Q: A proper waiter glides out of nowhere when needed, murmurs the few words that are necessary, and vanishes. But meals I can afford come with a cheery "What'll you have, honey?" "Here's your steak" and "Thank you, dearies."
As a man who is not preoccupied with skirts, I wince through this refrain and brace for the cashier's "Than-KEW!"
The ultimate occurred one noon, when I ordered a dessert. The waitresses adopt a cute tone for children, and the tone becomes fixed to ice cream, regardless of the customer. So my order's arrival was announced cutely: "Here you are -- ROOT BEER FLOAT!"
I ask you, please, are waitresses trained to talk like that?
A: Where do you encounter those proper waiters who glide about, maintaining a dignified aloofness toward their customers? Miss Manners would like to patronize their establishments.
What she has found instead is that the most pretentious restaurants actually train their staffs to break into the customers' conversations by reciting half the menu, complete with a lot of fattening adjectives (but without the prices), and peppering everything with such questions as "Is everything all right?" and "Are you finished?"
By contrast, the chattiness you encounter, although superfluous, is merely misguided friendliness, based on the cheerful but mistaken assumption that chumminess is a desirable accompaniment to all activities.
Miss Manners prefers quiet efficiency at restaurants too, but she is much more offended by intentional intrusion at luxury prices than by the offhanded gabbiness you describe.
Q: The minister has his mother-in-law, his daughter who is a teacher, his other daughter who is a college student, and his wife all living at home. We know he takes his wife out on a date once a week. My husband thinks if we invite them out for dinner, we are obliged to invite the whole family.
A: Even the minister does not seem to feel obliged to invite the entire household on every occasion. So why should you?
It would be charming occasionally, when you are giving larger parties, to include the mother-in-law and/or the daughters, but it is not strictly necessary.
The basic social unit for dinner is the couple. (For weekday lunch, it is the individual.) What is wrong with that nowadays is that it is often extremely hard to figure out when two people are a couple, but you should be pretty safe with the minister and his wife. Let us hope.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.