Photo credit: Getty Images
You’re out to dinner with your friends. Or your parents. Or your aunt from Des Moines. You’re all looking over the menu when your waiter comes to fill your water glasses, recite the specials, and ask if anyone has a question.
"What do you recommend?” one of your people asks him.
You cringe. Or we do, anyway.
We get that posing this question is a way to set a warm tone. You’re lifting a curtain and allowing you and your server to walk past it, hand-in-hand, towards a respectful relationship—ostensibly making both of your experiences more pleasant. That’s really nice of you. But here are a few reasons why the answer doesn’t matter:
1. Your server doesn’t live in your mouth. Your taste buds and his are not like some long-lost Siamese twins separated at their nascency. On the contrary, they are totally foreign to one another. How would he know what dish will be most pleasurable to you? Why do you credit him with power he does not have? You know you best. “My name is Frank, I’ll be your server” just met you three minutes ago.
2. Conversely, you do not live in your server’s mouth. Not all of the restaurant professionals in the world care as much about food as the waiters at Per Se do. Not all of them have tasted (or been required to taste) the dishes they’re peddling. Even if they have, they might recommend the roast chicken, which you’ve had an aversion to ever since that summer you visited your grandmother in Italy and she started preparing dinner with a crude visit to the backyard coop.
And consider the source: Is this a college student who’s making gas money by waiting tables, but who would rather be eating Cheetos right now? Or a part-time actor on a strict liquid diet? Do you want his advice?
3. You server might have other motives. As restaurant critic Robert Sietsema warned us, many servers are trained to upsell—and are judged by their employers on their ability to do so. (Did you really need that $80 Burgundy?) “Any time the waiter introduces himself, you’re headed for trouble,” Sietsema said. Waiters are not your friends; they are oftentimes sales agents “trying to move that moldy old veal chop that’s been sitting in the freezer for three weeks.” In other words, that veal chop isn’t the best thing on the menu. Not by a long shot. It’s about to go bad, and the restaurant doesn’t want to lose money because of it.
So unless you already know you like everything on the menu, you’re not in the mood to make a decision, and you’d prefer that someone else throw the dart at the board for you, why ask this question of servers?