Cheeky Service

It's been another wonderful meal at a local restaurant, and we're lounging over coffee, basking in the glow of full stomachs and relaxed thoughts. The setting is classy, the service has been superb -- all in all, an evening worthy of the $50-plus it's going to cost us.

Our server approaches, smiles, then reaches behind himself. He pulls out the leather check sleeve, where it's been nesting comfortably in his pants all evening. It's still warm from its cozy bed between his back and butt, and perhaps it's simply well-polished material -- or could it be that's the slight sheen of sweat winking at us from the table?

Either way, it puts a new challenge into the question of which of us will volunteer to pick up the check tonight.

Such a scenario should never happen at a fine restaurant, of course. But managers aren't infallible -- I've seen it occur at restaurants of all social status. It's become a fixation of mine lately -- why would I want to handle a check that's been cheek to cheek with my server?

"It is disgusting," agrees Chris Harter, owner of Scottsdale's Coyote Grill, and CABO, opening this fall. "If you can get athlete's foot from walking barefoot on a gym locker-room floor, imagine what can happen from storing a waiter wallet in the back of your underwear. There are a lot of 'little' things that make up a good restaurant. 'Not putting guest-handled items near your butt' should not be considered a 'little' thing."

Waiters at Coyote Grill wear uniform aprons with large pockets in the front to guard against the temptation to store the waiter wallet elsewhere.

The very firm policy at Veneto Trattoria in Scottsdale, too, is that all staff members carry order pads in their aprons, says owner Roberto Rossi. "The practice you are referring to would not be acceptable at Veneto," he says.

Considering that a deluxe apron from Scottsdale's Specialty Apron and Textiles is available for as little as $4.75, it's a wonder all restaurants don't provide them. They may soon have to, notes David Ludwig, manager of Maricopa County's Environmental Health Division.

"I guess I always hoped that the server had his shirt tucked in and clean underwear on. Many of the food-borne illnesses we see are due to fecal-oral transmission, so if the waiter was preparing food (putting the finishing touches on your salad or grabbing your bread), then you might have a problem and clearly would have a health violation."

Ludwig said he will address the issue at his next supervisors meeting. "Maybe we will outlaw the tuck, and surely outlaw the unprotected tuck!"

That certainly would be a happy ending.


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