Hello, I’m Your Annoying Server

Dear Helena,
I find it distasteful when servers introduce themselves. I’m no snob—I'm happy to converse with folks from all walks of life, and I'm fully aware they're a "server" not a "servant," but I feel the role of a server is to be as close to invisible as possible. There's no need for an introduction. Is this some kind of server ploy to get a bigger tip, like drawing a smiley face on the check?
—No Names, Please

Dear No Names, Please,
There are, generally speaking, two tiers of service: high end and not high end. Guess which one favors the overly cheerful displays that so annoy you? Dustin Rogge, service and hospitality instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, says he trains servers at upscale establishments to be "warm and welcoming and engaging, but you don't have to be best friends." In any case, he points out, introducing yourself serves no practical function. Diners are hardly going to yell out, "Hey, Bob!" to order another appetizer. A good server should anticipate the diner's needs, or else a glance or finger-raise should be sufficient to get his attention.

But at more casual restaurants, it's not uncommon for the server to greet you with a "Hi, I'm So-and-So, and I’ll be your server for the evening." Chowhounds have argued that this behavior is overly personal, unacceptable even at Applebee's. I disagree. This type of friendliness isn't intrusive. When a server tells you his name, he's not demanding a response. It's not like he's pulling up a seat and asking if you want to grab a beer after his shift is over.

Studies have shown that introducing themselves by name boosts servers' tips by a couple of dollars (at least at more casual restaurants). According to Michael Lynn, a professor at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration who studies tipping, research indicates that drawing a smiley face on the check has a similar effect (again, at more casual venues).

Interestingly, though, only female servers benefit from the smiley-face effect. Male servers aren't rewarded for it at all. Lynn speculates: "Perhaps 'happy faces' are too emotional and feminine to seem normal coming from waiters." Brooke Burton, a food writer and former server in Los Angeles, says, "I've seen [female servers add] hearts, the smiley face, and I've even seen the smiley face followed by exclamation point, exclamation point.”

Crouching or squatting when taking your order also increases tips, research suggests. Lynn's explanation: "You're eye level, you're physically closer than you were before. Both eye level and increased proximity communicate liking."

So whether because of such research, or because they know from experience that it boosts tips, more casual restaurants often train servers to 1) introduce themselves, 2) crouch, and 3) doodle on the check, just as they are trained to ask how everything is a few minutes after bringing the food.

Often, then, when the server performs one of these three steps, he's just doing so because management has told him to, not from sheer ebullience. His cheerfulness is fake and that's annoying. However, maybe—just maybe—she's telling you her name or scribbling a smiley face out of natural perkiness. Who wouldn’t tip a little extra for some genuine joie de vivre?

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