Being rude to a waiter has become a modern faux pas. This became obvious to me recently when I lost my temper with a Zizzi waitress, who’d been eating her own dinner while serving my friends and me. As I watched her forklift pizza into her mouth, then traipse back to take our drinks order, I had to say something. Heads shook and silence ensued.
If I’d known back then what I know now, I’m not sure I would have said anything. These days it’s a huge mistake to seethe at the service. The internet is awash with articles about this issue. According to one Guardian writer, ‘The way people treat restaurant staff is, I think, a kind of poker tell, revealing a person’s character. ‘On the eHarmony blog, a doctor suggests that being rude to a waiter could be the sign of something sinister: a personality disorder, perhaps; sociopathy or narcissism. One famous CEO, Charles Schwab, even assesses potential employees by taking them out for breakfast and asking the service to mess up their order. How they react says it all, apparently.
As I read all this nonsense I felt as grumpy as I did last year, waiting for my fonduta formaggi to arrive. Since when did we all accept this strange, social rule that it’s bad to be rude to a waiter?
Let me preface this by saying that I do come from a place of empathy, as I once worked as a (brilliant) waitress. And sure, The George and the Dragon didn’t attract the most demanding elite, but they had their moments. A cold jacket potato or a beer with too much head could cause trouble. But here’s the thing: I rarely experienced angry customers, and that’s because I was conscientious. When diva diners have their moments, it’s not because they’re wicked. It’s usually because someone has cocked up. For every good waiter, there are also the bad mannered and lazy ones.
Yet concern for waiter welfare has become a new type of virtual signalling. The grossest of food will invite the meekest response. Such mollycoddling undermines the resilience of waiters. If anything, tricky diners are the true egalitarians, holding everyone up to the same standards. Don’t patronise the service; when it’s good, make it clear. And vice versa.
Dining is a service industry and should face the same scrutiny as every other business that depends upon customer satisfaction. Workers must accept that customers come in all shapes and sizes, and, yes, some of us are more passionate about our steak. Diva diners aren’t bad people. Behind their raw rage is the more controlled character trait of perfectionism. When we lose it with the service, it comes from a good place, for we have the highest expectations.