Where'd the Waiter go?

 
I ate almost every one of my meals besides breakfast at restaurants while in Bucharest. This entailed having encounters with many waiters/waitresses and other restaurant employees. In this blog post I will reflect on these experiences.
I am used to the restaurant service at restaurants in the United States. There is not much waiting around as the waiter will stop by frequently to ask how things are going and get orders relatively quickly. The waiter is almost always somewhere nearby performing some task or observing the tables they are waiting on, so it is simple to grab their attention. All aspects of restaurant service in the United States are usually friendly and welcoming. They want to make their customers feel good so that they will come back, tip well, and have a good dining experience. I honestly did not think about what the dining in Bucharest would be like before I arrived there. My assumption was that it would be more of the same. Maybe the waiters would be a bit more distant from the tables as I have experienced in other countries including France and Egypt. What I ended up experiencing during my time in Bucharest drove me to write this blog post.
Before I start going into specifics about patterns of bad service (things that I personally felt were bad service) I witnessed I want to clarify that I loved eating in Bucharest. The food was cheap, there was a lot of variety, and it was delicious. I never made the decision not to go back to a restaurant because of the service I received. In my mind it was all about the food. But while I was at these restaurants I was confronted with some service that I could not ignore and that has stood out to me. That is what the rest of this post is about. If you want to read about some great Romanian food I had you should read my first blog post on Mici.
My main and most common complaint about the restaurants I went to was that the waiters would disappear for extended periods of time. They would either be completely out of my view or on the other side of the restaurant talking with coworkers and never even glancing at the tables where customers were eating/waiting for their food. This usually added 30 to 45 minutes of unnecessary time to the meal. Sometimes this wasn’t a big deal when I was with a big lively group of friends and wasn’t concerned about the length of the meal. However, sometimes I would want to eat and then move on to another activity. Having to wait half an hour for the waiter to enter the restaurant so I could ask for the check and then waiting another half an hour to get the check all the while wanting to get the hell out of the restaurant does not make for a pleasant experience.
The treatment I received from wait staff that I felt was personally insulting was blatant rudeness. Actions included eye-rolling, exasperated expressions, and answering me as if I was a child. I might be able to partially understand this behavior if I was asking legitimately unnecessary questions that wasted the waiter’s time. But this was not the case. One restaurant that I kept returning to because the food was good, the atmosphere was good, and it was one of the closest restaurants to the dorm was particularly outrageous. Several times, I had been sat down at a table and been given menus to look over before being told that they were not serving food at that time. One time when I returned to the restaurant and asked the waiter right away if they were serving food he rolled his eyes and said of course like my friends and I were idiots. Part of me wants to think that a language barrier could help explain the waiters’ annoyance with me at restaurants, but all the waiters I had and even the rude ones had pretty much fluent English.
The biggest surprise for me was when the program went on an excursion to Belgrade. There I only encountered restaurant service that was almost the same as what I was used to experiencing in the United States. The waiters checked on their tables and asked how diners were doing. They got orders quickly. When I thought about it, these waiters were only acting slightly different than the waiters in Bucharest, but in my opinion small niceties can make a big difference. This experience really made the service I had been receiving in Bucharest seem like a phenomenon unique to Bucharest/Romania.
I had assumptions about what restaurant services should and would be like in Bucharest. These turned out to be wrong in some cases. Most of my waiters were good and didn’t leave me with any lasting memories. I don’t want this post to be taken as disparaging all wait staff in Bucharest. However, as I have written, the amount of times that I did have negative experiences were enough to make me expect this kind of behavior from the waiters I had. I believe that some of my perceptions are largely to do with my ingrained assumptions, but I think that some of the things I witnessed can be labeled as just rudeness. I wish I had been able to ask Romanians about what they expected from and thought of restaurant service. Then I might have been able to come to some more definite conclusions.
My final note is to once again emphasize that the food in Bucharest was great! There are a ton of options and compared to the United States and much of the rest of Europe the food is crazy cheap. Understand that restaurant service might be different and perhaps quite aggravating, but don’t let that ruin the entire dining experience.
 

Where'd the Waiter go?

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