I understand why other diners need waitstaff. They want someone they don’t have to worry about offending when they complain that their perfectly medium-rare rib eye is undercooked. They want to feel less embarrassed than they should when asking what pistou means. In short, they want to talk to someone who has no option but to listen.
Meanwhile I’m relishing this age of waiterless dining. At Scratch Bar & Kitchen, Le Comptoir, and Baroo, the chef and I interact unmediated, as befits our Twitter era. Nearly as good are Trois Mec and Papilles, where the chef, owner, or sommelier delivers many of the dishes. In either case, by going over my order directly with the talent executing it, I circumvent the awkward conversation in which the server, unprompted, informs me of his or her favorite dishes on the menu, thus necessitating me to employ a complicated algorithm that requires guessing: How much fine-dining experience does this waiter have? Has this waiter been to this dish’s country of origin? Does this waiter not like fish? Did I once see this waiter on an episode of Saved by the Bell ?
Sure, a great waiter makes you feel special. But I am not here for a spa treatment. I want a meal. The chef can tell me what childhood memory inspired him or her to conceive the dish, whereas a waiter can ask me whether I’ve ever been here before and tell me how they do things a little differently. A waiter is an intermediary, playing a game of gustatory telephone. You know that person who introduces the featured speaker with a dry bio? A waiter is like that person, except he or she keeps coming back to do it, and we never hear the speaker. More important, direct interaction with the chef allows him or her to size me up. Otherwise he or she has no idea that I’m not some tourist and might not challenge me with the dishes he or she would rather make anyway.
I know that, sadly, not every restaurant can do this because of its size or clientele. But I hope the trend of connecting chef and diner continues, and restaurants become less concerned about providing a perfect experience and focus more on creating a true one. Also, it will put an easy end to that tipping debate.