Chatty Waiter

by admin on July 24, 2012

Last Friday I met two girlfriends at a local restaurant for a late dinner. It’s a small, rustic restaurant with high Zagat ratings and a stellar local reputation. The restaurant only seats about 25 people and the dining room is small, about the size of an average living area in a home.

One of my friends had let us know she’d be late, as she had gotten hung up at work. We informed our server that we were waiting for a friend (the restaurant was not busy; if people had been waiting for tables we’d have left until our friend could meet us). We drank tea and chatted. Our server checked in with us frequently, filling our tea glasses, asking if we wanted an appetizer or something while we waited. Eventually he began to joke with us that he was starting to wonder if our friend existed. When she finally was able to join us, he made the same joke to her. We laughed, settled in to order and enjoy our meal.

The station where servers wrapped silverware was directly behind our table. We had a great dinner and good conversation, except for one thing…our server kept joining in our conversation. He was wrapping silverware for the next day’s service (it was getting a bit late by this time) and he kept interjecting comments into our conversation.

I always felt that it was implicit that servers sort of pretend not to overhear the conversations of their customers, even though obviously they do. To have it so blatantly demonstrated that he was listening in to our conversation was a little disconcerting. Perhaps we were overly familiar earlier, before our third friend arrived, so he felt this was appropriate? I felt a little uncomfortable with it. My friends didn’t give any sign of minding, so I said nothing.

He was a good server in all other respects. I wonder now how I might have addressed this, or if I’m just overreacting. 0723-12

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

NotThumper July 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

I can understand why you might find it uncomfortable OP but I think in this case it’s just an honest mistake on his part. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you might have been overly familiar in the beginning and so he felt it was ok. You seem to be satisfied with his service in all other aspects so it doesn’t seem to me like he was trying to be rude.

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Green123 July 24, 2012 at 9:19 am

Option 1, the polite version:

At the first interruption:
‘I’m sorry, do you mind? This is a private conversation. Thank you.’

At the second interruption:
‘I’m sorry, do you mind? This is a private conversation. Thank you.’

At the third interruption:
‘Could you get the manager, please. NOW. Thank you.’

Option 2, the less polite, but funnier, version
Me (loudly): ‘Oh my god, don’t you just HATE it when waiters interrupt your conversation?’
Girlfriend 1: ‘Oh YEAH, I mean, it’s just SO ANNOYING!’
Girlfriend 2: ‘Definitely, I’d NEVER eat somewhere again if the waiter kept butting in. AND I wouldn’t leave him such a big tip, AND I’d leave a bad review on Trip Advisor…’
Etc, etc…

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Cherry July 24, 2012 at 9:41 am

I’m going to say… rude. Like you said, he was obviously listening into a private conversation. If you’d asked him his opinion it’d be fine, but if he was quite obviously not included…

Maybe I’m just antisocial, but it sounded like HE was the one who was overfamiliar at the beginning. I understand that it’s frustrating if a group take up a table but don’t order for ages, but the reasons for why it’s occurring were none of his business, and it sounds like he was trying to subtlely pressure you into ordering without your friend.

But that’s just my opinion.

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Ex-Waitress July 24, 2012 at 9:53 am

Uh maybe it’s just me but it might have been a subtle attempt to get you to leave. I mean if it was late enough that he was getting ready for the next business day, he might have been trying to make you uncomfortable until you left.
I only say this because you mentioned that it was a “late dinner” and on top of that your friend came late too.
The one main thing I disliked about customers when I was a waitress was that they’d come in at 9:50 when the restaurant closes at 10 and just sit there for ages, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a passive-aggressive approach to get you to pay the check and get out of there.

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Caligirl July 24, 2012 at 10:24 am

Not the OP’s fault in the least. Any good server knows when to engage the table and when to MYOB. Just because I’m in the vicinity and overhear a snippet of conversation does not entitle me to butt in, no matter how friendly and “engaging” the table is with me when I am in the process of serving them. This guy was out of line. OP, I think another time just a friendly “I’m sorry, we’re trying to catch up with each other, thanks” SHOULD do the trick. Unless he’s super clueless, then maybe a manager should be involved.

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Hemi July 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

I don’t think he was intentionally being rude. In my experience, in small restaurants such as the OP has described, sometimes the waiters/waitresses get a little too friendly with patrons. Some seem to be ok with it, some not.

A polite reproach such as Green123 or Caligirl suggested should get him to back off.

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Shannon July 24, 2012 at 10:57 am

Agree with Ex-Waitress. You showed up for a late dinner, with a member of your party showing up even later, and didn’t order any appetizers or wine while you waited. So you were basically just taking up a table while not providing revenue for the restaurant. Then you dawdled and gabbed over your meal. I’m guessing you also didn’t leave an extra amount on the tip (if you’re staying for that long, bump the tip up because 1. you’re being a pain, 2. it makes it harder for the waiter to turn the table, 3. at the end of the night, you’re keeping that poor waiter from clocking out for the night).

I can’t blame the waiter for wanting you to clear out – working in a restaurant is exhausting and at that point he probably either wanted to delete his memories of the day with low-grade tequila, or go home and fall into an insensible heap.

I think it’s worthwhile to remind restaurant patrons that, while it’s not okay for a restaurant to rush you through your meal, there’s a point where you need to wrap it up and move on. You bought a meal, not a condo, so moving in and refusing to budge is rude and inconsiderate.

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RMM0278 July 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

I, too, hate the overly friendliness that comes from waitstaff. And I say this as someone who has had the job in the past at multiple restaurants. I agree with others that the waiter was probably overly familiar to begin with so he thought he could join in whenever. I don’t mind the light chitchat, but it’s a full conversation that annoys me. We’re not friends. You’re here to do a specific job for which you’ll be compensated. That’s it. To assume anything more is presumptuous and fake.

The best waiter I ever had was one that said one thing during our entire dining experience, “Are you ready to order?”

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badkitty July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

I’ve not had this happen with a server, but with other people who had no business participating in the conversation. My standard response is to just continue on as though that person had not spoken; they eventually get the hint, and my conversation is not affected by their interjections.

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--Lia July 24, 2012 at 11:14 am

If you want to go for super polite, the first time you can lower your voices and apologize to him for disturbing his work. Every time he interrupts, you say “so sorry, I didn’t realize you could overhear, we must have been speaking too loudy” and then talk in low whispers. But honestly, that never works. Green is right. If he doesn’t know he’s being intrusive, it’s fine to tell him.

And now my topper on intrusive waitstaff. My boyfriend and I were following the hostess to our table. I turned to my boyfriend to say something minor and mistakenly called him by my business partner’s name. This was nothing as my boyfriend knew perfectly well who my partner was and that I spent all day with him in the course of my work. It was a normal meaningless slip. He hesitated for an instant and said something like “who”? The hostess turned and I gave a quick explanation: “my business partner”. She conversationally said “now just don’t make that mistake in bed.” She seemed to think it was funny or just the sort of thing people say. Given that I’d never seen that lady before in my life, it sure seemed to carry a lot of assumption. I glared at her and said nothing else, but to this day, I wish I’d done more.

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Cat July 24, 2012 at 11:15 am

Perhaps it is just my odd sense of humor, but this would be a perfect opportunity to have a good time. I would not have been offended by the server’s joining in the conversation, but would have enjoyed intoducing some off-beat topics for general discussion.
Let’s see, there could be the following topics: “In your religious practices, do you consider yourself a Thomist or an Aristotelian? Why?” or ” To what extent do you believe the rise of feminism in the 1960’s has affected the Civil Right’s Movement today?” or “What do you think led Malcom X to embrace the Sunni branch of the Moslem faith and how did it alter his concept of ethnocentrism?”
Of course, you’d need to have friends who enjoy odd ideas that by-pass the, “What did you really think of Joannie’s new boyfriend?” private conversation.

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Cat Whisperer July 24, 2012 at 11:19 am

While the restaurant may not have been busy, I’m thinking that the waiter may have been a bit miffed at how long OP’s party occupied that one table.

If a single party occupies a table for two hours, just for example, that’s one tip; if that is occupied by four parties in two hours, that’s four tips. Simple arithmetic to figure out that the waiter/waitress is going to make more money if the tables “turn over” more quickly.

That doesn’t necessarily make it okay for the waiter to interject himself into conversation, but I can imagine him being a bit annoyed over the situation. Especially since the restaurant is very small, one party occupying a table in his station for an extended period of time cuts down on how much he can earn that evening. I think that whether OP and friends regarded the restaurant as busy or not, when they knew their friend was going to be late, they should not have held the table for so long.

That doesn’t mean it was okay for the waiter to interject himself into their conversation, though.

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Ashley July 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

I think it stems from the fact that you guys had been friendly with him from the start, so he thought it might have been okay to jump into the conversation since he was standing there anyway.

Someone else suggested it might be an attempt to get you to leave. Well, that all depends on what a “late dinner” means to the OP, and how long they were there after they ate. And wait staff at every restaurant I have ever been to will wrap silverware all day just to make sure they have enough, so the fact that he was actively wrapping silverware isn’t even a good indication of time.

I’m not sure how you would have addressed it, beyond saying something like “If you don’t mind, we’re just trying to catch up with our friend now, thank you!”

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KT July 24, 2012 at 11:34 am

Not rude at all. The server was clearly going off the vibe you set from the beginning, and was trying to be attentive, friendly, and do a good job. I think getting all “This is a private conversation!” is over the top and rude. Since the server was casual and friendly, a laughing “Okay, we’re gonna make you leave now because this is girl talk time!” would have done the job. And if not, the private talks might have had to happen over dessert at a nearby pastry place instead.

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Student July 24, 2012 at 11:44 am

A simple “I’m sorry, we’re trying to catch up with each other, thanks.” Is sufficient. I fear for the waiter who has to deal with Green123’s “funny” approach.

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SashatheBrit July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am

I’m sorry, but the term “overly familiar” makes it sound like you feel he’s some servant, too low to even speak to you.

I understand you’re miffed that he would do that. It’s our job to be friendly but jumping in on other people’s conversations is rude. But again – he was just being friendly. Be polite about not wanting him to be part of it.

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Lori July 24, 2012 at 11:58 am

OP here. Ex-Waitress, that’s a good point but I don’t think that’s the case. It wasn’t THAT late. Our scheduled meeting time was 7 pm, our third friend arrived around 730, we were there until about 930. The restaurant is open till 11.

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AMC July 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I’m going to break with other commentors here and say that I don’t think the waiter did anything wrong. It sounds like he was just trying to be pleasant and attentive. I’m a chatty person myself and can makes friends with just about anyone, so I don’t think that I would have been bothered by the waiter adding to the conversation. If fact I enjoy it when people who are providing me with service are personable. I try to do the same with clients in my workplace and have more often than not gotten back very positive feedback.

But if it bothered you that much, I agree with Green123 that you need only say nicely “This is a private conversation. Do you mind?”

My mom likes to tell the story of how when she worked as a waitress (before I was born), she found she made better tips if she could find something in common with her customers. This was when soap operas were really popular, so all she had to do was mention one of them to a customer, and suddenly it was like she was one of their girlfriends.

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Stacey Frith-Smith July 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I’m with Ex- it seems at least plausible that the waiter was trying to get his table cleared if the establishment was closing and they lingered more than half an hour. Even then, it’s not the most polite thing in the world. Restaurants could help this by having a policy of seating no new clients from fifteen minutes prior to close up until closing, and having “last order in” to the kitchen for hot food at least fifteen minutes prior to close, barring take-out. Those extra minutes can be precious if family are waiting for you at home. If the case is simply that the establishment was open late and the server was chatty- I dunno. I’d prefer to have a conversation with my table partners, not all and sundry, (including sociable waiters).

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Ann July 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Yes, he was rude. But, I’m guessing it was with intent as suggested by earlier posters. Self-defeating intent, ultimately, but intent nonetheless.

Restaurants are businesses, and here in North America servers make their money on tips. So, unless you were ordering those drinks and appetizers he was suggesting, he worked your table for, say, 2 hours for only a 1.5 hour tip.

Really good servers with loyalty to their restaurant will take the long view, that happy customers are repeat customers who also give referrals. However, servers who are at one place one month, and another the next, tend to be like the one you got.

I hope the food was good!

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woohoo July 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm

This is pretty common where I live, maybe it’s a regional thing? I also know establishments that pride themselves on having their wait staff be very engaging, conversational, and friendly to the customers. Having the wait staff wrap silverware close enough to a table to be able to join in a conversation tells you a little about how the manager feels about his place, and how he wants it to feel like family, with lots of conversation and laughing. I personally really like a place like that. I think just ignoring the fellow would have sufficed though if you didn’t want his attention.

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Kelly July 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Good point Ex-Waitress, it certainly is a possibility that it was close or past closing time and he was just trying to get them to leave. When I used to work in retail, it never failed that shoppers would come in 10 minutes to closing and linger for well past closing time. Our approach to trying to get them to leave was to continually ask if they needed any help. Of course, it rarely worked :(

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Jay July 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

@Green123, hopefully that’s after all your food has arrived, so you don’t need to be as concerned that someone’s been spitting in it.

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Calliope July 24, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Anyone who’s ever worked as a server can tell you there’s no pleasing everybody. Some customers detest chatty servers, and some are offended by laconic servers. Some people feel pressured when they’re asked for their drink orders quickly, and others feel neglected when they’re not. Some people like being asked how their meal is, and some don’t. Customers’ expectations of people in the service industry varies greatly, so the only way you can be sure to receive service the way you like it is to politely speak up when something bothers you.

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Emmy July 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I was always taught that having a private conversation in public makes it no longer private.

I’ve had servers be a bit too friendly from time to time, if it actually bothers me (heck somtimes they’re the best part of a bad date!), I’ll say something to the effect of “I love how friendly everyone is here, and I can’t wait to dig into my food. I’ll be sure to give you a hollar if I need anything”, usually that gets the message across without being too mean. Most servers are encouraged to check in with their tables, be friendly, outgoing, and familiar. Lest someone complain to the manager that they had an unfriendly waiter.

It does sound like OP was having a good time chatting with the waiter prior to the third friend’s arrival. Then once she showed up, we were done being entertained by the waiter. Personally, in less what he was saying was offensive, I would’ve just ignored his comments. Or if he was funny, engaged him to join in the conversation!

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Catvickie July 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I kind of wondered if he found one of the ladies attractive and was hoping to get a phone number? You never know. . . .

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TJ July 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Wow. I worked as a server for years. I can assure you that not all servers out there would take kindly to some of the suggested schizophrenic reactions posted here. The fact that the OP joked with and included the server in some conversation left her open to him continuing throughout the meal. There are some customers who like to chat and if a server has time they’re usually happy to oblige. My bet is this guy thought being conversational would lead to a better experience for the patrons.

That said, I agree with @KT – if you lead with humor, you need to resolve with humor. Saying it’s time for girl talk gives him a non embarrassing way to back away from your conversation.

I also didn’t get the sense that they were imposing on the server or the restaurant by staying late.Yes, yes, the showing up late and then sitting around sipping tea and not ordering is generally offensive to people in the business but the reality is that server was doing his side work and likely didn’t care if you were there or not. Either way, servers tend to ignore customers they want to leave or repeatedly ask if they need anything else, not engage them in conversation.

I hope you all listen to @Jay and know that servers do what they want with your food. I’m of course not advocating this, but how you behave can dictate what shows up on your plate.

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admin July 24, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Tampering with food is the ultimate in retaliatory rudeness and is illegal. The frequency with which servers report this as a potential threat tells me there is a greater percentage of this particular workforce who either know of it actually happening, have done it or condone it.

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goddessofpeep July 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’m not a fan of overbearing waitstaff, but as long as the conversation isn’t about uncomfortable subjects or wholly inappropriate, I won’t fault a waiter/waitress for being friendly.

If the OP was monopolizing a table past restaurant close(which the napkin folding could indicate), I’d give the waiter a lot more leeway. It’s not like any waiter or waitress could go up to a customer and say “finish up, the place is closed, I’m tired and I want to go home.” They’d get fired for that. If I notice that I’m one of the last people in a restaurant, and that the wait staff is starting to clear down, I finish quickly and leave as soon as humanly possible. I’ve worked retail, I know what it’s like to be forced to stand around watching *one single customer* take his or her sweet time while every employee in the place just wants to go home.

The possibility of the OP holding up the table reminded me of my friend. She’s a very nice person, but there are a few wires crossed in her brain when it comes to some things. She was very mad one day at a local steak chain. I asked her why she was so upset. Turns out that she and her then boyfriend ordered lunch, ate, and then proceeded to play cards at the table for something like 6 hours. Somebody finally had enough(it was either dinner rush or closing,either way the table needed to be clear), and somebody asked(probably very politely – I’ve eaten at the place they had problems with) them to finish up so they could turn the table. She got really angry about that, and as far as I know, has never stepped foot in any restaurant from that chain since.

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Calliope July 24, 2012 at 9:25 pm

I do want to address the idea of tampering with food. I’m sure it does happen, but I’ve never seen or heard of it happening for real in any of the restaurants where I’ve worked. And believe me, I’ve had some very rude customers and some very disgruntled coworkers. I really don’t think it happens that often, and I’d expect that the kind of restaurant where that would happen would show other signs, such as dirty floors or restrooms, inattentive staff, or other signifiers that there is poor or ineffective management in place.

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Jenny July 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Based off of the OP’s update, I have to agree you should have tipped the waiter extra for such a long time at the table. 30 minutes is a LONG time to just order drinks; you should have at least ordered an appetizer or gone ahead without the person; you’re lucky they seated you at all. 2 and a half hours at peak dinner time is a long time to have a table. I once waited out a bad storm with a friend at a restaurant; but we talked it out with the waiter (whether they were trying to leave as well), the place was deserted and we ended up tipping something like 200% because we were there so long.

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SJ July 25, 2012 at 12:12 am

Generally, if the server approaches, I just stop talking. I’ll probably briefly turn my attention to the server, because he or she will usually ask if I need anything or whatever, then I go back to my conversation when they leave.

My husband and I are more of the types who don’t like to engage in much conversation with strangers, but we try not to be rude about it.

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Kathryn July 25, 2012 at 12:13 am

We are in etiquette hell so I have to ask – isn’t Green123’s “solution” the rudest of any of this? Just reading it set my teeth on edge, and there is no way to change the tone of that statement to make it pleasant. It sounds condescending and arrogant, especially in response to the initial overtures between the waiter and his table.

Perhaps he was overstepping but it was because he had been given an earlier green light that this group was tolerant of banter, and engaging him. Suddenly changing the rules and “dismissing” him is demeaning and rude. It is one night out of fun with friends, not an ongoing etiquette breach. If you don’t want to deal with the aftermath of engaging your server once he can’t serve your purposes of entertainment, perhaps you should next time be appropriately cool and unapproachable so the server can determine early on that his personality is not wanted and/or may have an expiration time.

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Green123 July 25, 2012 at 2:26 am

@student, @Jay
I have actually used the second, funnier approach in a restuarant when the first approach failed. Yes, the waiter FINALLY got the hint and yes, the manager overheard too and yes, the waiter probably got a good telling off for it, but he deserved it, especially as other tables were being neglected while he tried in vain to chat up two totally-not-intertested ladies. You’re a waiter, do you JOB and stop trying to get a date.

(And yes, my food had arrived, and no, I didn’t leave a tip. I’m British, we pay our waitstaff a living wage).

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amyasleigh July 25, 2012 at 2:35 am

This is going off at a tangent, chiefly prompted by Cat Whisperer’s Post #12 re the advantage for the waiter if the tables “turn over” more quickly. However — as a resident of the UK: for not nearly the first time, I’m struck by how awful is the US system of waitstaff depending on tips to make a living wage. (I’m not saying this to “America-bash” — have read posts by many people in the US, expressing the same sentiments.)

I do feel that if I were to visit the US, I would not dare, ever, to eat at a “proper” restaurant there; would be too afraid of somehow causing grievous offence, or impairing someone’s earning a living. I’d be restricted to the likes of McDonalds, and to street stalls.

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Katie July 25, 2012 at 6:05 am

@ Sasha: I don’t think the term ‘over-familiar’ has any particular class undertones. Personally, I would use it to describe the behaviour of anyone being, well, over-friendly, who you didn’t know that well.

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delislice July 25, 2012 at 6:37 am

This is why some restaurants won’t seat a party until the entire party is present.

The fact that the OP and friends were at the table for 2 1/2 hours — in other words, long enough, in many cases for the restaurant to have turned the table at least once — should, I hope, translate to leaving a large tip.

That’s got nothing to do with the waiter repeatedly joining in the conversation, which is impolite. However, a usual seating is about an hour per meal. If you go quite a bit over that — and I have, on occasion — you might want to tip accordingly.

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Chris July 25, 2012 at 6:47 am

Green123 I find that neither of your suggestions really fall under the heading of “polite.”

I tend to agree that the behavior of the server was solicited by the friendliness with which you had treated him initially, combined with a motivation to garner a proper tip for the time you occupied your table. It is an undeniable fact that the more a server can connect with his/her tables the greater the tip they will receive. If you really were there as long as you describe, and based on the story it sounds like you were there talking with first the one friend and then both for well over an hour, he may have simply been trying to connect with you in a way that, perhaps based on the conversation you were having, seemed entirely appropriate to him. I also find that smaller local restaurants tend to engage with their customers more as a way to make them feel special and encourage them to return.

It may also have been that as others have said, you were staying past your welcome. Even if the restaurant hasn’t yet closed it may be that his section of tables has. And you were the last table there, keeping him at work earning substantially less now than he was an hour ago. Or holding up his own social plans. Or delaying any number of other possibilities.

In short- I don’t think, based on the way you’ve described the scenario, that he behaved rudely in any way.

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Angel July 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

I read the OP and the update, I still think they were there for too long. Two and a half hours, at a small restaurant where there are not that many tables–too long. After about an hour and a half you should be wrapping it up, regardless of how late your friend came. If the waiter was trying to subtlely get you to leave, I honestly do not blame him. I think the OP is being overly sensitive about the waiter “injecting himself” into the coversation. I am positive he was just trying to be friendly and maybe even get a good tip. Being that you guys monopolized a table for so long I hope that you at least tipped him well. And FYI, if you are there until 9:30 and the restaurant closes until 11, that leaves the patrons who come after you only about an hour to an hour and a half to eat. That’s a little unfair IMO.

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Princess Buttercup July 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

Sure eavesdropping is rude, so is thinking that you are better then the staff, and both the original poster and much of the commenter’s are clearly guilty of that.

Lesson to all! If you are in a public location, your conversation is _not_ private. Learn it, know it, get over it.

The waiter was attempting to be friendly, something that most people want from their server. Get off your “the wait staff is beneath me” high horse and move on with your life.

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spartiechic July 25, 2012 at 10:40 am

I like KT’s answer the best. It was disarming and cute. He would have gotten the point and the patron would have come out the winner. Though I’ve never really been a waitress (I tried it for a month once and found I hated it), I know that it’s a hard (and sometimes thankless) job. You can’t expect people to have ESP so you do have to speak up for yourself. However, there is a right and wrong way to go about it.

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Lori July 25, 2012 at 11:01 am

OP here again. Just wanted to clarify a couple of things. My first friend and I WERE conscious of taking up a table without ordering. We both had iced tea and a cup of soup while we waited (I would have gladly ordered wine but the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol). Also we weren’t taking up a table that the waiter could have turned over…only one other couple came in after us. If we had left, our table would have sat empty. Nor were we holding up the waiter from leaving…in fact he left before we did! And we always tip generously.

Even if that were not so, I take issue with the premise that it’s my job as a customer to make sure the waitstaff makes as much money as possible. I tip well over 20% every time I eat out, but I’m not going to rush through a meal with friends just so my server can get in another table.

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Michelle P July 25, 2012 at 11:29 am

I’ve been on both sides of this situation; a waitress and a patron with overly friendly/pushy waitstaff. I saw OP’s remark that they weren’t there late. I believe the waiter was just being friendly.

@Green123, your suggestion to act that way is unnecessary and rude.

I swore I would never be a waitress again; there’s no way to please everyone. The way to handle overly friendly in any situation is to politely ignore it for a while and if the hint wasn’t taken say “girl talk now! Thanks!” like a poster here suggested.

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Tikal July 25, 2012 at 11:43 am

I’m going to agree with AMC here. I like it when waitstaff are talking and having a good time with their jobs. I’m a very smile-y happy person and if I had a more stiff, formal, waiter I’d feel like I’d offended them! If the waiter is actually being intrusive I like KT’s “Haha, girl talk now!” approach or something else that isn’t a cold ‘you-are-beneath-me’ kind of dismissal.

@–Lia I actually think that’s funny and I would have laughed if she’d said that to me, but that might just be because I’m a student and around here we’re all pretty familiar.

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Jay July 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

@admin: I highly recommend the book (or movie) “Fight Club”.. That food service workers might tamper with your food if they thought you were rude or mean seems far too plausible.

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Cat Whisperer July 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Regarding chatty waitstaff:

Husband and I went to a restaurant to eat before heading out to a Rolling Stones concert. Husband was chatting with the waitress, and he told her we were going to see the Stones in concert. I know he was trying to impress her with how cool and groovy we were.

Waitress said, without even pausing to think (which made it much, much worse): “The Rolling Stones? Oh, yeah, they’re my grandmother’s favorite group!” AND SHE MEANT IT IN THE NICEST WAY POSSIBLE!!!!!

The pained look on my husband’s face when she said this was priceless. Waitress went off to take someone else’s order and husband and I just looked at each other. “Did you just age 30 years?” I asked him. And we got a good laugh out of it. Sometimes the desire to be chatty has unintended consequences… ;^))

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Bint July 26, 2012 at 3:55 am

Lori, I’d have wanted him to keep out of my conversation as well. I’ve had waiters join in chatting – not the standard interaction you describe at first – and I’ve had to ask them to leave us in peace. Plus when I was a waitress I’d never have dreamed of interjecting into a private conversation, chatty with me at the start or not. There are different boundaries here. How rude!

Green123, this ‘funnier’ way is a great way of making everyone think you’re silly, immature and spiteful, but nothing else. Not funny, just pathetic. Good grief, TELL him to leave you in peace and if he won’t, call the manager over like an adult. Grow up. I wouldn’t have tipped him either for that, I would have complained, but I’m British too and that’s on a par with giving a man a fake phone number because you don’t have the guts to say you aren’t interested. It’s a restaurant, not high school.

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KarenK July 26, 2012 at 6:36 am

From the OP:

“Even if that were not so, I take issue with the premise that it’s my job as a customer to make sure the waitstaff makes as much money as possible. I tip well over 20% every time I eat out, but I’m not going to rush through a meal with friends just so my server can get in another table.”

I’ve been debating whether to weigh in on this thread. I wholeheartedly agree with the OP on this point. Barring the ridiculous (the PP whose friend and husband sat at a table and played cards for several hours comes to mind), a restaurant table is like a parking spot. It’s yours until you vacate it voluntarily. I waited tables for 8 years, and I never in all that time asked or indicated in any way that a party should vacate a table.

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Chris July 26, 2012 at 6:56 am

@Lori- there is a difference, a distinct difference which is the boundary between courtesy and rudeness, between rushing your dinner and overstaying your welcome. It is acceptable to enjoy a leisurely meal and spend a short time after you finish chatting with friends over a last cup of coffee or tea. It’s another thing entirely to monopolize a table to an excessive amount of time when you aren’t ordering food. Now, it sounds as if you may have skirted that border but not necessarily crossed it. I can’t judge that behavior based on what you’ve told us.

But for future gatherings remember that while they provide a public place to meet and socialize, restaurants are not a place to linger. If you want to continue the conversation that you started at dinner with your friends, move to a coffee shop. They are specifically set up with the expectation that their customers will linger to socialize.

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TJ July 26, 2012 at 9:54 am

I know this site is about etiquette, but I think it’s also about etiquette being applied in a realistic way. I was simply pointing out that the responses that @Green123 suggested sounded far more rude than the initial offense by a likely clueless server.

I also wanted to clarify my statement about waitstaff doing something to your food. I am talking about things that are legal and within their control. How fast you get your food, if they remember everything you asked for, how good your service is, how long you wait for your drinks, how full your water glass is, etc. Punitive actions that will make you very unhappy. I think most servers behave in an ethical and legal way but if your bad behavior outweighs the value of any eventual tip, you can expect to receive less than stellar service.

Servers don’t always give you the best service just because you’re paying the check and that’s reality. It’s as much about your civil treatment of them as it is about their behavior toward you.

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KT July 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

While I, too, found @Green123’s responses rude, I think there are some cultural differences. As a Yank living in a medium-size UK village, I can vouch that restaurant staff there are not at all “chatty” like American ones. If @Green123 had encountered a situation described by the OP, in Britain it would be perceived as intrusive. As a former food server myself, I usually am very chatty to staff at restaurants because I know what a thankless job it is. I’ve really had to curb that in non-US cities, especially non-tourist places like this place.

That all said, I stand by my earlier responses to OP that the server was not rude and not deserving of outrage. Like @ex-waitress said, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

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