Skip navigation

Are you still working on that?

• See more Back Talkin'

In the June issue, editor Michael Sanson wrote about the casual and often careless language servers use with customers. Instead of a server replying, “No problem,” to a request for more bread, he suggested there are better ways to respond. He asked readers if server language is something they teach and if they have better, more professional options for common server responses. The following are excerpts from those who responded.
Sometimes we over-think how we conduct business. While I agree that certain mannerisms would offend me (like chewing gum, body odor or an overly sweaty person), I do not get offended by the way in which people use certain words.  

If I was eating in a restaurant that was $50 a person and had white tablecloths, yes, I should have a decently refined server who uses some proper grammar.  However, if I am enjoying a great meal at Aunt Lucy’s Country Diner, I would expect someone to ask me “How y’all doin?”

The server’s attitude and attention to your table and your needs are the key, and should always be.  I have had servers who would not be considered refined, but were some of the best I have ever had simply due to their attentiveness and attitude.  

Do we really have to overanalyze everything in this business? Was the food great? Was the server attentive and did he have a great attitude? Was the place clean? Then why would you care about anything else?  Let’s start paying attention to what really matters and not be so snobbish.

Adam Lee
General Manager
Austin’s and KT’s Restaurants
Louisville, KY

Thanks for your post on waitstaff communication etiquette. I’m a lifelong food industry executive (consulting for 13 years now) and sometimes observe such behaviors as sport. One that irritates and makes me laugh is the 20-something female server I’ve never met calling me Honey, Sweetie or Dear. What? Excuse me?

Debra Bachar
Blueberry Business Group
Machesney Park, IL

To me the main point is how the server is treating their guests. Do they care about the guest experience? I’m not so concerned about how a server responds to a request for another drink, as I am that the customer had to ask for another drink. I will take a friendly, sincere, people person, every time, to serve our guests [even if their language is less than proper]. But I will put your column out front for my servers to read and possibly sharpen their skills.

Ed Lackington
General Manager
Coburg Crossing Café
Coburg, OR

I have been in the service industry for over 20 years and have worked all aspects of the front-of-the-house operations, but mainly as a server. As a green server, I was all too guilty of letting those phrases pass through my lips.  I never thought about the casualness of these phrases until I found myself dining and having those words said to me and realizing how I didn’t care for it. So here are the alternatives I use and feel are much more professional. “Are you still working on that” I’ve replaced with “Is there anything I may take out of your way” or a simple “May I, if you’re finished” As for use of the word “guys,” if it’s a table of men or close friends of mine that are in my section, then OK. If it’s neither of these situations, “Does anyone need anything?”works. The phrase “no problem” is one of my pet peeves. Just a simple “yes” or “certainly” is what I use. “Good choice” is a no-brainer. Don’t say it, it’s cheeky. If you work at a well-respected establishment known for its food, then every choice should be a good choice. With regards to asking “Is everything okay?” I tend to ask if everyone is enjoying their meal.

Doug Root
Z Cucina Restaurant
Columbus, OH

Another Fan Letter for Mike Sanson:
“In response to this article and many others you have written, screw you and your snob dining companions.”
—An anonymous server

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.