I was in a restaurant with Petra. It was a fine-dining restaurant – not quite Michelin Star standard – but fine nonetheless. Petra was a great beauty – something that was proving to be a distraction. She was several leagues up from my own and I felt like a fraud; the reason being I had secured my online date using a filtered photo: me in a sunny beer garden, the angle just-so, the smile loose and toothy. Sure, I looked good but it wasn’t quite me. Granted, the basics were mine but the rest belonged to Apple.
It was our first date and I was preoccupied with the first-of-many theme. I threw it all out there: wit, charm, intelligence (quirky intelligence, I thought, as I espoused the works of both Hawking and Kardashian). I was ablaze but the attempt to be my Best Me was throwing my game. There was a certain rigidity to my patter. I scanned the restaurant for some humorous aspect but the comedy muse evaded me. Until the waiter approached.
“Hi guys,” He said. “Are you ready to order or would you like some drinks first?”
“Hello guy,” I said. “Petra, would you like something?”
She ran her finger down the list. For a moment we were in Casablanca. Petra was tall, blonde and half-Dutch. Only the good half, she insisted. I was inclined to agree.
“You choose,” she said.
I glanced at the list and picked something from the middle. The middle always felt right – not too flashy, not too stingy. It was the Goldilocks Zone of wine.
“Good choice,” the waiter said.
But of course, every choice I have ever made in a restaurant was ‘good’. When the waiter left, I turned to Petra.
“What is it with being called guys,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Everywhere you go it’s hey, guys! Ready to order, guys? Have a good day, guys! I mean, whatever happened to sir and madam? Seriously, I don’t want to be on pally terms with my servers. What is this, Australia?”
“I’m half Australian.”
I stumbled. Had I misspoken? Was it somehow rude to describe our antipodean cousins as over-familiar? They call us up-tight, why can’t we call them cavalier? They are Neighbours. We are Eastenders. It’s all good, as they say. Still, I should have known Petra was quasi-Aussie – how else could you explain the beach-ready athleticism.
She said, “But I know what you mean. I suppose Londoners don’t want things to be so formal anymore. Seems a bit like, you know, dated.”
“Who said? No one ever asked me, and I was born in London. Listen, I actually don’t mind a bit of formality. Especially when I’m paying…” I looked at the menu to find the prices reasonable. “…money to eat somewhere.”
“Yes, but you know what, I’ve got my thoughts on this. Ever noticed how you’re only ever called sir or madam in either the most expensive places or the cheapest? They say sir-and-madam in Starbucks and Nobu. Everywhere in-between it’s guys. Seriously, everywhere you go guys. Why, what has happened to us?”
Petra’s eyes had widened a little. I considered it a sign of curiosity piqued.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Well, let me tell you what I think it is…”
I believe the Rise of Guys is related to class, and the millennial mindset. This might seem like the railings of an embittered class warrior, but think about it. Every time you and your group (of mixed age and gender) are called ‘guys’ it is always by some lively, young, middle-class English server. This person is almost certainly a student, and as such don’t really belong on ‘the floor’. As they spring between tables, their very gait suggests a career elsewhere (hopefully in the Arts but more likely in some anodyne office), indeed their haircuts and perky body language are evidence of their intention to depart at the first opportunity. This isn’t to say they aren’t good at what they do. In fact, with their polished vowels and taught smiles, they are very often the best servers. It just so happens they don’t really want the job.
Calling guests guys is a way of purging the servile element from service. This is no country Manor House, and we are no masters. We are all just guys, hanging out together – one guy just happens to be eating the food, while another guy brings it. There is equality in our metropolitan relationship. Saying sir or madam brings forth faux-memories of a colonial past: straight-backed cavalry officers and stoic indentured workers. Calling people guys, on the other hand, brings equity to the dealings.
In short, calling diners guys is the waiters’ way of kidding themselves. They do it for their sake, not ours. And it troubles me. I have visited my local gastropub in many group-configurations: with my parents, with old pals, with dates, even with work colleagues – and on every occasion we have been collectively addressed as guys. This is plain wrong. My mother – a steely North London matriarch is certainly no ‘guy’ (as she memorably told our spritely waitress). I agree. Actually, when you think about it none of us are guys – not really. Guys belong in Hollywood high schools and rousing Springsteen songs – not in London restaurants.
“…so there you go,” I said.
Petra looked at me. Complex mathematical equations scrolled behind her eyes. I froze. A moment later the waiter reappeared.
He said, “So, guys, ready to order or do you need more time?”
Petra started laughing. Hard. As she cracked up she leaned forward and touched my arm. I breathed out. At least I was right some of the time. That has to mean something.