“Would you like fresh-ground pepper?”  Why do waiters act like they’re bestowing God’s gift upon you when they ask that question?  “Oh, yes,” I always say with what I hope is the proper amount of appreciativeness.  Gosh, if only I had one of those thingamajigs at home – oh, wait, I do!  I think got it at Wal-Mart.  Then, if they do it for more than two seconds, I feel greedy and also guilty for making the waitstaff grind pepper when I’m perfectly capable of grinding my own pepper.  Also, don’t want to take more than my fair share of the fresh-ground pepper.  It’s the days of the Silk Road and some poor camel carried this, along with cardamom, maybe some ginger and turmeric, through the Indian subcontinent to get it here to this mid-priced restaurant.  Geez.

Also:  there’s salt and pepper already on the table, in plain old shakers.  Why is there pepper?  Does this mean that the pepper in the grinder is the good stuff, and if we don’t avail ourselves of it, our only recourse is to use the crap pepper on the table?  Is anyone else ever reminded of the old skit from Saturday Night Live, where Dana Carvey is the pepper-grinding waiter?  “Grinda-the pepper!”   I wonder if this personal, table-to-table pepper-grinding service phenomenon is universal, or just an American thing?   What if — hold on, here’s a radical idea — what if they put a pepper grinder on every table?  Would there be rampant theft?  “I’m takin’ this baby home!  Hoo-wee, one of them grinders like the genuine French people have!”  Would patrons feel aggrieved, like, “I’m paying six bucks for a glass of wine AND I have to grind my own pepper?”  With great power comes great responsibility.  Maybe we can’t be trusted with it.  We are still a young country.

In honor of pepper grinders and those who wield them, I’ve made a couple haikus.  You may feel moved to write one, also.  Please send it in and I’ll post it.


Freshly ground pepper

Not the crap in the shaker

Classes up my food.



Fresh pepper for you?

Only the best for you, ma’am.

Like our cloth napkins.


This post and all blog content Ⓒ Copyright Janet Farrar Worthington.





1 reply
  1. Janet
    Janet says:

    From my dad: I don’t know what irritates me more, the waiter who offers to confer ground pepper on your salad — or the pretentious customers who ooh and aah and gush out thanks for a few sprinkles and for a moment of personal attention.

    One of my favorite essayists is Joseph Epstein, who often eats at a no-nonsense restaurant near his home in Chicago. He once sat near a table of high-flown ladies who, before ordering, asked the waiter how the chicken would be prepared. The waiter growled and said “First we tell it, you’re gonna die.” My kind of place.

    One minor quibble: Where you said “six bucks for a glass of wine” I would have amended it to read “six bucks for a quarter of a glass of wine.”

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