Dan Rattiner's Stories

Perfect: Restaurant Language Is Coming into General Use

About 15 years ago, a new kind of language began to sneak into the dining rooms of restaurants around the country. Before this, at different moments of the encounter, waiters would say, “Good choice, sir,” or “Enjoy your meal” or “May I clear this for you?” About 15 years ago, this all changed.

One cannot consider itself a proper high-end restaurant in search of Zagat awards or Michelin stars unless, when you look up from the menu and say what you want to eat, they say “perfect,” and when they bring the food out they say “Enjoy.” What is the matter here? Do they suffer from single-word syndrome? They do not. When it’s time to take your plate away, they have many words. Eight, in fact. Always the same.

“May I take this out of your way?”

Now, it does not matter if this plate is really in my way or if I like this new language or not. Though I will tell you I silently think the word “it” after I’m told “enjoy,” and I silently think that it’s impossible for everything to have been absolutely perfect when I hear the word “perfect.”

But what is really bothering me is that the word “perfect” is now spreading like mad into all sorts of transactions. I was making a reservation for a flight to Boston the other day and after the reservationist asked me to spell my last name and I did that, she said “perfect.”

I was perfect in spelling my own name? What an accomplishment! She was perfect in copying it down correctly? She’s sure?

The same thing showed up on another day when I was buying a pair of shoes. In shoe stores, most clerks do their best to help you with size and fit, sometimes using a metal foot-sizing contraption you stand on, and sometimes bending down to feel for the end of your big toe, but, in the end, it’s really tacitly agreed by both the customer and the clerk that what really matters is how it feels when you walk around. So I was in this store and I got to the part where I walk around and I did walk around and she said “perfect.” I had done a perfect walk-around.

Was this new phenomenon everywhere being brought out into general use by former employees of the food service industry?

“Was your last job in a restaurant?” I asked.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

I believe a day will soon come when you arrive at a dealership to buy a new car, a salesman will get you behind the wheel and, as you turn the ignition key the motor turns over and the engine springs to life, he will clap his hands together in joy and speak the dreaded word.

“Perfect.”

You will have started the car correctly. And the clipping of your seatbelt was done perfectly too. A two-fer.

He will then tell you to take the car out for a test drive, step out of your way and say “Enjoy.”

And when you get out of the car and step down onto the asphalt at the show room, he will be there to say “May I get this out of your way?”

Yes indeed, you may get it out of my way before my basic clumsiness causes me to get run over by it.

Then will come the finale.

“Might I tempt you with a little dessert?”

Now you’re never going to go into a restaurant without thinking about this essay. Sorry about that.

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