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.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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September 7, 2016 8:45 am

My daughter recommended your website for the unprocessed Oct challenge. Now I’m doing some exploring. That phrase had not set right with me when I first heard it. No, I have never “worked” at eating my food, but I have enjoyed eating it. It just sounds so crass, unrefined? (Not that I would ever say something rude like that to a server, who is doing a difficult job!) Maybe those aren’t the best words to describe the phrase, and just leave it at what you said. I’m enjoying this dinner now, or I have enjoyed it, thank you.

September 17, 2014 5:19 am

And here I thought the phrase might be “Do you want fries with that?”

September 10, 2014 11:56 pm

I feel like these words have even more meaning. we are taught as children to “clean our plates” and as adults I feel sometimes that is brought into our eating habits that even tho we are full, we try to finish. Hence the word “work”. I try to avoid this, as it just makes me feel too full and sometimes ill. If I eat just till I am full, I find I am much happier and healthier too! (plus I get to take the leftovers for my next meal!)

September 8, 2014 8:09 pm

I agree… I also hate that when a waiter asks that. I don’t mind being asked if I’m finished, but it’s kind of an annoying phrase.

August 26, 2014 7:53 pm

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.

July 23, 2014 8:57 am

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.

July 22, 2014 6:02 pm

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

July 22, 2014 6:00 pm

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

July 20, 2014 6:28 am

haha, silly Americans….