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I have never been a waiter.

I suppose I could use the gender-neutral variant ‘server’, but to me a server is a computer or related thingy (‘thingy’ being a highly technical term that refers to a data structure in perl  but I’m using it in its informal, casual meaning) that has a resource that it shares (‘serves’) to other computers or thingys. Servers don’t bring you bites; they bring you bytes. (Or maybe they accept them — it really depends on what the resource is.)

Whatever  label we use, I’ve never been one. But I’ve known a few and I enjoy eating out so I have a modicum of experience with them.

Ordering a meal from a waiter is a dialogue. There’s a protocol involved. A protocol is a set of rules for exchanging a particular type of data. It’s a language, sort of — a vocabulary with rules on how and when that vocabulary is used. Some protocols have huge vocabularies with copious rules. For example, the description of the first (1982) version of the poorly-named Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (for transferring electronic mail) ran to sixty-eight pages.

On the other hand, some protocols are rather more casual. The formula for leaving a phone message, for example, is a protocol and it’s rather simple: “Hello, is Fred there?” “No he’s not. Can I take a message?” “Can you tell him X”

To bring things back to my original topic, the dialogue with a waiter is kind of like this: “Can I take your beverage orders?” “I’ll have a vodka stratocaster, please.” And, later: “Can I take your meal order?” “I’ll have the spoo.”

There are parts to some protocols where one party ‘says’ something that transmits no data other than something like “I have received your input; I understand it and I’m ready for more.” In SMTP (mentioned above) that might look like

250 OK

(There might be rather more than ‘OK’; that part is for any human that might be looking. The computer is happy with the ‘250’; it tells it the same thing.)

There’s a need (or at least a use) for for something like that in the dialogue with the waiter: “I’ll have the spoo.” To which the waiter might reply “OK” or “Yes, sir” or “Can do” or


Say what? I’m not sure when they started saying ‘Perfect’; I don’t recall it before a few years ago. Now, however, it’s omnipresent: “I’ll have the spoo.” “Perfect.”

And what does it mean?

Does it mean that the spoo is very very good today? That it’s the Platonic ideal of spoo? Does it mean that my consumption of spoo is the culmination of some no doubt nefarious Master Plan? Does it mean that he’s unnecessarily pleased that I’ve ordered spoo? (Perhaps he’s on a quota.) Or does it mean something else? Why ‘perfect’?

And why is it omnipresent? Is there a class that all waiters take, a class in Advanced Perfection? Is there a secret cabal of waiters that share, not a secret handshake, but a non-secret verbal signature? What?

And it’s not just reserved for spoo — “We’re waiting for one more person.” “Perfect.” “Are you sure your circuits are registering correctly? Your ears are green!” “Perfect!” “I wish to devour the unborn!” “Perrrr-fect!” Why is everything perfect?

Now, I have nothing against the word. Heck, I use it myself. Just the other day I asked a gentleman to throw a twenty kilogram rock through a hole and have it land just there. And he did — so I shouted out to him “Perfect” — because it was. It couldn’t have been better. That’s kinda what ‘perfect’ means.

But ‘perfect’ as a response to “I’ll have the spoo?” In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It’s a small thing — probably a trivial thing — but it bugs me.  It bugs me so much that I obsessively count the number of utterances of ‘Perfect’ whenever I go to a restaurant. (Colour me pathetic.)  On friday, for example, I counted and was surprised that it was only used once — when I ordered the mac and cheese with no macaroni in it.

It was good. But it wasn’t perfect.

Note added much much later: apparently I am not alone in musing about this.


The Author

Rose Glace is the pseudonym of nobody important.


  1. Wendy says

    The generation of “servers” that you are seeing now have been raised with parental praise for every single little thing they did. They believe you need affirmation for your choice of meal. Probably if you told your server that you just did a #2, he/she would respond with “perfect” just like mommy does when they do a #2.


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