Ask The Salty Waitress: My Friend Insists On Asking Servers About Their "Favorites"

Dear Salty, I have a friend who insists you should ask your server for recommendations whenever you go out to eat, which he does *every* time. He says it's a way to tell the quality of a restaurant—if a server doesn't have a favorite meal or two, he says it suggests they don't eat the food there and/or that the food isn't very good. I feel like it wastes the server's time, especially when the conversation inevitably lasts longer than something brief like "How's the chicken?" Which one of us is right? While I'd love it to be me so I can stop groaning impatiently every time we go out to eat, I can admit my friend has a point.

Thanks, I Just Want To Order My Damn Meal

Dear Just Wants To Order,

Well I'm about to make everyone's damn day here: I think your friend has a point, but I think he's doing it for the wrong reason.

When it comes to a server's favorites or recommendations (which are just the same thing, because you don't really care if I have a lifelong aversion to olives that makes me gag at the Greek salad everyone else loves) some tables really want the spiel. Some tables really hate the spiel. As your server—your smart, talented, looks-much-younger-than-her-years server—I try to suss out which tables are which. Usually it's easy. The tables that don't want to hear the spiel don't ask questions and have already decided on their orders before I even brought waters over. They're creatures of habit, or picky eaters, or they just know what they want and don't give a flying flick that I love the chicken pot pie. Fine by me. It's your meal.

Some people, like your friend, want the spiel for one reason or another. Usually it's to help them figure out the restaurant's best dishes. So your friend's logic is a bit off to me. How often does a server honestly say "I don't have any favorites" or "It's all good"? That says more to me about them being a lazy-ass server than the restaurant's food not being good. Servers should see the question as a chance to point out some of the most popular, standout dishes on the menu ("We're known for our cinnamon rolls, which are big enough to share between four people") or to add some additional info that isn't printed on the menu ("The lamb chops come from the chef's family ranch the next town over and are some of the best I've ever had"). The suggestions are just a little nudge, sweetie, a little extra sprinkle of detail I get to share.

Sometimes, we might embellish a little. Depending on the restaurant, servers might not have tried all the dishes on the menu—especially the really expensive ones—or the two specials for the night. That's why I say it's more useful to think about the server's answer to your friend's question as added detail rather than some personal revelation. We want to make tables happy, so we're going to point you toward the dishes a lot of people like or maybe the special made with some can't-miss seasonal ingredient.

Asking about recommendations is not a waste of time, unless you turn the conversation into a deposition or this scene from Portlandia. It shouldn't take a server more than a minute or two to rattle off a few greatest hits from the menu. What's the harm? You in a big rush? Let your friend ask, and who knows—you might be swayed into ordering those life-changing lamb chops.

PS: I hate the question "How's the chicken?" My brain always comes up with the snarkiest responses first: "It's dead." "It's feeling a little cold in the refrigerator but is otherwise doing well, thanks for asking." Eventually I just have to nod, assure you it's good, and croak out some praise for our roast chicken that doesn't use the word "moist."

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