They are your sisters. They are your brothers. They are waiting for audition actors. They are med students working their way through school. They are mothers and fathers striving to feed their families. They are, for the most part, intelligent, caring, people-orientated individuals who are earning an honest living. They take your order. They bring your food. They top up your water. They are ignored by you and treated as though they are invisible. They are the wait staff at your local restaurant.
A few weeks ago my husband treated me to a lovely lunch at Biff’s in Toronto. We are trying more and more to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities offered up by Winterlicious. This year was a repeat of a family lunch up the CN Tower and then Biff’s. I tried very hard to let Biff’s be a full surprise and not do any research but as someone with a severe nut allergy, well, momma has to be prepared. What I saw intrigued me and only heightened my anticipation of a delicious meal with my delicious man.
So off we trotted to Biff’s and scored a lovely parking spot right in front. The front door alone was enough to get me excited.
I adore any type of old-world, classical, hearkens back to the age of propriety type venue. My secret wish is to join the cast of the Edwardian Farm series or the Victorian House cast. Needless to say, the front door boded well of what was to come. Walking in to Biff’s you immediately get the sense that this is not going to be your average dining experience. Or at least not for one that has had to eat on the down low for a few years. Fancy schmancy restaurants that don’t include a kids’ menu are just starting to make it back in to my life. This lunch was a huge treat.
We are led to our table, which is in a private-esque room decorated lavishly with photos that are very french bistro, by the lovely hostess. Nudes of all shapes and sizes on the walls reinforce that we are not in Kelsey’s anymore Toto. I spent my meal with a Reubenesque nude in my eyesight which I will confess was somewhat distracting. Although her apparent comfort with her nudity inspired liberating thoughts about my own body issues so maybe I should visit art galleries more often.
Our waitress was Nathalie who introduced herself very shortly after we were seated. My delicious man had to excuse himself so Nathalie and I got to know one another first. She greeted me with a standard opening question “how are you today?”. When I responded, “fine thanks, and you?” something in her response of, “good, thank you for asking” got me to thinking. I occasionally pick up on things from people (aka I’m a bit intuitive) and I asked her, “why are you thanking me for asking?”. Her response startled me and the ensuing short conversation saddened me somewhat.
To give you a bit of background, I have a long history in the service industry. As any highschool or college student will tell you, being wait staff affords you the necessary flexibility and tips to make it through the year. Scoring a job in a higher end restaurant like Biff’s is far better than the Swiss Chalet and Cultures of my youth, or so I thought. The uniforms are much nicer at least – remember that red Swiss Miss outfit with the lace up front? Oh yeah – I rocked that and have the pictures to prove it somewhere. I spent almost three years smelling like chicken and to this day have a bit of an aversion to going in to the restaurant.
I’m not sure how the conversation with Nathalie got to the topic it did although I’m usually to blame being the chatty thing that I am. In a respectful way, Nathalie informed me that most of the patrons of the restaurant didn’t even have the decency to acknowledge their wait staff during the meal. No please. No thank you. No eye to eye contact. Just blatant disregard that a human being was making any effort to provide you with some comfort and a pleasant meal. Regardless of what you are paying, nothing replaces common decency, although I guess some feel money buys you a ticket to rudeness. With the advent and allowance of a decline in manners regarding cell phone use, I’m sure it’s only going to get worse. Thankfully our meal was spared the endless ringing, buzzing and consequent high-pitched chatter of the cell phone addicted sector of society.
I make a concerted effort during any dining experience, at any level of restaurant, to acknowledge the wait staff and the service they are providing. Perhaps my stint of being whistled at and even having had the infamous butt spank to get my attention makes me more sensitive to this type of behaviour. Hopefully it’s more because my momma did her job right and I have been raised with the etiquette to know better. Whatever the reason, I was shocked that this young lady was treated this way. Whatever hopes I had that society might be embracing the manners of yore were decidedly dashed.
Nathalie is one example in a sea of thousands of how society as a whole needs a good sit down with Emily Post or Ann Landers or whatever guru of public etiquette is being touted these days on how to behave like a decent human being. I realize that this dying art is being slowly lost by the dysfunctional lack of parenting that one see’s now a days. I’m not sure where parents think their little darlings are going to pick up good manners if they themselves don’t make the effort, but the evidence is clear that this is not a top priority. The burgeoning adults of today are a prime example of this dysfunction, though I’ve been privileged in my current school experience to be pleasantly surprised on occasion.
For my part, I throughly enjoyed my meal at Biff’s and was grateful for the excellent skills and attention provided by my sister in the service trenches. I hope that as a result of her continued exposure to the ignorant masses Nathalie develops an appreciation for those who strive to make her dining experience pleasurable and treats them as she deserves to be treated. Her story only served to ensure that I will continue to model hopefully appropriate behavior for my kids so that when they take their place in the service industry history books, they will have the where with all to withstand what I’m sure will be a further decline in patron’s etiquette. After all, what does not kill you, hopefully makes you kinder.