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a man and a woman sitting on a table? Photo: SeventyFour (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Hey Salty: WHYYYYY do servers ask if you’ve been to the restaurant before?

Thanks, Lauren

Hiya Lauren,

I know this is nails on a chalkboard to some people, but there’s a method to the madness. The question is usually part of the script that managers give servers, right after “Hi I’m Salty and I’ll be your server today,” and it’s supposed to accomplish a couple of things.

First, if you’ve “dined with us before”—the worst of the possible phrasings of this question—I’m supposed to welcome you back like we’re old pals. It’s cheesy as a brick of cheddar, but managers seem to think customers see this as hospitality. You’d actually be surprised how many people just want a reason to talk, like this table I had a while back that mentioned the last time they were in the restaurant was for their daughter’s high school graduation, and now she’s in college two states over, blah blah. Some people are just chatty. Managers like you to at least open the door for conversation, and sometimes this question helps.

Second, if you haven’t dined with us before, I’m supposed to go over a couple points about the menu. This is less important at some restaurants than others, like the kind that serve small plates that require a football-play diagram to put together. Then the server should walk you through generally how much you’d need to order, how they’ll be coursed out, etc. This is always where I’d mention a restaurant’s signature dish or anything specific to the restaurant you might not know on your first time (“We serve all the seafood chilled with drawn butter so you can shuck or peel it yourselves,” or something). It’s also the chance for you to ask questions about the menu. I know some people find the dog-and-pony show tedious, but for every person that hates having “family-style” explained to them for the 80th time, there’s another table that has no idea how to order from a menu that isn’t laid out in three courses. Bear with me.

What I will say to my fellow servers is this: If someone’s dined with you before , skip the spiel. Don’t “go over it again” or “give a quick refresher”—that’s doubly annoying. Welcome them back and ask if they have questions on the menu. Resist the spiel. Resist! And in my perfect world, we’d scrap “Have you dined with us before?” and be less corny with something like “Would you like a short overview of how our menu’s structured?” Then, keep it short. No one need you to point out that the wines by the glass section is where they’ll find wines by the glass.


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