Dear Salty: In the past few years, I’ve noticed a scourge of servers (mostly at trendy restaurants) who speak to customers with, how do I say it, internety jackass millennial language? There’s no more decorum, like: “How is the food?” Instead we get: “Are we stoked on the grilled octopus? Killer, right?” or “Man, you crushed that Negroni.” Last week, a server referred to my wife as “dude.”
I am 40. That is not old. I don’t feel like a grandpa when I say it’s ridiculous to be addressed this way at places where entrees cost $35. Is there something I can do to signal that I’d rather be talked to like a customer and not someone’s Twitter follower?
Not Your Bro, Brah
I can’t delete the internet, and I can’t pinch all of these whippersnappers by their gauged ears, and I can’t decipher half the texts my teenage niece sends me. So, you know, just don’t expect me to move mountains on this one.
But what I can do is open my big, Maybelline-pink Salty mouth and issue a PSA to all the hip restaurant servers out there: Customers are not your “BFFs.” There is a way to be friendly without being friends, cordial but not too casual. Sure, you kids can tell me I sound like a big ol’ b. But it’s your tip, not mine, ya little stinkers, and this email isn’t the first time I’ve heard a complaint like this.
One of the worst things a customer can feel in your restaurant is disrespected or uncomfortable. And, like it or not, the language we use talking to customers signals respect—or lack thereof. Look, I know you work hard at your restaurant job. You want to be taken seriously, right? Sometimes that means practicing the words you choose so that customers feel comfortable. It’s part of hospitality. Managers, you can discuss this at staff meetings if you feel the “dude” virus spreading among your staff.
A good rule of thumb for servers: Listen to how your customers speak, and mirror that back. (This is a little trick I’m learned during my brief stint in retail.) If they’re quiet, don’t push them. If they’re inquisitive, give them the full spiel. If they’re casual with you, go ahead and be casual back. But if they’re not, try to keep pace with the tone they set.
Now, back to you, letter-writer. Policing other people’s language is hard, because language is all bound up in culture and where we come from and who we are. I know this millennial-internet-garbage bugs you, but we don’t want to crap all over the way someone talks because it’s different from us. So, while it raises your hackles, you might just have to let this one go. I mean, what’s the alternative? Complain to the manager? I put out the Salty PSA, so hopefully restaurants take note and tone down the verbal emojis.
Oh, and if you want to soften the shock of hearing your wife be addressed as “dude,” perhaps take it as a compliment to her youthfulness.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? (In light of this week’s question, room-service horror stories are especially welcome.) Email us: email@example.com.