Language and Server-Speak

Garçon de Cafe
Creative Commons License photo credit: Stas Porter

This isn’t new, but I don’t think I’ve written about it before.

It often strikes me that people adopt a special way of talking once they become waiters. This isn’t necessarily a matter of training, but of some internal device that switches on when they take the job.

For example, when I’m eating at home, I’ve never had anyone ask me if I’m “still working on” a meal. They may ask whether I’m finished. Whether I’ve had enough? Am I all done? But not, “are you still working on that?”

If I can imagine someone asking me that at home, it’s when there’s a large holiday get-together, and an uncle or something is clearing plates away, acting as a waiter.

This is aside from my personal distaste at having my food referred to as something I’m working on. Like I just need to get these last few forkfuls tucked away and then I can finally relax.

Along the same lines, I don’t understand why people working on airplanes suddenly refer to a drink as a “beverage.” It doesn’t bother me, but I just don’t understand it. Why did that happen? In this case, I assume that it IS training, but who decided to train people to talk like that?

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5 Responses to “Language and Server-Speak”

  1. Largo
    December 12, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    My guess would be that “would you like a drink” has sufficiently strong connotations of offering and alcoholic that there is fear of confusion.

    – Largo

  2. admin-Robert
    December 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    I agree with you, Largo, that that could be why they did it. But it’s a bad solution to a non-problem.

  3. Largo
    December 13, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    Is it a bad solution because it solves a non-problem, or would it be bad even if the problem were real?

    I can imagine an occasional air passenger, after believing for a moment that he was being offered free booze, becoming irate upon being told No, Sir, alcohol is not complementary. Not that it would happen often, or that staff couldn’t usually handle it if it did. Still, air rage is not something an airline would like to provoke, however unreasonable it would be of a passenger to be so easily provoked. I see no downside at all, except for it being an annoyance to the easily annoyed, though that might be an upside :-p.

    I read your post again though, more closely. While I don’t get your hang-up with beverage, I wholeheartedly agree with the rest. “Still working on that?” makes me cringe, perhaps more in embarrassment for the server than anything else. As in, how can you be so stupid? It’s like they need to study tactics in tact.

    (I hate it most when they take my plate early, if I happen to eat faster than the others. It is embarrassing to be sitting their with a big void in front of you where the plate should me.)

  4. admin-Robert
    December 13, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    I think it’s a non-problem AND the solution is bad.

    The non-problem is because, although I guess there’s always some possibility of a misunderstanding, that’s also true for practically every other word on the planet. Anyway, the same nut-case could think that “beverage” means alcoholic drink.

    The solution is bad because:

    If they say “complimentary beverages,” then doesn’t that imply that alcoholic drinks are also complimentary? How does that solve anything?

    Also, even when they have free alcohol (overseas trips, for example, or in first class), they still say “beverage.”

    Maybe it’s just part of a misguided attempt to sound more formal.

  5. BruceS
    December 14, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    Whenever someone offers me a complementary “beverage”, I assume that the choices include a Speyside single-malt. If not, why would they even bring the subject of beverages up? After all, it’s not the “Alcoholic Drinks Commission”, is it? Annoys the heck out of me. If they mean nonalcoholic drinks, they should just say “Coke”, like Southerners do. That would prevent confusion.

    When I go out to eat with others, I try to eat really fast specifically so I’ll have my place cleared while they’re eating. It makes me feel like I’m virtuously following a diet, without the discomfort of eating less. It also lets me play the “waiter” game, asking another diner a question right when he’s filled his mouth.

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