By Marie Beachdale
Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, Surfside Beach - When you’re a server, it’s a given that you need to lay on the charm to win customers over, but there’s a delicate balance between being cute and sickeningly sweet.
It was recently brought to my attention by a reader that, for him, one of the biggest turn-offs of a nice server is when they use over-the-top pet names while referring to diners.
I’ll admit, I’m guilty of using pet names every now and then… but I’d like to think I do so appropriately. Most of the time, I only get overly sweet when dealing with children. Why not?
Kids are growing on me, and parents love it when you show extra attention to the little ones.
In these situations, I’ll call a child darlin’ or sweetheart. I think that’s totally appropriate, but what about servers who use those and other names for adult diners?
The first time I heard one of my coworkers repeatedly call an adult male diner “baby” I was a little mortified. However, I quickly learned that “honey”, “baby”, “sugar”, and “darlin’” are all just part of the southern hospitality I didn’t experience while growing up in the north.
I also learned it’s a two-way street. When a diner, male or female, calls me honey or baby, it no longer makes my skin crawl. As long as they’re not inebriated or ogling me inappropriately, I know they’re just being sweet.
As I already mentioned, though, some servers (and diners) can take the pet names a little too far.
I work with a woman who is very southern, very loud, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.
Generally these are magnificent qualities to possess, but there is a time and place for everything… and the restaurant usually isn’t one of them.
There is a group of about a dozen ministers that dines at my restaurant once a month. They are a huge blessing in the winter, as they tip generously and never cause any problems. They are reserved, older gentlemen, and when it’s my loud-mouthed coworker’s turn to wait on them, I always cringe.
As soon as the men walk in the door, she excitedly greets them in a manner that is almost embarrassing.
“There’s my little love muffins!” She’ll say, running up to the first man in the door to hang her arm around his neck and kiss him on the cheek.
“How’ve you been baby dolls?” she’ll ask them.
You can tell by the expressions on their faces they don’t know how to handle the over-the-top greeting. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and it doesn’t get any better.
The last time the ministers came in, she caught them going out the door and hugged them all individually. When she got to the oldest man in the group, a gentle, quiet individual probably in his 80s, she said, “It was great to see you again, sugar britches. Come back and see me soon, stud.”
Sugar britches? Stud?
The gentleman’s face turned so red, he looked like a cherry tomato. I died inside.
About a week or so later, he came back in to eat with his wife, and I waited on them. Before I even had the chance to take his order, he confronted me about my coworker.
“Do you think you could wait on us from now on? The other girl is nice and does a great job, but I don’t want to be called sugar britches in front of the whole restaurant.”
I stifled a laugh, and told him I understood his feelings. I assured him my coworker meant no harm by her choice of pet names, but agreed that she was a little too much. I understand how a complete stranger wouldn’t want a server to call him anything like that.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have diners who are a little bit too friendly. Some pet names are okay, but others such as “sexy,” “sweet cheeks” and “kitten” I could definitely do without, yet I have heard all of them more than once.
As with many other situations in the service industry, this is another example of walking a fine line and being able to use good judgment as a server.
Always remember: when you’re dining out, especially in the south, expect to hear a few pet names, but don’t let anyone make you feel uncomfortable. If you’d rather not be called darlin’ don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to the server. A good server would rather know your name, anyway!
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