Word of Mouth

How are we doing? Fighting over "we," and other word wars

Welcome to In the Weeds. Kyle will be right with you -- most likely to complain about something. Usually he is pleasant, but this is his place to blow off some steam. Don't take it personally; he just needs to vent because he's been doing this for about thirteen years. Enjoy your meal.

A reader who recently asked why servers use "we" -- as in, "How are we doing?" -- pointed out that not only is this phrase irritating, but grammatically incorrect.

Her query opened the door to a discussion of two of my favorite things: complaining, and being anal retentive about language.

The servers who told this woman that they use "How are we doing?" because they think it sounds elegant were wrong. It sounds like English is your second language, and you're asking your guests to speak for you.

I think some servers use "we" to make it seem like they're in the same group as their guests, as if that one word will instantly make them friends. But If you want your guests to like you, you'd be better off providing good service and skipping the word play.

Use "you," "ladies," "gentlemen" or maybe "everyone" when asking guests how they are doing. Although with "everyone," you might get the occasional wiseass who asks, "How am I supposed to know how everyone on the planet is doing?" And technically, he will be right. He also sounds like the kind of guy who thinks he's really funny and can't wait to show off his wine knowledge because he has a subscription to Wine Spectator.

And "we" is not the only fuel for word wars. Some battles are fought over grammar and some because a word is obnoxious or inappropriate for a restaurant.

Servers and guests are equal-opportunity offenders when it comes to language, but I'll start by picking on my kind.

I've covered using "guys" before, in part because it occasionally slips out of my mouth even though I hate the word. As a general rule, don't use it when addressing a group. A cousin to "guys" is "folks." But unless you work at a Southern-themed barbecue restaurant, "folks" should not be in your vocabulary. The only other person who should use "folks" is a grizzled old cowboy about to take you on a trail ride. Not a server.

And use "miss," not "ma'am." "Ma'ams" are blue-haired, walker-wielding, sweater-in-the-summer grannies. The only more efficient way to make a woman feel old is to simply say, "Hey, old lady" or "Excuse me, you fossil."

When checking on a table, servers often ask, "You doing all right?" or simply, "You good?" For starters, You should probably aspire to provide guests with a better than "all right" experience. And "You good?" is not a sentence. Good at what? Ask them if they are doing well.

Now, on to the consumers.

If you say something is "fine" or "interesting," I assume you hate it. Outside of a restaurant, I equate "fine" with barely adequate. In a restaurant, I assume it means something is bad, but not bad enough to send back -- which is almost worse.

I interpret "interesting" as disgusting. Documentaries about gang wars are interesting. Your chicken shouldn't be.

Laura Shunk has already written about servers asking "Are you still working on this?" when attempting to clear a plate. Dining should never be work. But sometimes, even when the server says the right thing -- "Are you still enjoying this?" -- a guest will say, "I'm still picking at this."

Meth-heads pick at their skin and scabs. Vultures pick at carcasses and little kids pick their nose. Please, don't ever pick at your food.

If you say "Gimme a beer," I'm going to ask you to "gimme" your ID -- even if you are clearly of age. Then I'm going to tell you I better have my manager check it out. Then I'll waste several minutes in the back in hopes that in the meantime you'll learn not to talk like a bratty little kid.

And I've met few people in my life who don't detest the word "moist."

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Kyle Garratt
Contact: Kyle Garratt