Ask The Salty Waitress: Is Our Server Eavesdropping On Our Conversation?

Hi Salty,

I went to dinner with my girlfriend last week, and I thought one of our apps was underseasoned. It was fine otherwise (we had eaten most of it at this point), but I told her under my breath that I thought it could have used a little salt. About a minute later our server delivered a salt shaker to our table unbidden, and without a word! There was only a couple bites left to use it on anyway... but what's worse, I felt eavesdropped on. I think if I really wanted some salt to be brought, I would have asked. And I didn't like the notion that the waitress was listening, especially when I purposely tried to lower my voice. Am I wrong to think this was a bit of an overstep?

Don't Spy On Me

Dear Surveilled,

Let me start by drilling a good rule of thumb into your head: no one at a restaurant is out to get you. Your servers, even when they mess up, have good intentions (99.99999% of the time). Pretty much everyone working at the restaurant does, because it's in everyone's best interest to give the customer a top-notch experience. Or, you know, as top-notch as the joint can muster.

So, when your server brought you the salt, she was trying to discreetly enhance your meal by providing exactly what you said the food lacked, no more and no less. I guess she could have pretended not to hear your complaint at all, but then you'd be left with no way to salvage a boring dinner, and boring dinners usually don't amount to a nice tip or repeat business.

And sure, I'll admit that there was probably a slightly better way for your server to go about things. What she probably could've done is used your muttered complaint as a cue to come to the table with a cheery little "How's everything tasting?", which would've given you an opening to ask for the salt you wanted. Then again, in your letter, you say that "If I really wanted some salt to be brought, I would have asked." So... why on earth didn't you? Why whisper this to your date instead? Servers are there for little assists like this—and besides that, the waitstaff doesn't make the food. They won't be offended one bit by your efforts to improve a lackluster app. Add some salt, pepper, ketchup, hot sauce, a finger of Jack Daniel's, whatever. You do you. They aren't about to run off and tattle to the chef about it.

It sounds like what you're actually upset about here is the idea that someone might have been eavesdropping on your idle chatter. And honey, if you think a restaurant is any sort of place for the utmost privacy, I don't know what to tell you. It's a room packed to the gills with strangers, and all of them are busy with their own conversations—in fact, you've probably picked up some juicy gossip from nearby tables at some point without meaning to. We all do, from time to time. Well, except your poor server, who only overheard that you wanted some salt, and then gave you some. There's nothing too juicy about that.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: