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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July 20, 2014 3:50 am

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.

July 19, 2014 10:43 pm

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???!

July 19, 2014 6:56 pm

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.

July 19, 2014 2:23 pm

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.

Marge Evans
July 19, 2014 10:19 am

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?”

July 19, 2014 9:33 am

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.

Colleen E Bohrer
July 19, 2014 9:32 am

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

July 19, 2014 9:02 am

Irks the hell out of me every time!

July 18, 2014 6:12 pm

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

July 18, 2014 11:58 am

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.