These six words could change how you think about food

"Are you still working on that?"

Words have power – especially when they’re used so frequently we don’t even seem to notice them.

Lately I’ve noticed one question that’s asked by nearly all waiters. It’s just six words, but they speak volumes about how we, as a society, think about food. It’s a phrase so common you probably haven’t even given it a moment’s thought. But it’s also so common that it’s probably also affected your perception of food, whether or not you realize it.

Ready? Here it is:

“Are you still working on that?”

Now that you’re aware of this phrase, I bet you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll hear it. Seriously, I hear it every time I’m at a restaurant. And here’s the reason it drives me crazy: It should not be work to eat your food!

Of course in America, “work” has a tremendously negative connotation. Eating should not be laborious. Food should be savored, enjoyed, relished, honored. Eating should be a wonderful, joyous experience!

So the next time a waiter says those six little words to you, here are six you can say back to them. If you’re not finished eating yet, try this: “I’m still enjoying my meal, thanks” (with the emphasis on “enjoying” of course). Or, if you are done, you can cheerfully proclaim, with a big smile: “It wasn’t any work at all!”

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us bring this to people’s attention, we can get rid of this awful phrase, and make a small dent in how we as a society view our food.  So please share this post, mention it to your friends, and help spread this paradigm shift. Because words matter.

Photo: “Afterwords” © 2012 by Waleed Alzuhair, used under Creative Commons License.

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20 Comments on "These six words could change how you think about food"

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Totally agree! I really like the response “It wasn’t any work at all!”
I’ve worked in a few more upscale restaurants, and we were trained to ask if the guest was “still enjoying”…”still working” was a big no-no.


I always think of dining out as a little vacation. And I don’t go on working vacations.


Irks the hell out of me every time!

Colleen E Bohrer

Yes, I have heard this phrase aimed at me many times. Why? Because I ENJOY my food and take my time enjoying my meal. This phrase usually means to me, “Are you ready to move on yet so I can get another customer?” I politely let them know not to plan on cashing me out anytime soon because I am having too much fun enjoying my meal to even THINK about desert yet !!!! lol

Liz Schmitt

Brilliant, Andrew – incredibly annoying, just like the waitstaff who want to whisk away my plate the minute it appears I have finished my meal – despite the fact that my dinner partner is still eating. In Italy, we would have barely ordered our meal! Hate the rush-rush of American dining.

Marge Evans

I always want to say “do I look like a 5 lb. dog, working on a 10 lb. bone?” Much nicer to say, “may I clear your plate?”


You know how restaurants often serve large, rich meals, so by the time you’re nearing the end you’re already painfully full but you keep shoveling it back because it’s good, or you don’t want to waste it, (or because you’re just a piggy)? I think that’s how this applies.


I hate the wait staff asking me anything if someone else at the table is still eating. If my knife and fork are in the “finished” position on the plate, they shouldn’t have to ask, and if not, they shouldn’t ask.


Yes. and they look at you like “why are you still here taking up my table?” OMG! I can’t stand it! Why can’t I eat at a decent pace and allow my food to digest and for that matter enjoy the people I am with???!


I agree that the phrase is totally inappropriate. But let’s change our concept of “work”. I have come to enjoy work because I enjoy what I’m doing. Effort, yes. Negative, no. Maybe “work” doesn’t have to have such a negative connotation.


haha, silly Americans….

Greg Henry

I had to really think about what I thought about this. At first glance I (of course??) appreciate being asked before my plate is whisked away. And I have to say that the “work” aspect of the phrase doesn’t bother me at all. In fact I’m a fan of taking ho-hum words and turning them into something intellectually exciting. Or should I say turning them into something “amazing”, “cool”, or “awesome”. Words with double meanings intrigue me. But in the end I decided the phrase was inappropriate and more importantly unnecessary. I agree with Tanya. When the fork and knife are in the “finished” position. The diner is done. I realize that’s a bit of my old-school cotillion upbringing showing it’s out-of-date face, but somethings should remain definitive. GREG

Greg Henry

..err I meant Tally. Is that definitive enough? GREG


That phrase makes me cringe as well. However, I have heard (mostly at higher end restaurants) the question “Are you finished enjoying that?” or “May I take these away for you?” Strictly speaking, a waiter is not supposed to clear anything from the table until all guests are finished enjoying their meals. This is mostly not adhered to and it also drives me up a wall. At home, we all may not finish eating at the same time, but we all finish enjoying the dining experience at the same time.


Just because I may not be holding a fork or spoon does not mean that I am finished. When a waiter ask me, I usually just smile and say yes even if I am done.