In a country with strong ties to the former USSR, the market economy has not penetrated various sectors of the economy – yet. As mentioned in a previous blog, waiters do not receive tips in restaurants — as a result, the demeanor of waiters is completely different. There is also no such thing as a “host” – you just go in and find a table, making eye contact with the person at the front to be sure that part of the restaurant is open. Waiters do not come to the table to ask about your progress or well-being, they do not chat, they do not make eye contact, and they do not present the check at the end (it’s all calculated at the cashier’s in the front of the restaurant; you just get up and go to the cashier when you’re done with the meal). In at least one restaurant we visited, there was this “call button” – when you are ready to order, you just press the button and it rings back in the kitchen, and the waiter comes out. Very sensible!
Being an inveterate restaurant eater, I find it a big cultural adjustment — although not unpleasant at all, it takes some getting used to. I realized that the waiter in the US, getting both tips and also rewards for coaxing you into taking the special of the day, or another drink, to spend more — has become not a mere bringer of the food and drink, but part advertiser for unneeded extras, part personal counselor/advisor, and a “helicopter” person, even — in the US, such market-based people-smarts are the first job skill. American waiters work so hard for their money!