Last week I was dining at a local restaurant, as I often do. Our food had arrived minutes ago, and we were eagerly tearing through it whilst discussing the day’s occurrences; deeply engrossed in debate. Suddenly, the flow of the conversation was interrupted. The waiter had appeared sheepishly at the side of the table to ask whether our meal was alright. We responded affirmatively and nodding, he turned to leave.
A relatively common occurrence, but here lies the issue. This act had completely derailed our conversation, and it took some time before we could remember which part of the story we had reached. I know for certain I am not the only one to have been irked by this interruption. Talking to friends about this issue, I discovered a seldom thing: a conspiracy theory that may hold some merit. There is a resounding suspicion that waiters are supposedly named because they are instructed to ‘wait’ until you have your mouth full before they ‘pop the question’. In his essay on a similar situation, Christopher Hitchens recounts a cartoon he had once read which depicted a couple getting into bed when the phone rings. The husband takes the call, explaining to his wife that “it’s the maître d’ from the place we had dinner. He wants to know if everything is still all right.”
From my experience of waiting tables, I know this is a question that waiters are encouraged to impose upon diners. It is often considered a polite practice, designed to ensure that the meal is satisfactory. Though surely there’s a less intrusive way of going about it? It seems to me that a possible solution lies with the waiters themselves, who could be close at hand after the meal is delivered so as to allow one to catch their eye if the food is unsatisfactory. This would allow for the maximum of service whilst retaining the maximum of privacy.
Why can they not do this? It may be because they are instructed to pose the question at just the right moment, possibly when the conversation is most fervent, or when the mouths of diners are most full. Perhaps they gain greater credit with their managers for the more people they can ask mid chew. Maybe it’s a tactic employed to suppress dissenters, who are unable to complain about a meal mid-conversation, or with full mouths. Surely the waiters themselves gain nothing but embarrassment from this. Regardless, it is up to the managers themselves to cease enforcing this intrusive and obtrusive practice.
I must apologize, my dear reader, for this lengthy moan over such a minor issue. I am perfectly aware that there are greater transgressions facing mankind daily. Throughout this short essay, I merely wished to provide food for thought. And, if you’ll allow me to interrupt you for a second, how is your food?