Almost as soon as I could speak well enough to order my own food, I was taught that drinks were where restaurants really gouged you. At family meals out, there was the occasional lemonade or OJ, or wine for my parents, but most of the time it was customary to drink only water with the meal. Coffee afterward, along with dessert, was another story, though: Whatever profits eateries lost because of our moratorium on soda, they made back fourfold on our unabashed love of cake and caffeine.
Growing up in a household of de rigueur dessert-eaters, I’ve always slightly resented dining partners who habitually decline postmeal indulgences (since it generally guilts me into doing the same). But after reading a creepy new article in the magazine Restaurant Business that teaches servers how to “goose up the check” by breaking the “peer pressure at the table” not to look piggy, I have a newfound appreciation for those principled sweets naysayers. Witness the frightening, sexist analysis of the dessert-refusal process:
A dynamic you often see are two couples out to dinner. They have their first course, their entree. The table is cleared and the server returns. He looks at the ladies at the table and asks if anybody would care for dessert. Or maybe something more suggestive: the chef has a beautiful peach cobbler with ice cream this evening, can I bring somebody one?
There’s the pregnant pause at the table. You know they both want to say yes. Too often the first woman is reluctant, not wanting to seem over indulgent. She passes. The second woman can’t order one now. And the men acquiesce as well. They may have all wanted dessert, but the concern over self image and peer pressure win out. The restaurant loses the sale and the customer misses the experience.
Not that I don’t feel as much pressure to seem sensible (and watch my waistline) as the next girl, but I probably know just as many men who often refuse dessert out of concern for propriety and weight.
How does the article suggest the server crumble the resolve of dessert stonewallers? Among other tricks, he or she can nod while asking if anyone wants to order (“Behavioral psychologists have found that this kind of suggestive behavior works”); immediately offer to bring one thing for the table to share; and suggest a low-cal option if it looks like some members of the party are dieting. I know servers are just doing their job and could use the extra tips, but I also know that if I see any of these tactics at a restaurant anytime soon, I’ll be the first to refuse dessert. Nothing kills my appetite more quickly than a reminder that I’m being manipulated into eating.