Oh, Shut Up: We Are Not Amused
By Compliments from the Chef

I recently went to dinner with a friend whose least favorite server expression is "Are you still working on that?" He'd just wrapped up his screed about the essential wrongness of equating work with eating when a server stopped by the table and uttered the offending phrase. I thought my dining companion might go to work on him with his butter knife.

I'm fine with servers asking me if I'm still working -- possibly because I'm one of the few diners for whom eating really is work -- but I've lately been annoyed by another standard server expression: "Compliments of the chef!"

"Compliments of the chef" accompanies amuse-bouche plates as reliably as basil oil and won-ton wrappers. And, like those add-ons, it's utterly meaningless.

Are there really diners who flinch when an amuse-bouche plate arrives, worried that the cost will be tacked on to the bill? If an amuse's offered, it's always gratis: Its price is factored into menu prices, same as utensils, labor and rent. I can't imagine a server switching on a light and crowing "Compliments of the chef!"

"Compliments of the chef!" is the ultimate toque-stroking trope. It implies the chef is a genial guy who cares deeply about his guests. While there are chefs who fit that description, the vast majority of chefs don't lie awake at night wondering if they can afford to buy a sliver of toasted quinoa for everyone in the dining room. The amuse is a standard element of fine dining service, and its odd that restaurants feel the need to pretend otherwise.

What do you think? Does "Compliments of the chef!" bother you? Do you grate at the browbeating "Is everything delicious?" Which service expression do you wish servers would strike from their vocabularies?

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