"And what will you have today?" the waiter asked. It was an infrequent visit to a nice restaurant, an ambitious, somewhat pricey new place that hasn't been open long. I had been encouraged to get whatever I wanted, so what the hell. "Steak frites," I said, pronouncing the last word "freet."
"Oh," the waiter said, "the fritz."
My companions hid behind their menus, stifling their guffaws. Turns out one had been to the place a few days before, and another server had boasted about the "scallop parizzni." The patron was mystified until she saw the word written on the menu: "Parisienne." The server later came back to identify the herb used in the (tangy, tasty) butter spread: thyme--or rather, "thigh-mm."
My reaction was mostly dismay. The server was young, eager to please, and clearly trying his best. Hey, I was a teenage busboy once for all of three days in a Murfreesboro seafood restaurant--chew on that prospect a while--and I probably garbled every dish on the menu.
At the same time, if the restaurant wants to make a lasting impression on sophisticated patrons, mispronouncing common items is not the way to do it. It's like standing up for your date all Rico Suave with the tablecloth zipped in your fly.
So what would you do:
A) Repeat the term correctly in a sentence ("Mmmm, I do love freet") and hope he catches the hint.
B) Say, "Oh, is that how you pronounce it? I always thought it was freet."
C) Discreetly correct him, and pray he doesn't show his gratitude by marinating your freet in the urinal basin.
D) Keep it to yourself.
I decided to consult the oracle: the "Dining Out Etiquette" section of John Bridges' invaluable How to Be a Gentleman website, the last bastion of mannerly conduct in a rapidly less civil world. For all the advice it offers on patron-server detente ("A gentleman expects courteous behavior from his server [and] behaves courteously in return"), this touchy topic is not addressed. "[A gentleman] knows it is not his job to provide on-the-job training for a surly server," Bridges advises. But what about a friendly, well-meaning server? That's what I hoped to find.
Ultimately, I went with D. But somehow, as happens often, I am left with the sense that no matter which course of action I chose, I would still feel like a preek.