This weekend, I tried to introduce a friend to a fun new game called “Guess Whether or Not Karen Likes This Waiter.” Unfortunately, I was informed that this game would probably not be very much fun as the answer is generally obvious within seconds. So, for those who don’t have the pleasure of dining with me, or who just miss the experience, I present:
My Top 10 Things Waiters Can Do to Make Me Hate Them*
- Ask if I want more water. Well, if it’s empty, that means I’m drinking it and since it’s free for you, why don’t we go with yes. Yes, I do want more water. Keep that glass at least half full.
- Bring the check while I am still consuming dessert and/or before asking if we’d like coffee or anything else. This is actually just rude. Not only does it reduce the chance of a final few items being put on the bill (thus adding to the tip) but it leaves a pretty sour taste in my mouth. I’m not a starving writer camping out at Starbucks for Wifi, I promise I’ll leave when I’m finished.
- Use the royal “we.” This KILLS me. “What are we having today? Are we enjoying our hummus? Do we need some more Diet Coke?” This is both grammatically incorrect and could lead to some uncomfortable moments. What if I said “we are” and she replied “well actually you haven’t let me have any yet?” How awkward would that be?
- Not have an opinion on the food they’re serving. I’ll admit it, I ask a lot of questions when I order. I’ve been called a “high maintenance orderer” before (albeit by someone who didn’t know the difference between brioche and a popover so take that for what it’s worth). The point is, if I ask which is better the burger or the chicken and you ask me “which are you in the mood for?” that doesn’t actually help me at all. If I was in the mood for one, I would have ordered it.
- Try to upsell me on a “signature” appetizer before I’ve ordered my drink. This used to kill me at Dos Caminos when I still had my menu, hadn’t thought through my meal, and had $15 guacamole forced on me in a lava pot. Just give it time, I promise I’ll order three courses, but I don’t want overpriced avocados just because you put it in a special box on the menu.
- Act too Disney-esque. Maybe I’m cynical, but when someone is that cheerful with me, I assume it’s a front and they’re thinking of stabbing me in the face. It’s tough to feel at ease when you’re looking over your shoulder all night for a steak knife-wielding maniac with a big Disney grin.
- Explain the restaurant “concept” to me. “Have you been here before? No? Great, let me explain what we’re about to you. We’re into a locavore dining experience specializing in small plates with Mediterranean influences. We recommend you order 2-3 items from column A, 3-5 items from column B, and at least 2 items from column C, but if you order 3 or more items from column C you should probably eliminate everything from column A.” Guess what, I went to your website, I figured out what your concept is, and it’s called pretentious, but the Yelp reviews are good so just bring me some wine.
- Add to my own personal anxiety. When you seem nervous or flustered or brusque or distracted, I start to assume my food has been poisoned.
- Not be around enough. I may be paying to eat at your restaurant, but in some ways, I’m a prisoner. When I’m out of bread or want a lime wedge or need a utensil, I just have to sit there and hope that you’ll remember to come back and get to me. And if it takes too long, I have to contemplate eating with my hands and bringing shame to my mother from afar.
- Be around too much. The third time you ask me if my meal’s okay, it starts to taste a little funky. Save all that personal attention for your loved ones.
*I should note that I don’t believe any of the reasons above are cause for poor tipping unless they’re over the top (or they really do stab you per #6).
And if you are a demanding diner, you should certainly reward those on their feet getting your meal for you.
Last week, I checked a major Someday/Maybe item off my to do list (also the sole item in the “Fun” section of my task management system… feel free to judge accordingly): an introductory culinary knife skills class.
I’ve always loved cooking, but these days it’s not a practical hobby: I travel a ton, I live alone, and if I were to spend a weekend home cooking, I wouldn’t be able to consume the food before either it went bad or I got sick of it. Also, my kitchen is an ugly, sad, poorly ventilated room with hideous cabinets and thus, I don’t spend much time there.
Anyway, you should run — not walk — to take a knife skills class (and if in DC, I highly recommend the one at CulinAerie with Susan Watterson as the instructor). Here’s why:
- You are probably not holding your knife correctly. I know this because the last four friends I told this story too (who love to cook) were not holding their knife correctly.
- You are probably not be efficient with motions while chopping or slicing.
- Deboning a chicken will be one of the more satisfying experiences of the week.
- You’ll learn a number of ways to be more efficient with your shopping — both of knives and food.
- You will produce a beautifully cut carrot within the first 20 minutes. Please see mine:
That said, I’m a big fan of optimizing experiences. Here’s what I would keep in mind if you are taking an introductory cooking class on a Saturday morning:
- Apparently a lot of people give newlyweds/newly-engaged/cute couples in their lives cooking classes as a present. Here’s the thing: the cute couple in someone else’s life is not a cute couple in my life. I spent three hours behind two hippies making out between cuts. And I had a big knife at my disposal. It was quite an exercise in restraint.
- A lot of people see knife skills as a good intro class and, literally, have never cut anything other than the packaging around a microwave meal. Be prepared for people around you to be confused about pretty much everything. Wait… when you said keep the root on to hold the onion together, did you mean this root that I just cut off? Ooopsies!
- You just might be forced to work next to Mary Jane. Because I did and she was a complete moron who will likely have to repeat the course several more times. Mary Jane was a delightful Southern belle in a relationship with a hairy and verbally abusive man whose name I’ve already forgotten. What’s great about WhatsHisName is he doesn’t let his own lack of knife skills slow down his criticism of everything Mary Jane does. And what’s great about Mary Jane is like a goldfish, by the time she swims around the bowl, she’s forgotten everything he’s said.
Since I’m solutions-oriented, rather than offer a multi-paragraph, detail-studded “Ode to Mary Jane,” I’ll give you this advice: if you take this course, you should call and find out a) if you work in partners and b) if you’re at small tables or in small groups. And then, you should take the class with however many friends you need to use as a buffer from everyone else in the room. Sartre was right: hell is other people, but if you’re going to be stuck there, you don’t want to be while learning how to wield sharp objects.