My wife and I are still mourning the loss of La Reserve, the elegant restaurant across from Rockefeller Center and the skating rink. The place had high ceilings and lovely murals of a lake and waterfowl, and it was never crowded, and you could sit and converse softly, as one likes to do with a loved one. The wine list was good, the food was fine, and the service was impeccable. Absolutely first-rate.
It was your good time, not theirs - they were on hand to serve and also stand and wait. If you said to one, 'Wow, this is some of the best darned Dover sole I have ever tasted, what's in the sauce?' he would give you a faint smile and say, 'I'm glad you enjoyed it, sir,' and go ask the kitchen and come back and say, 'Butter.' But his gloomy demeanor let you know that you didn't need to interact with him in any way, and you could focus on your wife and talk to her and treat him as a servant, which it was his honor to be.
This sort of natural formality does not come easily to Americans. We're not good at service. Even in upscale restaurants you tend to get a waiter who greets you as if you had come to Le Restaurant to meet him. 'Good evening! My name is Chad and I'll be your waiter tonight! How are you folks doing?'
This is disgusting. A waiter has no business striking up a conversation. That is for the people at the table and he is not part of our group. He belongs to a dignified profession, and the dignity of it is expressed in a certain solemnity and reserve. The ability to be invisible is crucial. There is no need to come around mid-meal and ask, 'And how is everything?' - which is simply begging for compliments. If there's a problem, we'll let you know, Chad. Otherwise, bug off.
I have long thought that I would be an excellent waiter. When friends come over for dinner, I like to get up and wait on people, as my mother used to do, and fuss in an unobtrusive way. I feel that waiting is in my nature, and I wonder if I'll ever get the chance to find out.
- From And God Created Waiters, by Garrison Keillor, Gourmet magazine, January 2001