A pal of mine sent me a note a while back saying that he had taken his wife out for a birthday meal in an upscale downtown Chicago restaurant and the server came by, looked at his plate, and asked, “Are you still working on that?” “No, actually, I’m still enjoying that,” he replied. “I left work behind.”

If you took the time to scour the online blogs about service, you’d be shocked by the passionate opinions customers have about how servers verbally conduct themselves. Many of these customers are annoyed and unnecessarily mean-spirited and should consider seeing a therapist or, at the very least, take a chill pill. But some of them make worthy points that deserve consideration.

Take my friend’s scenario, for example. Is the server being a bit too casual considering he’s working in an upscale restaurant where check averages soar beyond that of casual restaurants? I think so. Is it a big deal? Not really, but as you can tell from my friend’s reaction, the words servers choose (or you choose for them) can affect the customer experience.

In the example above, there are better ways to ask customers if they have completed their meal. How would you prefer your servers ask the question?

The biggest source of complaints about server language is that it’s often too casual, even in casual restaurants. Quite frequently I’ll hear servers ask men and women at a table, “Do you guys need anything?” Again, not a big deal in the whole scheme of things, but does the use of the word “guys” cross the line into overly casual? You tell me.

Here’s another one that bothers some people. “Could you please get me another drink?” asks a customer. “No problem,” answers the server. There is a better, smarter way to answer that question. Of course it’s not or should not be a problem to get another drink for a customer. What would you rather have your server respond?

Here’s one that customers sometimes laugh about when the server leaves: A few people at a table place their orders and it’s followed by the server’s comment: “Good choice.” I hang out with really smart people, so of course we made a good choice, or just maybe the server is overtly sucking up for tips. Here’s a recent back-and-forth from one friend to another at my table: “Hey, Frank, you were really, really smart for ordering that ravioli?” “Yeah, I’m a genius!”

Another one for the Nitpicking Hall of Fame is when a server asks, “Is everything okay?” I wonder how many customers are tempted to reply, “No, I think my spouse is cheating on me.” What’s a better way to ask the intent of that question?

None of these server comments would keep me from returning to a restaurant if everything else is good. But maybe it would be wise for you to pay attention to how your servers are addressing customers. More importantly, ask yourself if they are addressing your customers in an all-too-familiar and casual way. Email me with your thoughts on any of these questions I’ve raised.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief  
E-mail: mike.sanson@penton.com
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH