At the restaurant, a buffet joint at dinner time, there's a show card on the table. It tells you about the breakfast buffet. It has pictures of all the stuff they offer. And it has a list of all the stuff they offer. And it has the hours the meal is served. And it has the price. Got that? Pictures, list, hours, cost. Pretty clear. Then, in the fine print (there's always fine print, it's a national compulsion invented by lawyers,) it says "ask your server for details. (I hate the word "server," it's so.... servile sounding. What's the matter with "waiter" for men and "waiter" or, perish forbid the political incorrectness of it, "waitress"?)
Anyway, I ask my "server," who is a young college woman obviously majoring in Cheerful, "what details can you give me about the breakfast buffet?"
"Oh," she says, "happy to!" Every sentence she speaks ends in an exclamation point. That act gets old in a hurry.
"We have...." and then she goes on to recite the list of stuff that's on the show card that's sitting on the table, plus the hours and the cost.
"Great, thanks. Why does it say "see your server for details? Is there some detail they've left off the card, some secret little thing that I can only find out by asking you? The nutrition content of each item, for example, or the maximum number of trips to the buffet table we can make and still get the stated price?"
She looks confused, which is hard to do when you're smiling, and says "oh, no sir, none of that! The nutrition content is posted on the wall menu near the register, and there's no limit of trips!"
Okay, no details for which to see my server.
"Would you like to speak with a manager? I can get him for you!"
"No thank you, I was just wondering, since the show card says ask you for details and the presentation seemed pretty detailed to begin with, that you might know something a customer'd consider important when evaluating such things as whether to have the scrambled eggs or the oat meal or both."
She walks away, a smiling exclamation point. I'm sitting there wondering.
Everything has details, and every piece of printed stuff that invites you to buy or try something mentions that they exist, but doesn't tell you what they are.
Telephone service has details. Oh, boy does it have details. There, you don't have to ask. They give them to you in writing. And to understand them, you have to be well educated in federal law, state law, economics, electronics and maybe clinical psychology. So, no one reads these details.
How many times have you seen or heard "see store for details..." in the last day or two or five?
Probably none. That's not because it hasn't been written at you or spoken at you. It's because you hear it so often, you don't hear it at all anymore.
But it isn't as meaningless as it seems.
It means "Not everything we're telling you about the car or phone or computer we want you to buy or the contest we want you to enter or the membership we want you to apply for, is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." It means "there's at least a potential, if not an actual weasel deal going on here and if you don't ask about it we won't tell you. And then when you finally find out about it, we can say 'we asked you to ask for the details and you didn't.'"
I'm Wes Richards. (See store for details, member FDIC, an equal housing lender. No one under 17 admitted without parent or guardian. Title and taxes extra. Wessays is an equal opportunity employer. Union Made. Not Kosher for Passover. Contains peanuts. Take only as directed. While supplies last.)
My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
Monday, February 04, 2008