I can appreciate elbows. As a basketball player, the old-school “chicken-wing” move where you hook your elbow around your defender’s shoulder when posting him up was the only way slow, old, white guys like me had any hope of getting past someone on the baseline. A gentle, well-placed elbow in the ribs from my wife will let me know I have called someone by the wrong name at a party, or have been going on and on thinking they were someone else. And of course my elbow does indeed bend, and I like to bend it fairly religiously.
One place I don’t appreciate elbows, though is at the dinner table. I’m not talking about the Mom mantra of “Get your elbows off the table, young man!” although last night at dinner at a local restaurant that very topic did come up. My daughter had one elbow on the table, resting her chin in her hand. I was admiring my wife for admonishing her until I noticed that I was doing the exact same thing. Yikes! Totally busted. Well, like father, like daughter.
No, I am talking about the server’s or busboy’s or even the manager’s elbows. I have always been taught that when serving a table, you “open yourself” to the guest. That is, when serving something from the left, you use your left hand so as not to stick your elbow in the guest’s face. There is a bubble of personal space around a guest’s place setting that should be inviolate. So the “left side, left hand; right side right hand” rule is very important in not popping the bubble. This should be as basic a service standard as “serve from the left, clear from the right”, although that one seems to be up for some debate at many restaurants.
So we are sitting in a slightly snug “pullman” booth at this restaurant. My wife is seated to my left, on the inside against the wall, I am in the outside seat and my daughter is across on the other side by herself. The first contacts were positive. The food runner guy brought out “share” plates for some appetizers they were sending out for our anniversary (and thank you very much). He used his right hand to place the plates in front of us, switching to his left to do the other side. Okay. Nice. Well, that was the end of it. Another busser came to clear several times and was clearly uninformed as the the bubble idea. His elbow was in my face and I mean right up in it to where I could have easily used his shirt sleeve to clean my glasses. I didn’t mention it mostly because of the aforementioned comp appetizers. But, dude, back up off me.
Another thing that really gets me is the “clear the whole table of four from one corner” method that I see practiced alot. But I will save that rant for another time. The real point here is that it costs nothing, NOTHING, to instruct and train service staff. They are on the clock already, and at minimum wage, for God’s sake. Take 5 minutes a day to cover a service standard so that it becomes just that: standard. Then when you think you have run through the whole list, go back to the top and start over. Kind of like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.