Back in October, I did an interview with Helena Echlin from CHOW Magazine. The topic was whether or not it was appropriate for a server to touch a guest. I thought at first that it was a strange question. My initial instinct was that a server should never touch a guest. In the subsequent weeks I found far more grey areas than I had considered at first.
Her article on the topic came out yesterday. I think she answered the question correctly. While some studies have concluded that touching a guest produces a greater tip, it should still be avoided. Touching a guest implies a level of comfort that a server should not automatically assume. The potential positive effects rarely outweigh the potential negative responses.
There are of course exceptions. When carrying a tray of drinks through a busy bar, a cocktailer could place their hand on a guests back to notify them of their presence. A handshake at the conclusion of a meal, when instigated by a guest, should always be returned. At a sports bar, a person offering a high five should never be left hanging. These exceptions are courtesies to a guest, but are not instigated by the server.
Touching a guest assumes a level of familiarity that not all guests are comfortable with. Some people are touchers. It is part of how they communicate. Others are very protective of their private space. These people prefer not to be touched by anyone outside of a close circle of friends. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. I am probably a bit more in the latter category.
As a server, I take being touched by guests as a job hazard. Guests will grab your arm to address you. I have received hugs from happy guests. I have even had guests reach for my apron to get my attention. Yes, more than one intoxicated guest has even taken a grab at my tokhes. It is all part of the job in my opinion.
As a guest, I prefer to not be touched. The memory that stands out is eating with my friend Marcy at a now closed location of a national chain. The server took our order. It was really pretty simple. He did not write it down, but had to return to the table to ask again about her salad dressing. When he did so, he placed both of his hands firmly on my shoulders and leaned on me as he talked across the table to her. As soon as he left, she started cracking up. She said I should have seen how my face cringed as he did this. The expert cited in article is correct, he did seem very confident. Perhaps forgetting the only possible modifier on an order did not justify the confidence. That server still holds the honor of being the only server in the last five years that I did not leave at least a 20% tip.
It is simply a matter of respect. As a server, I will allow a guest to communicate with me in the manner they wish (within reason). As a guest, I expect respect. From the time we are young we are taught that it is inappropriate for a stranger to touch you. A server who cannot extend that modicum of respect is running a tremendous risk.
What are your thoughts on the matter? I am by no means the definitive opinion of the topic. Share your thoughts in the comment section. Is this something you encounter? Are you a toucher? Anyone have a horror story? The comment section is yours.