When does a waiter cross the line?

Yes, we all want good service when we go out for dinner. But when does it become too much?

‘Don’t you want to try something else?’ Our waiter had very definite ideas about what our experience should entail. Photo: CC
Sure, we like friendly. A cheery smile, a casual greeting, an eagerness to find a good spot – or at least give a realistic idea of when to expect a table. But when does a waiter’s chit-chat become, well, a bit too much?

It was a question a mate and I considered the other night after an aborted visit to a little joint on Bermondsey Street.

The first thing that went wrong? A simple question about what draft beer they had, as I pulled up a stool at the charmingly retro counter. “Oh, it’s just pression,” said the waiter, dismissing the idea with a facial expression.

Instead we grabbed the wine list, and ordered a 500ml carafe of house white. “Don’t you want to try something else?” he said, frowning, meaning, of course, something more expensive. We agreed that yes, perhaps our choice was a little unadventurous, while he smoothly asked what grapes we liked. A Viognier was soon poured: fine, but a hefty £22 for two large glasses? Hmmm.

Anyway, busy catching up, we hadn’t decided whether to eat or not at this particular place. Casually I swivelled round to glance at the blackboard menu, chalked up stylishly behind me. “Do you know what it means?” chirruped the waiter, suddenly there. We replied that yes, we understood simple written French, especially words like bavette and turbot. “Are you sure?” he asked.

By now it just felt like time to leave and eat somewhere less invasive. It wasn’t necessarily that the waiter was rude – and I’m always happy to take recommendations from professionals – but he was simply too ‘present’.

Seeing we were not staying for dinner, the bill would need to be settled as soon as possible, he said with a light reprimand. They were full, after all. As we stood up, I asked if it was always this busy, even on a Tuesday?

“Busy?” He said, with a laugh. “This isn’t busy!” And yet in the small dining room, the tables for two were packed so tight that an intimate chat would be out of the question.

In the end? Well, we ate at Antico, a traditional Italian restaurant a little further south down Bermondsey Street: veal ossobuco ravioli, monkfish risotto packed with chilli, garlic and tomato, and a perfectly pink lamb rump sat on creamy crushed chickpeas.

Best of all, however, the food was served efficiently by friendly staff who didn’t feel the need to offer feedback on our choices – at every single step of the way.

Do you have any experiences of either over-familiar or acerbic waiters? Share below.

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