Ask The Salty Waitress: Is It Rude To Not Chit-Chat With My Server?

Dear Salty,

I'm a shy and introverted person who has the ironic fortune of enjoying and being fairly good at a job that is extremely reliant on being social.

I like to take my lunch breaks alone as it gives me time to focus on a single (delicious) thing and recharge my social batteries. I worry that I tend to come across somewhat curt to the staff at my regular spots, though. I feel like sometimes they try to be friendly, or sometimes expect me to be outwardly friendly, but I find it taxing to go beyond just being a polite customer a lot of the time.

Do staff get offended when a regular isn't very friendly? I tip well and try to be conscientious but is it a little dehumanizing when a regular can be kinda hot and cold in regards to being friendly?


Shy, but hopefully salt-free, in the South

Dear Salt-Free-And-Shy,

It touches my shriveled little heart that you're taking your servers' feelings into account. I'd give you extra whipped cream on your pie for being such a doll.

Your question isn't only about a server-customer relationship, though; it's about how much friendliness we owe strangers throughout our day. The servers perhaps aren't strangers to you if you see them a couple times a week, but I doubt you call each other by first name or swap personal details. Your interactions are primarily one of customer/employee, not friend/friend, so as long as you're not being outright rude, you have no obligation to be chatty.

Maybe Southerners have a higher expectation for the exchange of pleasantries, but after you've politely said hi and placed your order, there's no reason to feel the need to make small talk. To signal the end of the conversation, you can try to punctuate the interaction with a cue that the server can leave your table, like handing them the menu (while smiling!) or (politely!) turning to put your napkin in your lap. Time is money, honey, and I'm sure the restaurant staff has other tasks they could take care of instead of chewing the fat with you.

Like I said, this is also applicable to other strangers you'd encounter throughout the day. When you're tired and socially drained after work, there's no rule that you have to banter with the man next to you on the bus. Social cues like putting in headphones or opening a magazine help, but I've often been stuck next to a chatty Kathy whom I finally had to brush off with: "I've had a long day. I think I'd prefer to just read/look out the window/be quiet for a while. Thanks!" Deliver it with a smile and it usually works.

I doubt the staff thinks you're an antisocial loner. These days, we can hardly get folks to look up from their phones or laptops long enough to place an order. If you smile and say your p's and q's, you're more than all right in our book.

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