Food: yes, restaurant waiters are sometimes rude—and with good reason

Food: yes, restaurant waiters are sometimes rude—and with good reasonThere has been a rumpus going on of late about the quality of service in London. As is invariably the case with stories of this sort, it wasn't the intrepid investigations of journalists that kick-started it, but the publication of a book--Square Meal's guide to dining in the capital. According to Square Meal, quite a few of the capital's venues are not up to scratch in the service department. Moreover, those known for being snazzy and star-studded--Nobu, Fifteen, Hakkasan--are most likely to fall short. This revelation, no doubt fed to journalists in the form of a press release, duly prompted a spate of shock-horror headlines. There followed various articles by "experts" (that is, restaurant critics) recounting the time they found a hair in their soup at Nobu, or were kept waiting five minutes for a table at Cipriani. The impact of such revelations, naturally, was earth-shattering. Would our lives ever be the same?


The New Statesman, humble organ that it is, lacks a restaurant critic. And because of various complicated scheduling issues that I won't go into, this article will appear at a later date than usual after it was written. As a result, by the time you read this, it is likely the issue of service in the capital will no longer be foremost in your, or anyone else's, mind. Nevertheless, it strikes me that I may never get a better chance to bring my nugget of wisdom to this particular table. And so--deep breath--here goes.

Amid all the talk of the rudeness of waiting staff, does anyone bother to ask why, on occasion, they are rude? Might it not have something to do with the hours they work, the conditions they work in, the amount they are paid? The summer before going to university, I spent a couple of months working as a waiter in a busy London restaurant. I know how shockingly low waiters' wages are, how vulnerable they are to exploitation by their employers--usually for no better reason than that they don't speak good English. Above all, I witnessed the often jaw-droppingly awful behaviour of those whom waiters are required to serve. I suspect it is this, more than anything else, that causes them be rude. According to the well-known saying, the customer is always right. In certain parts of London, people seem to have taken this (demonstrably false) injunction literally: they really do believe they can do no wrong. Brazen displays of contempt for those perceived to be in servile positions have become par for the course. And it goes without saying that the worst offences occur at venues with the wealthiest clientele.

Should it surprise us, then, if waiters occasionally let slip their mask of unfailing politeness and display their true feelings towards those responsible for making their working lives miserable? When it comes to quality of service, there really isn't any mystery. Customers get the waiters they deserve.