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Patronizing waitpeople language in France


John Talbott
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For those not addicted to the now free on line NYT or unfamiliar with its current restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, you may want to read an article called "Tonight, Patronizing Language. Enjoy."

I bring it to the attention of our France Forum folk so that we may show the superiority of our service personnel to those in New York.

We never are asked if we would “enjoy coffee with dessert?” or “How are we enjoying things so far?” or if “the madam would enjoy a glass of white wine with her branzino.” Or are we?

"C'etait.....?" anyone.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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The Bruni article describes almost to a "T" the service we received atthe Michelin 2-star Le Bateau Ivre in Courchevel. We were not only lectured on the precise order in which to consume various portions of our plates, I was told that the chef would not approve of the white wine I ordered (admittedly, a cheap bottle of local Savoyard stuff -- but the idea was to spend more on on the red).

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I was told that the chef would not approve of the white wine I ordered ...

(shouldn't that be a conversation between the chef and the sommelier rather than between the chef and the customer? Or did you mean that the chef wouldn't approve of it with what you ordered ...?)

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Funny story: Shortly after moving to Paris, I was having dinner at Le Suffren and committed a great faux pas – I ordered coffee with my dessert. The waiter just looked at me and said, Non Non Monsieur. Apres.

He really wasn’t mean or condescending about it (ok, maybe a little condescending…) but he let me know that it simply wasn’t done.

Hmmm…. Never did get my coffee.

Hey, John, Thanks for pointing out the article. That was a good read. :smile:

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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Yes, we are very lucky. It's rather easy at most levels of dining rooms in France to interact with one's server to get across one's wants and needs. I've never encountered/entertained a server I would consider patronizing. Maybe the superior level of professional waiters in France is why we continue to return.

eGullet member #80.

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Funny story:  Shortly after moving to Paris, I was having dinner at Le Suffren and committed a great faux pas – I ordered coffee with my dessert.  The waiter just looked at me and said, Non Non Monsieur.  Apres.

He really wasn’t mean or condescending about it (ok, maybe a little condescending…) but he let me know that it simply wasn’t done.

Hmmm…. Never did get my coffee.

Hey, John, Thanks for pointing out the article.  That was a good read. :smile:

Reminds me of when I was eating dinner in a very busy place in Paris - sharing a table with 2 Italian business men and a young French guy, who made it very clear he was in a hurry. After his main course, he was trying to get the waitress' attention and she was pointedly ignoring him. Finally she asked from about two tables over if he wanted dessert. He said he'd have a coffee.

She lit into him saying that she didn't ask him if he wanted coffee; coffee wasn't dessert; did he want dessert?

He said, ok, he'd have some ice cream.

A couple of minutes later she whisked by our table and without slowing down, slapped a piece of apple tart in front of him.

Must have annoyed her to no end that it wasn't until after I left that I realized that she had brought me the wrong salad. :blink:

---------------

I try to be easy going about silly language stuff but I really hate "How's it tastin'?"

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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i do a bit of casual waitressing - please answer me

how do you ask the "is your main course ok or do you think it's awful and want it changed or are you going to eat it and then pretend it was awful to get money off" question ?

I usually ask the simple "is everything to your liking ?" when patrons have just started eating their main courses (not with other courses as i find it very intrusive to constantly have a waiter bobbing up and down for your assessment of the food when I am on the receiving end) Do you find this patronizing ? I hate asking, but people expect it and at least it gives me an opportunity to sort out a ghastly meal before it gets out of hand.

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i do a bit of casual waitressing - please answer me

how do you ask the "is your main course ok or do you think it's awful and want it changed or are you going to eat it and then pretend it was awful to get money off" question ?

I usually ask the simple "is everything to your liking ?" when patrons have just started eating their main courses (not with other courses as i find it very intrusive to constantly have a waiter bobbing up and down for your assessment of the food when I am on the receiving end) Do you find this patronizing ? I hate asking, but people expect it and at least it gives me an opportunity to sort out a ghastly meal before it gets out of hand.

Both in France and other countries (being a guy, who pretends to be macho but is really, at heart, a coward) I lie and 99% of the time says it's fine. Then, of course, back-stabbing, I write it up on whatever eGullet Forum as awful.
then pretend it was awful to get money off
Never. You eat it, you pay for it. If I hate something, I take two bites and leave the rest. And I pay for it.
how do you ask "is your main course ok or do you think it's awful"
You don't.
I usually ask the simple "is everything to your liking ?" when patrons have just started eating their main courses..... Do you find this patronizing ?

Two comments: Re

1.

people expect it
Do they really, I hate it.

2.

Do you find this patronizing ?
I don't find it patronizing, I find it annoyingly unnecessary.

3.

not with other courses as i find it very intrusive to constantly have a waiter bobbing up and down for your assessment of the food when I am on the receiving end
Good for you, come work in France or America! We need you.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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In France when a waiter asks "Tout va bien monsieur (or madame) ?", only a positive answer is actually expected. When they hear a negative answer (as I happen to give every once in a while, when it is really justified) the expression I get in return is one of sudden bewilderment followed by muffled hostility. If the only answer you get is a dry "Merci, on lui dira!", you know your comment is not welcome. That should not keep anyone from telling what is wrong and why. That should be why they are asking, or it all boils down to a hypocritical game that is, when you think of it, offending to the client and counterproductive to the restaurant.

Do tell if something is wrong. Do tell why and how, you're helping the restaurant and the diners, even if both waiting staff and cooking staff are trying to make you feel otherwise.

The way a waiter or chef reacts to a negative comment tells a lot about the actual level of professionalism of the place.

Of course there are nuances and degrees. Sometime you feel it's just not worth saying anything:the place is hyped, the contents of the plates are show-offy and pathetic and everybody seems to be enjoying them a lot — in that case, why bother? Just do not go back. Sometime the place is worth it, the staff deserves to be helped along the path of improvement and you are doing them a favor. Or the problem is only a detail, you can tell it doesn't happen all the time, it could easily be avoided, so by all means tell them about it.

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