Sycophant on Rye

Dear Helena,

When do you say thank you to your server when eating at a restaurant? Do you keep saying thank you every time they bring a dish to the table? It seems really awkward. —Self-Conscious Diner

Dear Self-Conscious Diner,

You can indeed say thank you too many times. Ella Lawrence, who has 10 years of experience as a server in high-end San Francisco restaurants, explains, “It gets repetitive. Plus, I feel like it’s rude not to respond, so I have to keep repeating, ‘You’re welcome.’”

Here’s a cheat sheet to consult next time you’re feeling thankful at a restaurant.

Say thank you when:

  • A restaurant staff person does something for you for the first time, such as when the busboy pours your water. That way, you establish that you’re grateful to him or her and can skip a thank you or two thereafter.
  • The server does one of her most important tasks—brings your drinks or your food.
  • A server brings you something you’ve specifically asked for, whether it’s a wheat- and dairy-free entrée or just the ketchup. Janelle Ziobro, who has worked as a server for a decade in restaurants in Boston and San Francisco, says: “I can’t stand it if I bring them something they’ve asked to have done specially and then they don’t even make eye contact.”
  • After the server recites the specials. Otherwise, there might be an uncomfortable pause during which she wonders whether you’ve heard her.

Skip the verbal gratitude when:

  • The server refills your wine or water glass.
  • The server clears the table.
  • The check arrives. After all, as Lawrence points out, “It’s not something you really want or are happy to have.”

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