Are You Being Served (Well)?

On my most cynical days, I fear that introverts will never be understood by their extroverted peers. One phenomenon that causes me to despair of being accepted as I am is the prevalence in any number of restaurants of that most dreaded of species: the overfriendly waiter. Their usual haunt is the tourist trap, those restaurants decorated with an overbearing hodgepodge of nautical gear, sports regalia, and/or 1950’s Hollywood memorabilia. I’m not sure why there is a high concentration of these sociable types in such places; perhaps they believe their customers are looking for an entertaining experience, rather than just a bite to eat.

I always know trouble is on its way when the first question out of a server’s mouth is “So, where you folks from?” Since I know I cannot just shrug and stare down at the table, having tried that before with somewhat hostile results, I meekly bleat out the answer, feeling put out before I’ve even tasted the food. I take solace in the fact that this person probably doesn’t realize how discomfiting this is to an introvert; answering personal questions put forward by a stranger, from the innocuous (“hot enough for you?”) to the deeply private (“what color underwear are you wearing?”), is a keen sort of torture for most. More to the point, small talk is not the reason I have entered this dining establishment. My number one reason for doing so, strangely enough, is to procure food to eat, followed closely by the need to sit quietly and carry on a whispered conversation with my dinner mate.

At such times, I think longingly of the meals I’ve eaten in France, a country that generally understands the need for discretion in these circumstances. With certain waiters, a nod can speak volumes, and a wordless understanding of their guests’ every need is a skill they’ve perfected. These dear folks are content to simply present the options, answer questions and take your order, and then largely disappear for the rest of the meal, excepting when the food arrives, and the moments when he or she unobtrusively brushes baguette crumbs from the tabletop to make room for the crème brülée.

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6 Responses to “Are You Being Served (Well)?”

  1. Bri said:

    Personally, I vary between being introverted and extroverted, depending on my mood, but I have to say that waiters that are overly attentive really bother me too. Also, people that work in stores (especially Sephora) that ask a million times, “Can I help you with anything?” or at Nordstrom, “Can I help you find anything?” Sometimes instead of my usual polite, “No thank you” I want to say, “Yes, you can help me by going AWAY! I want to look around, not have you chatter constantly in my ear about how you looove this or that, which of course just so happens to be the most expensive thing on the shelf!” I love having my friends around while I shop, but the idea of a stranger telling me what does and doesn’t look good, is frankly offensive to me. Also, I completely agree with your opinion of French waiters. Though I know some Americans find them rude, I found them very well-mannered and kind, so unlike the agressively cheery people here. I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to point this out, maybe some people in the service industry will take a hint and back off a little.

  2. spectatrix said:


    Maybe I’ll have to write another post about it, but overly solicitious salespeople have always bothered me too. It feels like they don’t trust me to find things myself, that I have to be guided through the store. I know they only do it because they get commissions on sales they make, but in certain department stores it drives me crazy when I’m asked at checkout, “Was anyone helping you today?” I feel like screaming “No, because I am an adult, and I don’t need someone to hold my hand while I’m buying underwear!” However, whenever I have a specific question about something, I can never find someone to help me 🙂

    Another thing I’ve noticed recently is that when we go grocery shopping at Safeway, every staff person we pass, from floor manager to shelf stocker, greets us like we’re long-lost friends. In public places, I sometimes like to believe I’m invisible, an illusion that is shattered by these eager greeters.

  3. Laurie said:

    I’ll third the complaint about overly attentive salespeople. While I don’t mind being greeting when I come in a store (usually) and don’t mind being asked if I’m finding what I’m looking for or if I need any help — ONCE — I do mind the feeling that the sales staff is hovering over me, ready to pounce the second I look even slightly like I’m not finding exactly what I want at exactly that moment. (Really, I’m just browsing. Go away.) There are some types of shopping I dislike intensely anyway (retail clothes shopping, for example, or generally Christmas shopping — to crowded and noisy and intense), and having someone jumping on me every two minutes makes it worse. There are some types of shopping in which I take great pleasure (books!!! Art supplies!), and having someone interrupt me repeatedly makes it much less pleasurable. I’m a grown up human being — if I have a question, I’ll find someone and ASK. snark! Some days it takes a lot of energy not to snap at them. Some days it’s only because I’ve done that work that I can be polite. Some days I’m not polite, and I do try to apologize for that. Unfortunately, I’m aware that most sales people will be chastised for “ignoring” customers. 😛

    Shopping should not be this difficult. This is why the internet is my friend. 🙂

  4. spectatrix said:


    I agree—book shopping is fun 🙂 And thanks for pointing out what the situation might look like from the other side. It’s really too bad that the policy about not “ignoring” customers exists; maybe we need to develop some kind of signal that we can give sales staff when we enter a store, maybe a t-shirt saying “Warning! Introvert on the loose. Please stay away!” Not that we would be apt to wear those kind of shirts…

  5. Laurie said:

    I am a professional seamstress, so I spend a LOT of time at fabric stores. One national chain (which shall remain nameless because I should have SOME ethics!!) has a policy of asking every customer “What are you making?” when they have fabric, etc., cut at the cutting table.** I actually avoid this store for a number of reasons that I won’t go into, but that one thing takes the cake for me. I may have bits and pieces of half a dozen projects on the table, I’m probably under deadline and tired and cranky, I dislike the shop for many, many reasons to begin with — do I LOOK like I want to chat about this?!? Cut the damn fabric already!


    I’ve seriously considered making a button that says “I’m a sewing professional – please don’t ask” to wear into this store. Bleah!

    ** I really do understand that many, many people who don’t do this for a living are probably excited to talk about their projects. I’m not, and it feels rude to tell the sales staff that. sigh So it generally means that I grit my teeth and tell them, and then let them know that the policy bothers me and can they pass that opinion on, please? So far, it hasn’t done any good.

  6. Laurie said:

    Re: restaurant waitstaff This may display my lack of food sophistication, but the best waitstaff I’ve found at the restaurants we frequent would be at The Macaroni Grill. They are practically psychic when it comes to refilling your beverage, and they just DO IT. You don’t have to flag them down or anything. They generally stick to telling you the specials and answering questions, too — after they’ve written their name upside down with crayons on the paper covering the table cloth. Most of them are personable without being too in your face, which I appreciate.

    So, how about those “birthday specials” where they come out and SING to you before you can get your free dessert, hmmmm? 🙂

    P.S. Sorry for the double post — I just thought I ought to drag this back on topic since I blatantly contributed to dragging it off topic. Some.