Restaurant humor straight up and dry
by Douglas Merrick

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Dining Room Stereotypes

After serving a quarter million customers I've developed a habit of stereotyping customers. I understand individuals are unique but when they get together to have dinner they do so because of some specific purpose. They may be dining together because they have similar personalities, or common jobs, common interests, common families, or share a common event.

Just getting together indicates there's some kind of theme for the evening. That theme may be a job promotion, a birthday celebration, an anniversary, or simply close friends having fun. Whatever the purpose, individuals tend to adjust their personality to fit that theme.

A professional waiter knows how to play along. Guests often fall into this play-acting and the roles become familiar to the experienced. This phenomena might explain why starving actors earn their living waiting tables.

At the risk of being politically incorrect allow me to share some of the predictable behavior from diner stereotypes I've witnessed over the years.

Here's an easy one:

The anniversary couple

Couples celebrating an anniversary will act very similar to all other anniversary couples. Their roles are well defined and the plot is simple. All arguments, controversy, on-going debates, quarrels, and conflict are on hold for the night. They're here to love, to be loved, and then to make love.

There are two main characters in this scene, possibly three depending on how involved they allow the waiter to become. The husband and wife characters are open minded, caring, concerned about the other, and very forgiving. Money is no object so spending is carefree. If the anniversary actors stay within their roles the enjoyable plot plays out and a delightful ending is achieved.

I know what my role is for this table. Be neutral, be supportive, be complimentary, be helpful, sell, sell, sell and don't interfere with the climactic finish.

That's a simple example. It does get a bit more complex. Here's more scenes I've played a small role in many times.

Funeral attendees

The actors in this drama are usually family members along with an old friend or two that haven't gathered in one place for quite a long time. They've come together because someone died. None of them are really sure just how to act and their roles tend to evolve as the evening moves along.

These customers aren't sure whether they're sad, shocked, relieved, or happy. It all depends on the protagonist, who is dead, and what kind of relationship they had with that person while alive. These diners test one another to see if they should remain solemn, or if it's okay to break a smile occasionally. It's a sensitive game of seeing who will break the ice.

Each person is asking themselves:

  1. Should we remain reserved and respectful of the recently deceased.

    Or, should we start spending the inheritance right now and party till the sun comes up! Yippee, and three cheers for Uncle Joe.


    I don't favor birthday parties. The characters in this bad act are often times family and friends pretending to love the birthday person. It's often just another excuse for everyone to get embarrassingly hammered.

    Although usually a test of one's character, it is easy for the waiter to play his or her role; simply do like everyone else and act like you love the birthday person. Of course the birthday person is acting like a fool so your caring performance may be a difficult stretch. No matter what happens and no matter what is said just love the birthday person. If they want special food, provide it. If they want a special drink, make it. If they want a hug, hug them. If they want to show you naked body parts, act surprised and impressed. Do whatever you have to even if you have to sing.

    God I hate singing the birthday song. I especially hate to bring the whole crew out to the table to sing really badly. If I can possibly get away with it I do my own little solo birthday song. It's a sort of Elvis version I sing directly to the birthday person. It's so bad the celebrators take pity and pretend they love me too. Many times the birthday person is pleased that I only embarrassed myself.

    Ladies night out

    A group of four or five ladies is very common on any given night. If they're just having ladies night out the plot can go many different directions because there is no specific purpose for their get-together. It's pretty much a rule that anything goes. Their basic goal is to create a good story to tell everyone at work tomorrow. This is the number one most volatile and unpredictable situation for a waiter. I'll share an example of one such scene amongst the many I've been a part of.

    Three ladies enjoying a great day in Las Vegas were seated at one of my tables where I worked at the Stardust Resort and Casino. They were a bit tipsy and engaged in some spirited joking and giggling. Just having fun, nothing serious.

    The first lady ordered a salad, the second a light appetizer, and the third ordered a hot fudge sundae. Then just as I was about to step away from their table the lady that ordered the sundae abruptly asked me, "Do you have nuts?"

    I delayed my response because lady 2 started giggling, which in turn caused lady 1 to giggle at her giggling. Lady 3 realized her question's double meaning (or knew it all along) and began to giggle also.

    In my usual slow, Idaho, dry tone I answered, "Well yes I do, but that's really none of your business."

    My response propelled lady 2 into convulsive laughter and tears. So much so that I had to excuse myself from the scene.

    Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, then twenty minutes and still she laughed so loud the whole restaurant could hear. In fact, the whole time that I served them the lady never stopped laughing. My role was to occasionally glance her way giving her the same look I had when reluctantly answering her friend's question. She remained at the edge of hysteria even after they got up to leave.

    Later I could hear her laughter trailing off amongst the slot machines of the Stardust. I'm sure to this day she breaks into uncontrolled laughter every time she thinks about nuts.

    Arguing couples

    This a very tricky category. If you're not careful you may take on a role you never intended playing. I try to remain neutral if possible. Neutral in this situation means passive, head down, but watchful, like moving past a grizzly bear.

    Making one of them angry is highly likely because they want to be pissed off and they're just waiting for an excuse. Your role here is to remain on friendly terms with at least one of them without actually taking a side.

    If that doesn't work just go ahead and piss them both off so they unfairly attack you in front of witnesses at other tables. Then act like you're the innocent victim of their unjustified rage. You'll not get tipped by the arguers but because the other guests feel sorry for you, you'll make out like a bandit. I don't recommend you try this trick often because some grizzlies will eat you.

    College kids

    College kids aren't sure whether they're still kids or adults. They try to be polite but are afraid to act too polite in front of their peers. They want to fit into the norm, yet they want to be different. They want to be under control but need outlets for their exuberance.

    You don't know what's going to happen but there is a pattern to their behavior in restaurants. They'll play stupid then be very intelligent. They'll play the idiot and then show some wisdom. They'll be loud and obnoxious then polite and endearing. I've learned to just "let it be".

    A typical scene goes like this:

    "Sh Sh, here comes our waiter." "Hi there. You must be Doug (emphasis on ug). So Douhg, what's the very best cheapest thing on the menu." one of them will say.

    Another will say, "Yeah Duhg, what do you have for free tonight because we're just poor college students." "Not really Duhg, I have my dad's credit card, we can get whatever we like."

    "Or if that don't work, Stacy over there will take care of you. (snicker, snicker)" "We're just kidding you Doug. You know we're just kidding right?"

    "You're a good man Doug" "You're a brother, ya know that don't ya Doug?"

    "I love ya man, okay Doug? ya know I love ya."

    "Here's a tip for putting up with us Doug." "Thanks man, maybe we'll see ya again sometime."

    "Have a good night Do-uhg."

    Thankfully most college kids can figure 15%.

    We want it for free customer

    Being from a small town in Idaho, I am not accustomed to dealing with customers that are looking for free food. In Las Vegas it seems to be a nightly occurrence and usually involves a group of four "well fed" diners.

    These are most often four ladies dressed to the max, that smell like heaven, are having a good time, talk above me, and are out to own the town. Apparently that included owning my lily white Idaho ass. They've predetermined my role in this scene whether I know it or not --to their delight.

    These ladies start working me from the first moment I greet them. They manipulate the words, items, and prices on the menu in order to confuse me and to angle for a better deal. They continue the banter until I either give in or decide to hold my ground. It's holding my ground that gets me in trouble every time. I should just go into the sweetheart act and let the ladies order whatever they want in whatever way they desire.

    The problem with this scenario is the chef doesn't like making special orders nor giving away food, and doesn't care what the guest wants, plus he's a huge dude that hates all waiters, especially skinny, four-eyed country boys from Idaho.

    Sorry ladies, no freebies tonight! As they high-heel-it for the door without paying for what they've eaten so far.

    Cross dressers

    This is possibly the easiest group of diners for a male waiter to ever serve. In this particular case my role was easy, just be the male waiter. It's like ladies night out turned upside down and in my favor.

    I served a group of six very well practiced cross-dressing men ( I think they were all men ). They were deliciously appointed from painted toe to hatted head with high heels, pantyhose, diamond rings, skirts and dresses, lacy bras, dainty necklaces, dangling earrings, and various other gorgeous accessories. Their faces, legs, and cleavage were shaved smooth, their hairdos perfectly placed, and each smelled uniquely fantastic. Each "lady" maintained perfect politeness while gently touching my arm to speak. They did not once fall out of character. They did not once stop being remarkably classy, beautiful women.

    All I had to do is not get caught peeking down their blouses.

    Swingers ( rated R )

    I don't think I have to tell anyone how this group behaves in a restaurant. They come to have sex with each other and the waiter too if possible. I don't know when I've ever seen more skin I didn't want to see, nor heard more dirty talk I didn't want to hear.

    When swingers eat out, what's their favorites? You got it --hot dogs, sausage, marinated breasts, tenderloin, raw oysters, ten inch prime rib, double patties, hot buns, string beans, banana splits, hot fudge with nuts, cherry pie, fresh fruits ‘n cream, and sharing of many and varying hot dishes.

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