This article is not about knowing what fork to use at a nice restaurant. Although the answer is to start from the outside and go in toward your plate. Now you know. I think that is the only thing I learned from the charm class we were forced to take in high school. Thank you, Miss Manners.
This is about the more important issue of communicating with your wait staff when you are a customer. How would you behave, if the following happened to you?
You order eggs (unless you are vegan, off dairy, or allergic) at a restaurant. You ask for “over-medium”, meaning you want your whites cooked and yolk partially cooked. Your eggs arrive. They are runny, both white and yolk undercooked.
What response are you most likely to make:
1. You scream at the waiter, “Hey, what is this stuff? What is the matter with you? Are you blind? Yuck, get this away from me right now!”
2. You stare at your runny eggs as the waiter places them before you. He/she asks if everything is fine. You whisper, “Yes”, even though you are unhappy with your eggs. You eat a tiny bite of the white that is cooked and your hash browns without complaining.
3. You notice your eggs are undercooked for your taste. The waiter has already left your table. “Excuse me”, you call out. When he/she returns you calmly say, “I ordered my eggs over-medium, these are runny, please replace them.”
If you chose #1, you tend to be aggressive in nature. Aggressive people bully others to get what they want. Their goals take priority over any relationship needs. Good News: Because they speak up they often get their needs met. Bad News: They walk all over others to get those needs met, leaving a trail of hurt and angry people in their wake. Usually they flare quickly into anger without thinking how others are affected and may feel bad later. I have a friend who told me she had been banned from a few local restaurants in her town because of her “rude” behavior toward wait staff.
If you chose #2, you tend to be passive in nature and have difficulty speaking up for yourself, for fear of imposing on others. You place the needs of others before your own needs. News: Passive people are often well liked because they are pleasant and kind to others. Bad News: While we may all give in to others sometimes, passive people do it to the detriment of their own well being, for example no over medium eggs to eat!
If you chose #3, you tend to be assertive in nature. You respectfully ask for what you want most of the time. You will confront important issues, weighing your needs against the needs of others. Your goals and relationships are of equal importance. You may let some things go. For instance, seeing how busy the wait staff was at a crowded bagel place recently, instead of demanding their attention, I just wiped down the only open table myself so we could sit and eat. Good News: Assessing your own needs and weighing them against relationship needs for each situation, often leads to satisfaction and less frustration in life. There is no bad news for being assertive.
A note for parents: According to brain science, digestion is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. This area is often referred to as the “rest and digest” center. To digest well, we need to be relaxed. When eating out take your children to a family friendly restaurant if possible. If you take them to a very quiet place where they cannot make a peep, it is too stressful for you all and no one enjoys their meal. I came from such a big family, the one time I remember us going out to eat, maybe there were 8 or 10 of us, I just remember some spilled milk and knocked over glassware and Dad’s stressed out face. We stayed and made the best of it. But our parents probably did not enjoy their meal! This was before the day of endless kid friendly eateries and was likely some restaurant with more than one fork per place setting.
Good News for everyone: Whether dining at a high-end bistro or casual corner café, we can all practice being either less aggressive or less passive. Here is how: Pause, (while staring at those runny eggs) take one slow inhale and exhale, noticing tension in your body, breathe into the body tension (often anger with aggression and fear with passivity), consider what would meet your goal (medium cooked eggs) and how to approach it. For aggressive types, soften your voice and just ask calmly and respectfully for what you want without name-calling. For passive types, take a breath of confidence and ask the wait staff in a clear voice to correct your order…Either that people, or just order an omelet!