The US is known for its good standard of customer service, and famously so in restaurants. The good reputation is that in an American restaurant, you will get better service, get served more quickly, get the bill more quickly (whether you like it or not), and, for the privilege of all this excellent service, you will have to pay a tip of 15 to 20% above and beyond the cost of the meal.
Compare this to my experience when I lived in France, where table “service” fully lived up to its negative Gallic reputation. The waiters, who were supposedly professional career waiters, often seemed annoyed by my very existence and begrudgingly served me. I have a distinct memory of being in the south of France with my ex-boyfriend on a particularly wet and windswept day. Despite the inclement weather, we had gone for a stroll along the waterfront (he was English and stubborn like that) and, to dry off a bit, we decided to stop into a beachfront restaurant for a glass of wine.
We walked in, folded our umbrellas, and the waiter seated us at a table. But when he came to take our order and realized we only wanted to have a couple glasses of wine and not eat a meal (mind you, it was the middle of the afternoon and not even mealtime), he promptly told us we would need to move to another table. The restaurant was not in the least bit busy and there were plenty of tables free. But, when we went to move to another table, he said we could not sit there either; those tables were also reserved for people ordering a full meal. Where, then, could we sit to drink our glass of wine? He explained to us that we were welcome to sit at any one of the tables… outside. Needless to say, we promptly left.
American wait service is a breath of fresh air in comparison. But sometimes it is too much. Waiters and waitresses can be over-attentive to the point of suffocation. Saturday night I went to a café with my friend; we wanted to order a tea and dessert. I think the waitress must have come to our table at least 4 or 5 times. At one point, she even pulled up a stool and sat down while she took our order. She told us about her boyfriend and joked about where I’d disappeared off to when I went to the bathroom. She asked us several times if we wanted anything else. YES, I would like for you to GO AWAY and leave us in peace to enjoy our tea.
In Europe, I think this level of “service” would be considered invasive. The waiter or waitress is there to serve you, while causing as little disruption as possible to your personal meal and conversation. But here in the US, not only do the wait staff personally introduce themselves (“Hi, my name is Kim, and I’ll be your server today!”), but they have to be absurdly enthusiastic about it, and repeatedly visit your table every 5 to 10 minutes to inquire (again) “Is everything okay here?”
I guess you just can’t win.