Waiters Say the Darndest Things

You know what's understood in every language? A check presenter.

I'd wager there's not a diner from Dubuque to Dubai who's surprised by what he finds when he opens the leather-bound book that appears at the end of every meal. No competent restaurant-goer wastes time wondering if he's been given a souvenir postcard or a lottery ticket. He knows for certain he's being asked to pay up for whatever gustatory fun he just had. Them's the rules.

Still, most servers feel obliged to say something when the dining experience makes the awkward transition from hospitality to commerce. Although a simple "thank you" or "it's been my pleasure to serve you" would suffice, the most popular closing line by far is "I can take that whenever you're ready" -- even in restaurants where there isn't a cashier or take-out stand to confuse the situation.

But last night I heard what has to be among the strangest check delivery lines out there.

My mother was in town for her birthday, so we went to Fearing's (christened "the quintessential post-crash luxury restaurant" by arbiter of upscale Josh Ozersky.) When our server arrived with the check presenter, he murmured, "and now, a note from our chef." It wasn't a love letter.

I'm guessing the server was trying to make the point that he wasn't responsible for the restaurant's prices and hoping to avert any resentment that might help shrink his tip. But that barely sounds plausible to me, and -- as a dozen-year veteran of the front of the house -- I always take the server's side.

Big picture-wise, of course, a single verbal gaffe doesn't matter much. My mother loved her lamb chops and was charmed by a surprise slice of chocolate birthday cake. Still, the exchange got me thinking about the stock lines servers wrongly include in their repertoires.

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin