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Danny Wallace: how to form a rapport with your waiter

"'What a nice guy!' I say, and I really hope that he feels the same way about me"

Danny Wallace: how to form a rapport with your waiter
24 August 2017

This is one of the most charming waiters I’ve ever met,” I think, as he sashays away.

I think it so strongly I say it out loud to my wife.

“He is,” she agrees.

“He was so friendly,” I say, and he did everything else right, too. He made a little small-talk, he made a little joke and he walked off just a little before you started thinking, “This waiter’s a bit chatty.”

He will receive UK-standardised, perfectly-acceptable 15 per cent tip! Maybe more! I’m looking forward to seeing him again already.

“Your water,” he says, popping up from behind us, which is such a lovely surprise that I say “I wasn’t expecting you to come from that way!!!”, and I say it just like that, with three exclamation marks, and we all laugh for absolutely ages.

“What a nice guy!” I say, and I really hope that he feels the same way about me, as I know this is only a brief relationship, but I could see us holidaying together. “I bet we’re his favourite customers today.”

Actually, you know what? He can have 20 per cent.

Now every time he walks through the doors from the kitchen, I give him a little nod or a smile. It’s probably too much, to be honest, but I am very keen for him to know that I do not see him as a man-servant, butler or “waiter” – but as a human being in his own right. And as a waiter. This is why I’m such a fantastic guy. And I think he sees that in me.

I watch him as he serves other couples. He doesn’t seem to be getting on with them as well as he does with us. I’m delighted. What we have is real. That’s why I’m going to give him 21.5 per cent.

And a moment later in the corner of my eye I notice he has answered the telephone, and he’s taking a booking, and as I chat to my wife I am still aware of his conversation. And he finishes, and hangs up the phone, and under his breath but loud enough for me to hear, I hear him call that customer the ‘W’ word! 

Which for the purposes of this magazine I will swap for Wilberforce.

He has no idea I have heard him call a customer a Wilberforce. He might not even realise he’s said it. Because now he’s plastered on a smile, smoothed down his shirt and is on his way to me again.

“Everything all right here?” he says. “Anything I can get you?”

“It’s great, thanks,” says my wife, but I cannot find any words.

“Perfect!” he says, and I watch him go.

“That man just called a customer a Wilberforce!” I say, though please try to remember, I’ve swapped the word.

“A Wilberforce?” says my wife.

“Yeah! On the phone!”

“Well, maybe he was a Wilberforce,” she says.

My wife’s got a point. Maybe this was Britain’s biggest Wilberforce. And the waiter did only mutter “Wilberforce” to himself. It’s not like he shouted it or took out a small ad.

“Still,” I whisper. “You can think someone’s a Wilberforce, but you don’t call them a Wilberforce out loud at work.”

I think I am largely worried for selfish reasons. I thought I had something with this guy. But now I’ve seen another side to him. I’ve seen through the performance of the waiter and into the soul of the man. Because what if this waiter secretly thinks I’m a Wilberforce? What if every time he turns away from me his smile drops and he mouths “Wilberforce”? I’m starting to think I never really knew this man I just met at all.

No. You need to be much more careful as a waiter. I’m sorry, but he’s dropped down to 18 per cent. I will give him his expected tip, and just a little bit more because of the memories and the good times of the past 27 minutes, but that’s as much as he’s getting, I’m afraid.

Suddenly, the table across the room erupts into raucous laughter. The waiter has just made a joke with them. They’re all having great fun together.

Fourteen per cent. He’s getting 14 per cent. He chose his favourite table, and it was us. I don’t know who those people are, but they can’t just establish a favourite table rapport when it was me and my wife who were the chosen ones. The waiter turns to fetch something for this bunch of utter Wilberforces and I try to catch his eye and smile again, but now he doesn’t even look my way, like I’ve been smiling at him too much or something.

Ten per cent. I’m sorry. But this guy has changed. It’s possible he’s a psychopath. This is not normal behaviour. Everything that’s going through my head is normal. I am normal. 

For a while, I toy with leaving no tip at all.

In the end, I decide to make my point subtly. I do not want to hear waiters calling customers Wilberforces, and I do not want to see waiters getting on with other customers. They need to split the difference. So I do the same with my tip. I split the difference. 

He gets 15 per cent. And I only hope he learns from it.

(Image: iStock)