My problem with "no problem"

In the past few years, I have become increasingly irritated by this exchange in a restaurant :

Duchesse: "May I please have a glass of water?"
Server: "No problem."

"No problem" became the standard service response to any request, (or to "Thank you") somewhere in the '90s, and is a definite generational marker.

While I do not expect forelock-tugging servility, being told by the server that I did not inconvenience him by my request puts the emphasis on the server's well-being. While I hope he is thriving, until my server picks up the tab for the tepid pot of tea he serves or notices (and replaces) the spotty spoon, I'd just as soon he keep his problems or lack of them to himself.

I am just about ready to reply, "I am so pleased that my request for water did not detract from your enjoyment of your day"
, but being kinder is a resolution for '09, and can I keep it for at least a week into the year?

There are times when I'm OK with "no problem." If I say to a young clerk in the video store-and-espresso-bar, "Would you please grab me another copy of "House", because the case is cracked on this one?" and he says "No problemo", it's fine. Besides, he's my son.

But in a white tablecloth restaurant, where servers are hoping for a 20% tip, this level of casual discourse doesn't create a professional hospitality environment.


So, what to do? If I reply, "Glad you don't have a problem with that, because you now have a bigger one: how to be perceived as remotely professional", I am mean, and the generational divide widens.

If I ignore the remark, I tacitly support this locution, and help instill poor practices in a generation.


Restauranteurs are rightfully worried about the economy; they're cutting portion sizes and offering lower-priced items. Now's the time to brush up on service manners, as inattentive or casual service will affect the decision to return.

18 comments

Deja Pseu said...

Interesting, I've never thought of it that way, but you're right.

My pet server peeve is the drive-by "everything OK here?" and not stopping to wait for us to finish chewing and answer that yes, we'd like more water.

Carlene said...

I've never even noticed this, but now I will, LOL.

What bugs me is the table squat. When they come and squat by the side of the table, because they've read people tip more when the waiter squats. What? Why? I am actually horrified by this. It is difficult for me to refrain from saying, honey, are you okay? I read CNN news, too, why not just go ahead and shake a coffee cup full of change at my table?

materfamilias said...

This bothers me as well, but I agree with your assessment that any comment will just be interpreted as coming from across an instantly-widening generation gap.

Duchesse said...

Pseu: A former waiter told me he was taught the "table touch", which is a quick VISUAL check for items that need to be replenished or other requirements and replaced the intrusive "Everything OK?" So much better.

Carlene:Yes! Where do you stand on the Happy Face drawn on the check?

materfamilias: Do you stay silent? What would Megan, in her fine restaurant think (if she thinks of front of the house at all)?

WendyB said...

I now feel tacky for having no problem with "no problem"!

bonnie-ann black said...

i am certain the expression "no problem" was originally meant to be used in casual restaurants, or be something similar to "you're welcome" (why do we use that? it's not as if everytime we say thank you, we're in someone's home...) meant to express their happiness to serve you... but it's become a bit of an irritating expression, like the ubiquitous "have a nice day"...

i don't know if it's worth saying something about or not. i don't see it as a generation gap thing, but most servers would honestly not know what you were referring to, or why there is a problem.

a thing that irritates me far more is the whisking away of my plate when i still have bread on it, or my glass when i may still have a swallow or two of wine, because it "looked empty". they're not offering to refill it -- they're just "clearing away." i hate being rushed when i eat. i really do.

my sister works in a restaurant and she has told me that the new standard is "no empty plates on tables" and it's a way of speeding you along. it's also a way of getting me to reduce my tip due to irritation.

and does anyone here still feel that waiters treat men better than women? i have been dining out for many years in every class of restaurant, and have never noticed that men tip particularly better than women, especially these days. maybe when a certain class of women depended on men for an "allowance" they were more careful with their money, but now? most women have their own money, and some even have expense accounts. yet, i still feel men get far more attention in restaurants than women do.

Mardel said...

THis bothers me as well, although I tend to think it is accetabke in a very casual setting, or as in the example of the video store, you are asking for something extra. I do think commenting would most often be misconstrued and resented.

The table squat and the happy face however are really not appropriate between a diner and a waitperson. But then again, my old fuddy-duddy is showing

Duchesse said...

bonnie-ann: That whisking away, why don't they just hand you your coat? I really lose it when they bring the check and say "Whenever you're ready." I saw a French guy tear into a server (here in Toronto) for doing it. I express my displeasure, though prefer to speak to the manager- server usually does what manager says to do.

Only once have I seen myself treated really badly UNTIL man walked in (he was parking) and then spoke to owner.

mardel: Fuddies need proficient, professional service, too!

La Belette Rouge said...

I HATE "how are you guys doing?" I am not a guy. Haaaaaate it!!!

Julianne said...

THANK YOU!!!!!!! I am always so close to saying " what do you mean, no problem." If it is a problem you are in the wrong place. This annoys me to no end.Ah, just thanks for venting for me.

bonnie-ann black said...

i do dislike the "table squat" -- i'm not 3 years old and afraid of the waiter -- but even more, i dislike restaurant where the specials are whispered very fast, as if they are a state secret. i have perfect hearing and perfect pitch, so it's not a problem with my ears. and i will often ask them to slow down and/or repeat themselves. the least bit of eyerolling or annoyance and the tip is reduced in my head and a possible talk with the manager is in order.

no smiley faces on my check, please (i always think they're circling something on the total).

Duchesse said...

bonnie-ann: The table squat also puts the servers' backside in another table's view.

I also dislike when the specials are reeled off but not the prices. One of my friends ordered a fish 'special' only to be billed $50 when the highest price regular menu item was $32.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that "no problem" was a creeping Americanism along with the even more horrifying response to thank you, "Uh-huh" or "OK". Heavens, we are getting a plague of this odd and casual grammar, including "these ones" and "those ones".

Sjcyogi

Duchesse said...

sjcyogi: "These ones" is even more grating than "no problem". A salesperson at Holt Renfrew continually referred to
"these ones". I longed to lead her to a quiet corner to gently correct her. But I did not.

And then there's "My son, he...".

crunchycon said...

I train call center reps on telephone courtesy. Among the "tragic phrases" I caution them never to use is "No problem" as a reply to "Thank you." You would be amazed at the resistance I get in my classes; these "youngsters" fight for the right to say "no problem." What ever happened to the tried-and-true "you're welcome" or "my pleasure?

@Carlene - as a former server, though, I have done the "table squat" only to take the order of a little one who wanted to give me his order all by himself. It's pretty horrifying to see a server squat next to a table of adults. Even in a casual dinnerhouse, you can be too casual.

Anonymous said...

bonnie-ann: I totally agree about the whisking away of plates. It's rude! One of my friends (a very slow eater) commented once that she likes dining out with me because when the waiter/waitress comes by to clear my plate I ask that it be left until everyone at the table has finished eating.

Don't get me stared on guys who don't take their hats off at the table...

Anonymous said...

It is a generation thing. Sorry to be ageist. Older generations do have phrases that younger people think are off as well.

Please put yourselves in the place of the server. Dealing constantly with the public (where as the price of the meal goes up, so does the diva behaviour and demands of some patrons)

Restaurant work is very hard - unless you have done it yourself, especially for a high end spot, you really have no idea. Also, sometimes waitstaff is instructed to say certain phrases. Or squat or introduce themselves by name.

Is it really that important?

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: I have done my server time, and provide training for the hospitality industry, so I do "have an idea".

Yes, I believe the language a server uses is important when (as I said) one is working in a fine dining restaurant.