In many restaurants around the world, you can wait an eternity for service. It can be a wait to place an order, to have a plate removed or to get the check.
In Mexico, by contrast, the servers often won’t leave you alone, especially at the higher-end establishments. The service in most places is arguably too good — and so attentive it borders on annoying. Waiters will grab a plate from under your fork. If you step away from the table to take a quick call, they will whisk away your drink.
“We believe good service is attentive service,” said a waiter in the upscale Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City.
Behind him, 30 servers searched for someone to serve among the restaurant’s 15 diners.
To be fair, for people living on tips and meager salaries, proving one’s work ethic and appearing busy is essential. And to some extent, the attitude of the service class is driven by the attitude of the elite patrons of upscale restaurants.
“To understand service in Mexico, you have to understand the power dynamics,” said Alejandra González Bazua, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “You have to know that for every servile attitude, or extremely service-oriented expression, there is an opposing authority and power relationship.”
In other words: Behind every obsequious waiter is an arrogant customer.
The World Economic Forum says Mexico has the second highest level of income inequality among 35 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The 10 percent of Mexico’s population with the highest income use more than one-third of the nation’s resources, while the bottom 10 percent use less than 2 percent. A 2013 study found that 60 percent of the Mexican economy relied on the service sector, twice as much as the much-discussed manufacturing sector.
Of course, not all waiters in Mexico are aggressively helpful. There are places in the capital where the staff’s aloofness would put even the most self-important New York establishments to shame.
And sometimes the over-attentiveness pays off. At Casa Virginia, a restaurant in Mexico City’s popular Roma Norte neighborhood, I once complained — politely — when the kitchen ran out of the cast-iron rib-eye, my favorite meal. Now, every time I walk in, all of the waiters know my order.