For reasons I can’t explain, my friends and I always seem to be engaged in our most inappropriate conversations when we’re at a restaurant. It’s only there that we seem to have group discussions about masturbation, death, murder, sex and probably more masturbation. In these moments, we’re loud and raucous — right up until our server approaches the table, at which point we’ll fall completely silent until they leave.
The question is: Are we doing anything wrong? And if so, which part? Should we not be discussing such things in public? Or are we stopping needlessly in front of someone who has heard it all before?
To get some answers, we asked some servers how they feel about the awkward silence that always washes over a table of guilty conversationalists. Here’s what they told us:
Julia, 28: I’ve been waiting tables on and off for five years. Most nights, I’m too busy to think, let alone listen to what other people are talking about. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice when a loud table suddenly goes quiet when I come to take their orders — it’s the polite thing to do if you’re talking about something gross. One time I was serving a table of three guys who were talking about period sex! One of them was really animated, and when I walked over to their table, he was finishing his story about how he was fingering a girl who was on her period: He claimed she was embarrassed once he noticed blood on his fingers, so to make her feel less embarrassed, he took the blood and smeared it across his face. How do I know so much of this story in such detail? Because he decided to finish telling the story as I took their order.
Mark, 33: I’ve been waiting tables for 10 years, and I still love the sound of hushed voices when I arrive at a table. But it’s a weird thing, because most of the time, I’ve already caught the gist of what was being said on my way over. But I don’t care what anyone talks about — in my experience, the customers who are loud and who have the most “inappropriate” conversations are the easiest to deal with. Plus, they leave bigger tips.
Alexis, 30: I’ve waited tables for 12 years, and there’s definitely been some super-awkward moments when the conversation will halt abruptly, which can make you not want to check on a table as much, so as not to be intrusive. Though some people continually talk and almost pretend like I’m not there, which is its own form of awkwardness. There are also “experienced” diners who know how to manage those transitions in and out of conversations without making it weird.
The most memorable was a homeless sex worker named Tasha that we all loved and who was basically a mystic prophet. She would bring this one really socially awkward, miserable client in all the time who would buy her food, and she would loudly berate him, his body and general life the entire time. We just let her do whatever because we loved her and the guy seemed like a creep. I’m not sure whether the public shaming was part of his kink or what…
Cole, 23: Sometimes I’ll hear something I can relate to and say, “Yes, I love that place.” But people usually don’t want their conversation to be interrupted, so they give a quick, “Yes, we’re good, thanks so much.” I did once overhear a weird conversation where this sugar daddy was asking a woman what he could get for X amount of money. He must have been 40 years older than her…
Tim, 38: I just take their cue. I’ve been a bartender and waiter for four years, and I’ve never noticed the silence or hush. But as a diner, I’ve definitely quieted down when the waiter approaches. A lot of the time, when approaching a table, it’ll be clear that they’re engaging me.
There’s a distinct difference between bartenders and waiters, though. Bartenders are your friend and will let loose a bit more. With servers, you’re just exchanging the goods and services; it’s not as conversational. Which is why people shouldn’t worry about what they say in front of their waiter. What good does someone else’s dirty laundry do me? After all, we’re strangers.