If you dine out with any frequency you've surely encountered the custom. Your waiter comes to the table, politely hands out menus and says hello. Then, as he prepares to deliver his opening service monologue detailing local farmers, the meaning of share plates and the chef's guidance on special menu items, his hand lands firmly on your back, shoulder, or worse. It happens a lot and I'm sure on many occasion goes unnoticed, but it shows poor form on behalf of the staff, and ought to come to a stop.
HG Sply Co. is the restaurant that initially set me off to this service issue. I've been touched plenty before, but the dining room at this restaurant was so loud I often didn't realize a waiter or manager was coming up behind me. The issue was further compounded with a touch that didn't connect with grace but instead landed with a jolting thud. It was unsettling. I've since noticed the practice at other restaurants, and it's an indication of a poorly trained staff.
The intent is obvious. A staff member is trying to connect with their customer and establish a bond when they reach out their hand. But trust is better fostered with solid menu knowledge, passion and a professional demeanor -- a physical connection is not required.
I suppose at restaurants like Hooters and Twin Peaks this is sort of the shtick, and is necessary and welcomed. A subtle touch furthers the illusion that a customer might actually get a date or a phone number. (What else could make that terrible hamburger worth its purchase price?) Looking at restaurants, however, might lead you to imagine how unwanted contact makes women diners feel when they dine out at other restaurants.
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The practice is clearly frowned upon in the fine dining world. In Service Included, a book that details one woman's tenure as a waitress in New York City, the author describes rules that were handed to all service employees. The use of first names, flirting and hands on the chairs were all forbidden in addition to touching the guests. And a list in The Times describing 100 things restaurant staffers should never do offers even more direct guidance.
32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
I certainly don't derive any pleasure from a waiter's gentle caress, and while I'm sure plenty of customers either don't mind or enjoy it, the difficulty is on the restaurant staff to determine which type of diner they're currently serving. Seems like it would be easier to just ditch the practice and show all of their customers more respect.
Dazzle us with your professionalism, not with your finger tips.