So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Rant about “no problem”

In an example of aggregation squared, I offer this great rant, as passed along by “The Awl”, a site that has this lofty mission statement:

“Hey, what is all this?

Oh, hello there! We wanted to take a second to tell you, valued first-time visitor, about this place where you’ve landed.

It was birthed from the following thoughts: What if there were a website that zippily surveyed a wealth of resonant, weird, important, frightening, amusing bits of news and ideas? And what if it weren’t totally clogged with reality show linkbait?

It would be a website which wasn’t so invested in giving you the “counterintuitive take” that it actually stopped making sense. Dream further: What if it were run by people who actually didn’t care about the way we all allegedly live now? This is our little dream. And it begins here, in an extremely bare form. It might even grow. (Would you perhaps like to invest?)

So welcome. And please drop us a line anytime. All ideas and thoughts are not only welcomed, but ardently desired. With your help, we can make our other dream—the one of not having to work for anyone else—a reality. Also the dream of feeding our addictions. And/or cats”.

But this isn’t about The Awl, this is about a great rant from an ex-Applebee’s manager about the groundswell of public scorn for the innocuous phrase, “No problem”.

This was one of those “100 things that will get your ass in hot water with your restaurant owner” thing that the New York Times recently posted. Saying “No problem” when fixing a guest complaint is apparently a problem.

I’m going to start off the rant and let you click the link to explore the gloriously crotchety harangue so that you can revel in the scorn.

The Woodchipper, by Claude Vordell, Former Manager of the Applebee’s in Bozeman, MT

“The seemingly innocuous phrase “no problem” has recently shown up twice in stories in the New York Times. The first was in the enlightening and popular yet horrifically condescending and grouchy “100 Fucking Things You had Better Not Be Doing if You Want to Work at my Restaurant, and then again in the comments section of this week’s plea to readers for more “Utterances and Signs That Annoy Me,” by Stanley Fish. Apparently, when Times writers and readers say “thank You” to someone who is serving them in any manner, they do not want to hear “No problem,” in return. Why?

According to one commenter:

When I am thanking a person for a service rendered because he or she is employed to perform that service, a response of “no problem” indicates to me that I may have had an excessive expectation. If a restaurant server is paid and tipped to bring me a meal, why should I be assured that it wasn’t an inconvenience to do so?

That is because you’re a jackass”.

It only gets better from there. Trust me on this.

My take? The phrase “No problem” is almost a meaningless phrase, sort of like “How are you doing”? How many of us really want the answer to that when we greet someone? It’s a conversational bit of shorthand that is less formal and less stiff than the more formal, “My pleasure”, which can sound like something out of a 40s romantic comedy. I understand the “problem” that some have with this phrase. WiseGeek explores the subject and I’d have to say that I can’t disagree with anything that’s said there:

http://www.wisegeek.com/why-do-people-say-no-problem-in-response-to-thank-you.htm

However, I think that saying  “No problem” is a way to bring a little informality into the dining relationship because it’s common usage in everyday conversation between peers. One might argue that this is the very reason why you wouldn’t want  to say it – that, first of all, this isn’t a conversation between peers, it’s a commercial transaction between customer and purveyor and, second of all, the dining experience could use more professionalism, not less (I argue that myself). However, most diners appreciate a bit of looseness with their waiter. It takes a special sort of uptightness to actually enjoy the old style ram-rod straight, absolutely correct waiter standing at attention in the corner of the dining room like a wooden Indian holding a fistful of wooden cigars; the waiter who never says anything outside the script for fear that it might offend.

So, while I sympathize with people who parse the true meaning of two little words, frankly, all I can say is, “If you can let the phrase ‘No problem’ interfere with your enjoyment of the meal, then…well…’No problem’ “.

Admit it…you just knew that was coming.

One response to “Rant about “no problem”

  1. PurpleGirl December 5, 2009 at 12:18 am

    They get on us about that at my work. “Customers will wonder when they WERE a problem, if they aren’t now!” Blah blah blah. I admit it’s not always appropriate, but I still say it sometimes–“Can I please have some more ranch?” “No problem, I’ll be right back!”

    One that DOES get on my nerves, though, is when I hear other servers calling certain people “guys”. Why would they think it’s appropriate to call four blue-haired old women “guys”? I guess that’s maybe just as nit-picky as the “no problem” debate, though.

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