuit as the person who forgot my ketchup. If you want to name names, tell me who's doing the cooking and washing the dishes.

Next, we're not “hanging out” (another vehicle of chumminess I'd rather not ride with my waitress). I'm a patron of your employ. You are my server. Unless you intend to sit down with me when you deliver the food and pick at my salad, I'd rather you hung out in the kitchen.

As a personal preference only, I must add this: If you've found the need in your prior, extra-vocational pursuits to cover your arms with tattoos, please wear something long-sleeved. I'm not sure why, but when the human extremity holding my plateful of veggie burger comes at me covered in Komodo Dragons, I'm put slightly off my feed.

Another point of order: Diet Pepsi is NOT the same as Diet Coke. I won't name my preference here, but the next time I order the one you don't have and you offer me the other with a loud and curt: “It's the same difference,” I will ask you why you didn't opt for Loch Ness Nessies on your forearms instead of Mr. & Mrs. Komodo. Same difference.

In the art of table-waiting, here's a peeve motion that I'm sure my readers will second: Timing, close observations and silent interventions are prized above all else. I was raised to not swallow and speak simultaneously, unless I'm being waterboarded.

To this end, if you catch me in any phase of mastication, including the act of just raising food to my mouth, DON'T ask me a question. If I'm indeed in the midst of chewing (hint: closed mouth, grinding jaw) or swallowing, (non-verbal, and Adam's apple receding) WAIT until I resume open-mouthed breathing. I will then nod in your direction.

Trust me, without knowing your name, I will let you know when and if I or my fare need to be monitored. If my veggie burger has been delivered sans burger, I will raise the empty bun into the air and entertain my neighboring consumptioneers with shadow puppets until you return.

Another personal preference: There is no need to ever announce: “Here, let me get that out of your way,” then remove anything from my table, especially any plate, bowl or glass still containing food or drink, or any eating utensils I still have in motion.

Speaking of which, if you have any power of this, DON'T vacuum-wrap my silverware inside my napkin. It renders the napkin into goat-shaped origami, and this isn't a prison cafeteria.

I like having my eating surface cluttered with all the spent utensils of my foodfest. Despite my vegan leanings, there's something carnivorously primordial about a post-prandial table. Makes me feel like I'm guarding what's left of my prey. Please, leave my vessels and me alone together to bask in the banquet of my hunting prowess, even if it is a shred of slaughtered tomato.

NEVER “freshen up” my coffee. This ruins my carefully mixed mixture of creamer & sweetener and upsets the balance of nature. Mine, anyway.

Lastly, here's a tip on tips:

I ALWAYS tip well, because I know that waitressing is a tough job, and you're not here because you emerged from the womb with a burning desire to feed strangers. I know about the indignities you suffer: the sore feet, the inanity of repetition, and the rude shadow puppeteer in Naugahyde Section B, blaming you, not the cook, for his burgerless bun.

So, you'll always get a handsome gratuity from me, unless you intentionally stick me with a fork or fall into my soup.

If you do the latter, just please don't hang out in there.

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Copyright 2007 B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved.
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