On our recent visit to the US, my significantly better half and I were discussing the various cultural differences we had encountered. No doubt we Canadians share more commonalities with our southern neighbors than differences, but there are some subtle variations that are an armchair sociologist’s delight!
During our trip we dined in several restaurants; none was ultra-expensive, none too cheap. While we had no complaints about the food, the service provided us a reminder of one long noted difference. Many Canadians who have not been to a US restaurant for some time often find themselves saying “Oh yes, service is slower here”.
Not that I want a waiter or waitress to hover, but once seated and the drinks delivered, a reasonable amount of time should elapse so I can scan the menu and place my order. Reasonable. On several occasions the wait staff member assigned to our table seemed to disappear, while at other times they were clearly visible talking with their colleagues. I am not a difficult patron, but four or five minutes is ample time before returning to your customers to see if they are ready to order. I should not have to wave-down a waiter to place my order. Yet that is what happened – often; as though the waiter or waitress was actually there for some other purpose, and waiting tables was a side job. I am not implying that the waiters and waitresses were poor at their job. But merely pointing out the different approach to the task found in the two countries.
These are the little nuances that, over time, I am sure I would adjust to (it would probably be better to take things easier). But the one that got to me was when it came time to pay, or at least try to pay! Once our dining experience had been completed, and the check presented, it was sometimes a real chore to get the staff member to come and take my payment. I have never been one to ‘dine and dash’, that is, to run out on a bill, however there were a few occasions when it crossed my mind, if only as a means to get the attention of my waiter so I could pay.
We dropped into a pub in Boston on a Sunday afternoon to take a break from the heat and humidity with a cold beer; maybe two. A place we have been to several times before. The beer was indeed cold, but so was the bartender. As I have written, I have great admiration for bartenders, particularly daytime bartenders, as I get older and spend much less time in bars at night. The young fellow behind the bar in Boston’s Beantown Pub on this Sunday afternoon clearly gave the impression he wanted to be almost anywhere but there. A good bartender monitors his or her customers, checking if they want a refill, making small talk, and being pleasant – all while carrying out the standard chores such as mixing drinks, pulling pints and settling bar tabs. I am certain this guy would have walked by me and my empty glass all day had I not asked for another. As a departed friend of mine used to say when confronted with this situation, “If the bartender comes down this way, tell him I stepped out for a drink”.
The Beantown Pub is located directly across the street from the Old Granary Burial Ground on Tremont Street. Many famous historical figures are buried there, including Samuel Adams, a patriot who inherited a brewing interest from his father. The Beantown Pub serves Samuel Adams beer, leading to their slogan “Where you can have a cold Sam Adams while looking at a cold Sam Adams”. However current restoration work to the front retaining wall of the Granary Grounds has blocked the view. Could this be why the staff seemed a bit churlish? I wonder.