Advice | Carolyn Hax: Mom mortifies teens by asking server to replace dirty glass

Dear Carolyn: On a recent vacation, our family (including two teenagers) was at a restaurant for lunch. We had not had any food yet when I noticed dried food on my water glass. After the server brought our ordered drinks, I calmly noted the food on my glass and asked for a clean one. No drama, and the server was a pro — no hesitation, brought a new glass and comped us a bottle of water.

The hiccup? My teenagers were appalled and embarrassed, basically implying I’m a Karen for first failing to just live with the dirty glass and second not apologizing profusely before asking for a clean one. I tried to explain that part of being served includes clean everything, but they were unpersuaded.

Did I miss something? Is this a generational thing? Literally made no fuss at all and did not suggest anything be comped. But I’m feeling defensive. How to communicate that it’s okay to politely ask for corrections when things are amiss?

Anonymous: It’s not just okay, it’s necessary for the proper functioning of a business, and it’s a kindness to those who make a living there.

But before I explain: Stop with the “Karen.” There are real people named Karen whose lives got appreciably worse a few years ago thanks to the casual public contempt. Not cool. K? K.

Now, the crud on the glass. Even if you had been okay with it, eventually someone wasn’t going to be. That customer might not have been as gracious about it. Some people have a disgust response to crusted tableware, which is as bad for repeat business as it sounds. Plus, “restaurant critic” is now everyone who can use a smartphone app.

So it’s the good patrons who report problems — without apologies profuse or otherwise, and without hemming, hawing or worse, all of which force busy waitstaff to manage your response, which is less efficient than just swapping out the glass. In your polite request for a correction, you gave the restaurant the chance to fix a problem on the spot, make your experience better and possibly identify a bigger issue before it grew big enough to scare off other customers.

The last thing I want to do is arm a battalion of nit-pickers, so here’s a threshold for letting stuff go: when it’s within normal expectations for the type of restaurant. That’s super fuzzy, but better fuzzy lines than fuzzy dishes. (Seriously, kids — “clean” is a baseline.)

Anyway, while we’re here: Please dedicate some parental focus on the many times self-advocacy will be appropriate, even necessary, for your kids. When their travel plans go awry, when they get overcharged, when they don’t like the tone of an evening out. Spines protect quality of life. Or if they’re ever in a workplace dysfunctional enough to call for a whistleblower. Or when they’re in medical appointments, if they become parents themselves someday, or when, oh my goodness, their friends or partners try to push them around. Spines are safety equipment.

This may be a 400-word overreaction, sure; your kids may just be in a phase where they find you appalling and embarrassing. (Enjoy!) But this is an i that begs for a dot: There are options besides entitlement and compliant doormattery. You modeled one. Please stay calmly on message with that.

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