Terms of Endearment: Respecting employees

Q: My mother and I are having a debate about how my husband addresses waitresses, female clerks, etc. He’s always calling them ‘darling’ but not in a derogatory tone, i.e. ‘Thank you, darling’ ‘May I have … darling’. My point to my mom is that although this would not be accepted everywhere, in some parts of the country it would. My mom believes it is flat out rude no matter where you are. What’s your take?

A: Your mother is correct that respect is due to all people, and a waitress is most correctly addressed as ‘waitress’ or even ‘miss’. There are some people, however, who are able to use terms of affection without having it seem disrespectful, and there are places in the country where this is more the norm than not, you are correct. It sounds as though your husband is one of those people, since you don’t mention anyone objecting. This still doesn’t make it correct, however. Most correct is to use respectful terms for anyone, whether corporate president or waitress. The real measure of your husband’s intent is indeed whether he would call his boss darling, or the President of the United States. This would make him an “equal opportunity darling user”. If he would not, then he shouldn’t use the term for waitresses, either. It may sound affectionate, but it is not respectful.


  1. Winifred Rosenburg

    I agree in general with EPI. I used to get annoyed in my cashier days when people called me “darling” or “honey.” I wouldn’t assume that if no one’s complained it means everyone’s okay with these names; I never complained. In addition to the test EPI mentioned about whether or not he would be using those terms if she were his boss, I would add if he doesn’t have terms of endearment for male waiters he shouldn’t use them for waitresses. One of the basic principles of business etiquette (and one is ultimately in a business relationship with his waitress) is to treat men and women equally. If he isn’t calling men terms of endearment, which I seriously doubt he is (the only one for men I can think of is “sport”), it comes of as demeaning to use these names for only women. In fact, even Miss isn’t really correct unless your waitress is under 18. Ma’am is better.

  2. Gertrude

    Agreed. I find it condescending when people call me “Honey”, or “Darling”. I am a professional. Either call me by my name or call me ma’am.

  3. Joanna

    I live in a city with a very large Hispanic population, and many have the habit of addressing everyone as “mami” or “papi.” I work a professional job, and I can’t tell you HOW many individuals will end the call with a cheerful, “Thank you, mami!” (It’s all I can do not to say, “I don’t remember giving birth to you!”)

    Still, my general MO is to consider the speaker’s intent. It’s quite clear that no harm is meant, that the usage of these terms is meant endearingly, and that people just plain forget to limit it in certain settings. With that in mind, I let it go. You’ve got to pick your battles.

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