All I wanted was a Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me.
November 28, 2012 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Why do waitresses always assume I want diet soda?

When I'm out at a restaurant and order a soda, I am often (4 out of 5 times) asked, "Did you mean diet?" and to clarify if I wanted a diet or regular. This happens at all sorts of places, from casual places to upscale.

I understand that a lot of women drink diet, but more often than not, even if I order a normal soda, they bring me diet anyhow. Recently not only did the waitress bring me a diet, when I sent it back, she later came back and asked if I needed a refill on my diet soda. I kept correcting her, but she mentioned it yet a few more times.

I had another waitress in a different place that said, "Oh, you mean diet, right?" and then stared me down, as if asking for a regular soda was illegal, and she asked again, "Diet?"

This has happened to me for the past ten years, with frequency. No matter if I am overweight or thin.

The second half of this problem is that I've suffered from eating disorders, depression, and very low self esteem. The waitress who kept bringing and insisting on refilling my drink with diet really ruined my meal because by the end I was afraid to even eat my food because I felt like she was judging me the entire time. Part of me feeling better about myself has been being able to actual order what I'd like at a restaurant, and if I want a damn coke, shouldn't I be able to do that without a hassle? I don't drink alcohol or tea. I really just enjoy the occasional soda when I'm eating out.

Yes, I am in therapy, so please don't recommend that.

My questions are: Is this normal for waitresses to insist/ question/continuously force me to drink diet soda? Is there some implication behind it?

What are some better ways to handle myself when they seem to get aggressive about giving me diet? I struggle with at which point is it reasonable for me to get irritated and speak to them or the manager.

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (80 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of food are you ordering? Maybe if you're ordering food that seems "diet" they'd assume you wanted diet?
posted by Jahaza at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, I rarely dine with other adults who choose regular over diet soda. It's probably not personal, but rather force of habit.

If they harass you about it, just tell them that you have a medical issue that precludes consumption of artificial sweeteners. Hell, pat your stomach and say that "it's digestive". They won't argue with you.
posted by theraflu at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, it's so extraordinarily normal for waitstaff to do that to women that I've seen it repeatedly as a joke online. I suspect they get in more trouble for bringing regular soda to someone that actually wanted diet than the other way around, so their default is to assume diet. It's completely not personal, though the repetition is just a sign of a bad waiter/waitress. If it happens repeatedly, irritation is in order just if only for repeatedly ignoring you and getting your order wrong.
posted by brainmouse at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2012 [17 favorites]

Don't take it personally. My friend, an avid regular coke drinker, is as thin as a stick and she gets that all the time. So does her curvy sister.
posted by Neekee at 8:54 AM on November 28, 2012

If it makes you feel any better, I'm a small woman who loves buttered popcorn. I always have to insist that yes, I really want BUTTER on my popcorn. Often I have to say it repeatedly. I always check because half the time I still get it unbuttered.

It isn't you. It is our gender.
posted by bearwife at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I get this too, and it bugs the hell out of me. I'm hate fake sweeteners. My husband prefers diet soda. I'd guess about 90% of the time, the waitress or waiter will return and hand me the diet and my husband the regular. Usually this is discovered when I take a sip and then everything tastes like metal.

Nthing the responses that it's not personal. Annoying, though, isn't it?
posted by SeedStitch at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I always order diet myself and rarely eat with people who don't order diet (including men) so I'm going with habit as well.

I think speaking with the manager is an overreaction.
posted by sweetkid at 8:57 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think in most cases they genuinely want to clarify whether you want a diet soda or not. This could hopefully be prevented by ordering a "regular Coke" etc
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I could see the first time the waitress asks, it's the safe way to check if someone wants diet or regular.

But it's the repeated insistence on it that boggles my mind.

Honestly, I'd be inclined to do one of two things:
1) Be totally up front that bringing you a diet soda is a no-go zone and will result in you walking out. I bet the waitress would FAR rather bring you a regular drink than lose the tip.
2) Order something else like tea (herbal if you don't like caffeine).
posted by LN at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

My questions are: Is this normal for waitresses to insist/ question/continuously force me to drink diet soda? Is there some implication behind it?

It's "normal", but it's not about you. Yes, there is a tendancy for some wait staff to assume a woman means a diet soda, but it's not a personal comment on the woman - meaning, it's not like they'd assume regular soda if you were skinny enough. They just think "women only drink diet soda, Anon is a woman, so therefore she must want diet soda".

As to how to handle it, just politely but firmly insist upon regular soda. For instance:

"I'll have a coke."

"Oh, you mean diet coke, right?"

"No, regular coke please."

"...You mean diet?"

"...No, regular. Please."

And then in the case of them bringing you the wrong thing:

"Excuse me - I ordered a regular coke, please. Thank you."

And if they keep coming back asking for a refill on your diet:

"No, I ordered a regular coke. But I would like a refill on that regular Coke, yes, thank you."

Another option, if it seems like someone's really not getting it, is just to tell a white lie and say that you're allergic to artificial sweetener, so it has to be regular, please.

You don't need to involve the manager unless they make some kind of direct personal comment about you. But you absolutely have the right to insist upon regular soda, and if someone is really getting to be a stickler about it for some reason -- well, then, that's something you can take into account when you're figuring out how big a tip you want to leave.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on November 28, 2012

Yeah, it's not really personal. It's cultural misogyny (although maybe this happens to men too?) and a product of the widespread perceptions that women want to be thin and soda makes you fat.The examples you give sound really extreme and obnoxious to me, I rarely have a problem with this and when it happens they correct their mistake easily (and I'm like, death fat).

Talking to the manager is probably extreme, but it might help if you actually have a conversation with your server to make them slow down and listen to you. "I know you're busy, but you keep bringing me/asking me if I want the wrong kind of soda. I don't want diet, really. I can't stand the stuff. Please bring me a regular." Make sure to smile and be pleasant when you say it.
posted by Kimberly at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

This totally has nothing to do with you at all. I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant with an adult who ordered regular soda. I would bet the vast majority of their customers, both men and women, order diet.
posted by something something at 9:02 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

When I worked at a place that served both diet and regular, we went through the diet soda (Coke of course) incredibly fast. I think it just goes without saying (or not) that Diet Coke is the best selling soda. To have someone actually order regular soda may just be jarring to the standard order.

Please don't be offended. Old habit for the servers to assume EVERYONE wants it, I am sure.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Adding to "don't take it personally." My husband is a pescatarian, and I'm an omnivore. Guess how often he gets the steak put in front of him and I get the fish...
posted by JoanArkham at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2012

I agree 99% with Empress Callipygos...but please don't claim an allergy when you do not indeed have one. Nonallergic people invoking "allergies" to make their lives easier dilutes the effectiveness of the term. You are wholly entitled to your regular soda, but it won't endanger you to drink a sip and send it back.
posted by apparently at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2012 [9 favorites]

I know it may be difficult, but try not to take this personally. It seems to be a habit for most waiters/waitresses because people may order diet coke more than regular coke.

Perhaps, depending on who you go out to dinner with and your level of comfort you can try two things:
1--ask for "regular" coke as someone else mentioned or
2--ask for coke and if they ask again, just say "yeah, I prefer regular coke over diet coke"

Also, I realize there's a difference in taste between regular soda products and diet soda products, but I wouldn't bother escalating it to a managerial level. It's not worth the hassle or the negativity just over a beverage.

But, if they bring you a diet soda instead of regular soda than say "it seems like someone got my order wrong because I actually asked for a regular soda instead of a diet soda. can you please change this for me?"
posted by livinglearning at 9:07 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't drink soda, but I've seen it happen to my female friends plenty of times and only to my female friends. It's one of the cultural expectations of female-ness and, unfortunately for everybody, food is still incredibly gendered. Same reason why servers switch our orders at least 75% of the time and bring my husband my rib eye, medium-rare, and bring me his filet, medium.
posted by lydhre at 9:08 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When we eat together my boyfriend always insists I order first. I always order Diet Coke. He always orders regular Coke, but he says, "Regular Coke." He's a dude, but a very thin one, and ~maybe~ 10% of the time they ask, "Diet?" I have female friends who I lunch with sometimes and they don't drink diet drinks. I have never noticed them being asked if they want diet. I think slipping in the "regular" might cut down on the amount of time this happens to you. Give it a try!
posted by jabes at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Asking "did you mean diet?" the first time is pretty normal, unfortunately. If they are rude about this, it is perfectly fine to speak to a manager; if they keep bringing you the wrong drink, it's perfectly fine to lower the tip. I wouldn't go to the manager unless they are rude, and I wouldn't lower the tip for the first "did you mean diet?", or even more if it's a really busy restaurant, but if it's bad service, it's bad service.
posted by jeather at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you asked if it was normal - I'm a woman and I have never once had this happen to me, ever, and I almost always order Coke when I dine. And I say "Coke," not "regular Coke" and I'm not corrected.

I'm 100 lbs, though. I'm sorry, I do not think it's a universal gender thing. My mother also drinks (regular) Coke and I've never seen this happen to her. She's about 130 lbs and 5'6".
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

If this happened to me consistently I would make a little fuss right off if someone asked if I wanted diet instead. "Oh, no way, diet soda tastes so gross to me! I always get this weird aftertaste from the sweeteners". I'd do it in a chatty kind of way and hopefully they'd remember.
posted by brilliantine at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have this problem with soda, but in other areas at the outset I say something like "I'm sure you won't do this but sometimes servers keep bringing me diet pepsi instead of regular. I like regular." Do this with a smile.
posted by unSane at 9:15 AM on November 28, 2012

Most mornings I hit the drive-thru for a Coke to start the day. It's my morning equivalent of coffee. I try to remember to say "regular Coke" and still occasionally get a diet. I've learned to take a sip before pulling away from the drive-thru. This is without them seeing me to make a judgement on my appearance or to even know my gender other than by my voice.

I think at least some of the time we "real" Coke drinkers get diet is due to a waitperson multitasking, thinking ahead to their next task, and muscle memory just causing them to fill the glass with diet (which seems to be the far most preferred drink these days). I wouldn't take this personally or even really get upset with this unless it goes beyond the first correction.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 9:18 AM on November 28, 2012

I order a Diet Coke and half the time it comes back as Dr Pepper.

They have a brain freeze in the back and assume that as a male they remember a "D" drink and it must be Dr Pepper..

I also buy the explanation that a "Coke" in the south means "Soda" and they are just trying to clarify. That happens to me as well.

I wouldn't assume they are trying offend you or submarine your true desires.
posted by LeanGreen at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you live in the southern United States, by chance? "Coke" is used as a generic in many parts of the South. ("Can you get me a Coke while you're out?" "Sure, what kind?" "Sprite.")

Also, some of it might be the waitress forgetting - many waitpeople in restaurants don't write down soda orders for smaller parties - and playing it safe and choosing the default rather than going back and asking. Especially with refills, because it's hard to remember who had regular and who had diet. I occasionally did this when I was slammed.

And - this is just a guess - I bet a regular-drinker is more likely to correct a waitress who asks "want another refill on that diet?" than a diet-drinker is to correct "want another refill on that Coke?" because of the Coke-as-generic thing.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, on the gender thing this question repeatedly refers to waitstaff as 'waitresses' so gender assumptions can go more than one way.

I think letting them know in a friendly way that other servers have made this mistake before can be good.

I'm really allergic to raw carrots but they are always shredded onto green salads, and I can't tell you how many times I've been brought salads with carrots on them, after I've said I'm allergic and insisted I cannot have raw carrots, can't just pick them off, etc. Most times the carrots aren't even on the menu listing for the salad, because they're just chucked on there as a garnish. I've even had a lot of servers just laugh at me because apparently it's impossible to be allergic to carrots or raw carrots but whatever, I just want my salad.

I've never gone to the manager though.
posted by sweetkid at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Back when I drank soda, I would always get the "diet?" question. I found the best way to say no and make it stick was to say "Oh god, ugh, NO!" when asked if I meant diet. Like the very idea was repulsive. That was apparently jarring enough to make an impression.
posted by KathrynT at 9:22 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

The second half of this problem is that I've suffered from eating disorders, depression, and very low self esteem. The waitress who kept bringing and insisting on refilling my drink with diet really ruined my meal because by the end I was afraid to even eat my food because I felt like she was judging me the entire time.

This might not help you, but maybe it will:

I have not dealt with these issues at the same level as you have, but I have dealt with them. And I've been anywhere from 140-240 pounds as a post-college adult. And every time someone assumed I ordered a diet soda when I didn't, I wondered if it meant something about how I looked. I've come to decide that it probably didn't -- that nobody thinks about you as much as you think about yourself -- but even if it did, I can tell you that people did it to me when I was too skinny and overweight, so if anything, it's not a judgment on your size but that you seem "like a diet coke type" -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's annoying but it's probably not a judgment. I'd recommend going the "regular" route as well -- making it clear and giving them something to remember so you don't have to deal with their (probably accidental) rudeness.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:23 AM on November 28, 2012

Based on limited personal experience & post-shift hanging out with server friends, I feel like this may be a risk-reduction decision on the part of the waitstaff.

I've witnessed and/or heard about more than a few mini-tantrums over somebody being served regular soda when they ordered diet. I've NEVER seen or heard about anybody freaking out over the reverse.

Anecdotal, yadda yadda.
posted by Aquaman at 9:26 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal, yes, but I meant to also add the same thing Aquaman did. (Because I've had a bartender friend -- who tried to give me Diet as well -- tell me the same thing.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:31 AM on November 28, 2012

It's not you. Apparently diet pop is more popular in most restaurants today (ever notice at the self-serve taps there are usually more diets taps than regular?) and waitstaff are often so busy they get in "automatic" mode and often don't really hear everything you say, save for the major choice items (type of salad dressing, type of potato, etc). My brother loathes the flavor of diet beverages and 80% of the time has to send his pop back because they've brought him a diet in error.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:33 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

please don't claim an allergy when you do not indeed have one. Nonallergic people invoking "allergies" to make their lives easier dilutes the effectiveness of the term.

Apologies and a clarification for why I said that - Apparently is right, it is annoying for some of us who aren't literally allergic to claim "allergy" for convenience's sake. I should have been more clear that I meant this as more of a "tactical nuke" option for someone who just wasn't listening, dammit.

But yeah, Apparently is right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on November 28, 2012

As someone who's waited tables I can say that restaurants are loud, people mumble and some people expect you to have a crystal ball. Plenty of times people will ask for a Coke and expect you to know that they really wanted a diet. People also think about making a substitution then forget to do that when they order. If you don't want to make several trips to correct misorders you need to clarify. (Tip the waitstaff - they work HARD!)

Also, I was pretty good at remembering what everyone ordered. I could remember a regular customer's drink and have the bar mix it up for me so I could greet them with the correct cocktail or soda. Not everyone is good at that and some waiters can't remember drinks for the duration of a meal. When you're trying to keep track of 30 customers at time, sometimes you forget.

All that to say - it's really not about you or your weight or whether you should be using ersatz sweeteners. It's about a waitress who's hauling an awful lot of drinks and doesn't want to have to make two trips to the bar to get your soda pop correct.
posted by 26.2 at 9:35 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My questions are: Is this normal for waitresses to insist/ question/continuously force me to drink diet soda? Is there some implication behind it?

When I was a waiter in college back in the '90s, I never asked this question, nor did I assume anyone wanted anything other than what they asked for drink wise, no matter the gender. If they asked for Pepsi and we served Coke, then yeah, check to make sure Coke is ok, but otherwise, hell no.

If someone later changed their minds and wanted a diet soda after ordering regular, whatever, just smile and bring it to them and take the old soda off the table.

The behavior of these waitresses is very odd.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:36 AM on November 28, 2012

Wow. I don't think I've ever had this happen to me and I'm a woman who's not what you would call skinny. Sometimes I'll have someone say to me "diet or regular" and I'll tell them what I want - then they bring me what I want.

I will say though that I'm not a big soda drinker - I tend to order iced tea, which in most decent restaurants is brewed at the restaurant and unsweetened by default.

If they keep insisting that you want diet after the first correction, or they bring you diet and then give you a hard time about replacing it with regular, the standard corrective for bad service, which is what that is, is a poor or nonexistent tip.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:36 AM on November 28, 2012

My partner is a big guy and gets brought diet soda a lot. He'll be drinking at a bar and someone will say, "Here's your Jack and diet." (Jack Daniels and diet coke? Yuck! But it happens so often he has taken to ordering other drinks.) Sometimes I think they are just absent minded or bit lazy and for some reason think it's safer to bring a diet by mistake than a regular. Also, they may be someone who drinks diet and just can't understand why someone would drink anything else.
posted by BibiRose at 9:37 AM on November 28, 2012

When I was a bartender I noticed two things:

1 Women order diet soda SO frequently that it was easy to just start pressing the diet button when they ordered a soda drink. I'm thinking like 19 out of 20.

2 People, all people, are much more upset by being given regular when ordering diet than the reverse.*

*This always upset me as I AM deathly allergic to artificial sweeteners. They give me seizures.
posted by French Fry at 9:37 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with others who said this is not personal. I'm a woman and I'm quite thin, but this happens to me all the time. It's really annoying. And it's not like I'm ordering "light" food either. I think some waiters/waitresses are just afraid of serving regular soda to women who want diet soda, so they go overboard.
posted by barnoley at 9:40 AM on November 28, 2012

I wonder what would happen if you asked for a "Coca Cola."
posted by lampoil at 9:45 AM on November 28, 2012

//I tend to order iced tea, which in most decent restaurants is brewed at the restaurant and unsweetened by default. //

Heresy! Tea is sweet by default. This is not up for debate.

My wife is diabetic, so she really does have to have diet when she orders a soda, and her order is never, ever screwed up. I never know what I'm going to get when I order a soda. I really do think there is a serve diet when in doubt mentality among waitstaff these days.
posted by COD at 9:45 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you ordering coke? My friend says "Coca Cola" instead of "coke" for this very reason. There is nothing about her, or her order, or ANYTHING that would make ANYONE ever think that she particularly wants or needs a diet soda. We have no idea what the issue is with the word "coke", but hearing "Coca Cola" somehow decreases the ambiguity with the waitstaff.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:52 AM on November 28, 2012

Really not convinced this is a gender thing. It happens to me too.
posted by thelonius at 9:57 AM on November 28, 2012

Part of it might be because most people order diet, generally? I'm not sure about this, since I don't drink soda, but I have to constantly remind waiters that I am drinking decaf coffee, not regular, whenever they bring me a refill. They always, always try to give me regular coffee - I think it's just because that's what they're used to.
posted by k8lin at 9:58 AM on November 28, 2012

I too can't remember the last time I heard anyone order a regular pop. Diet Coke/Pepsi is all I ever hear. And man, you give someone who ordered a diet coke a normal coke? They know immediately and get quite grumpy sometimes.

I'll bet they're just double checking.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:02 AM on November 28, 2012

I like to specify 'fat coke'. Sometimes this helps it stick.
posted by corvine at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Say, "I would like a regular coke, not diet" when ordering.
posted by jander03 at 10:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, I am a woman and this has never happened to me. I get diet soda now, but I used to get sugared soda, and there was never an incident like you describe. On the other hand, just about everyone I know prefers diet soda to sugared soda. I can't think of the last time I was at dinner with someone who got a regular soda on purpose. Wait, my mother got a regular soda last year, actually -- because the restaurant was out of diet soda.

I would guess that waiters and waitresses in general are on autopilot about diet soda, not that they are trying to offend. And what would they gain from offending a customer? They could lose their tip. They could get in a lot of trouble with their boss. There's no reason for them to do it, unless they're nuts -- and there is no accounting for insanity.

I second MCMikeNamara that your eating disorder is not helping you out here. I have a few close friends in recovery from eating disorders, and they interpret just about everything as an implication that they are fat -- especially now that they are of normal weight. It's the nature of the disease, and you are certainly well-aware of how powerful and insidious eating disorders are.

Hang in there with your therapy. You're doing great, if you've gotten this far. I won't tell you "just don't take it personally", because I know it's not that easy. Maybe develop a plan for what you always say in these situations, so you can have your own autopilot reply protecting you from the angst -- I like jander03's idea. Simple, easy to remember, hard to misinterpret.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:15 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Like KathrynT, I respond to the "diet?" question with "bleh, NO, I can't stand diet!" delivered in a good-natured way.

If someone brings me diet instead of regular, I get that fixed immediately using a more businesslike tone, though -- same as I would if they'd gotten any other part of the order wrong. I really do despise diet soda.

Also, servers invariably try to give my husband the richer, larger, meat-heavy or spicy dish that I ordered. Yes, I AM sure, yes, the osso bucco is mine and the grilled fish is his, yes.
posted by desuetude at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2012

I am a woman on the curvy side of normal and this has never happened to me. I order Coke all the time, and I get the regular kind with sugar in it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:21 AM on November 28, 2012

Yeah, the waitress could care less what you eat or drink, so long as you are nice and tip well.

Husbunny drinks Diet soda all the time, and at our usual haunt they meet us at the table with our drinks. Yet, whenever it's refill time someone will say, "want a refill on the coke?" We're in Atlanta, it's always "coke".

So you have to keep correcting them, it's just that they're rushed, if you look on it as a point of incompetance, rather than a personal judgement.

Really, no one cares.

Now if can stop being apologetic about ordering Coke Zero with my Big Mac.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:21 AM on November 28, 2012

Agree with everyone, and I suspect it's mostly sexism. Along the same lines, I have to regularly remind friends and family that I am not a vegetarian. I get that vegetarianism and dieting are common among women, particularly certain demographics of women, but sometimes a lady just needs a burger and a coke.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would be curious to know how you are ordering.

I would think "Regular Pepsi" would help clarify. If you are asking for "Coke with lemon" I can definitely see the confusion, since restaurants so often put a lemon wedge in diet soda, and it's probably a visual cue to servers when offering refills that the customer is drinking a diet soda.
posted by inertia at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2012

This has never once happened to me and I am a woman who is not small, but not overly large either. I do speak quite loudly though, so maybe I'm very clear? And for those saying not to take it personally, sure, it isn't personal, but it is rude and sexist to assume a woman would only want a diet. I'd have no problem correcting the wait staff the first time, but any repeated problems or insistence that I want diet would get them a talking to, but sexism makes me generally angry so YMMV.
posted by katers890 at 10:32 AM on November 28, 2012

Hey, I'm a woman who looks like a man. If the waitstaff thinks I'm a man, they don't give me diet and they do put my dining companion's steak in front of me (I'm a vegetarian; and this even happens when we're literally the only people in the joint.) I also usually get the bill handed to me, too.

When the waitstaff thinks I'm a woman, about a third of the time, I get diet and my vegetarian entree. The diet thing has seriously dropped off since I moved to a more liberal city. It used to be up to half the time, though of course I wasn't keeping track. So having experience of being perceived both ways, I would say the answer is probably sexism and not the waitstaff judging you.

I'm also seriously surprised that folks here seem to know more people who drink diet than regular. I and two of my sisters are the only people in my peer group who will sometimes drink diet, and folks look at us funny.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:38 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

theraflu: "If they harass you about it, just tell them that you have a medical issue that precludes consumption of artificial sweeteners. Hell, pat your stomach and say that "it's digestive". They won't argue with you."

Don't do this. Lying about these things is deceptive and reinforces the widely (and incorrectly) held view that people who claim allergies are doing it for their own purposes or being melodramatic.

I think it might be easiest to just pretend and assume that they don't mean anything by it. If they say "Diet?" just say, very cheerfully, "No, regular soda please!" and if the waitress comes by asking to refill your diet, just say in a remind-y voice, "Oh, I'm drinking regular actually!"

So sort of what you're doing already I guess, which is annoying, but with the one difference that you just assume that there's no way they're actually making some kind of judgement about whether you should or shouldn't be drinking regular soda.

If they are genuinely fighting you on it, maybe the best way to respond is to say something along the lines of: "Look, this is very strange, but it seems like I keep saying that I want regular soda and you keep suggesting that I want diet. I've ordered regular soda and I'd like to receive regular soda. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to make a judgement about what I should or shouldn't be ordering. I'm sure that's not what's happening because it's your job to bring the customer what they want and you work in an industry where most of your pay depends on how well you perform that job. So I'm guessing this is just a misunderstanding of some kind because I'm sure you want me to be happy with your service as a waiter."
posted by Deathalicious at 10:39 AM on November 28, 2012

I can also imagine a woman who assumes she is getting diet without clarifying, who later chews the server out for not intuiting that she meant diet. So they may, either as a matter of policy or from personal experience, ask every woman who orders a soda if they'd prefer it were diet.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:41 AM on November 28, 2012

It's gender-based or habit, from my experience.

In the case of the insistent or consistently mistaken server, that is absolutely something the manager would need to know about as a training issue. Little things are what get people to come back, even if the server isn't interested enough in a tip to keep something like that in mind.

I've been a server, hostess, and floor trainer, so that's where my response is coming from.
posted by batmonkey at 11:03 AM on November 28, 2012

My husband prefers diet soda. I'd guess about 90% of the time, the waitress or waiter will return and hand me the diet and my husband the regular.

This happens to me too. It's not a reflection on you at all, it's sexism.

Recently, Coca-Cola had a stupid marketing campaign in my country (Mexico) with the message: "My boyfriend is macho because he orders Diet Coke". Coca-Cola thinks they had to go to that far to convince men their dick won't fall off if they drink Diet Coke (after several protests, those ads were retired).
posted by clearlydemon at 11:09 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate diet soda, and it is a constant hassle with well-intentioned servers bringing diet. It's always accidental, as far as I can tell, but it does mean that my first sip is always very cautious.
posted by Forktine at 11:16 AM on November 28, 2012

I find this happens to me more often in busy, packed restaurants, so even though it's annoying I usually assume it's a waiter's default rather than because I'm a girl.

But I also pretty much always order my soda without ice, and it comes back with ice in the glass at least half the time. Sometimes you can even tell by the way the waiter takes down your order (or doesn't) that you're not going to get what you want. Some waiters just plain don't pay attention to the details.
posted by Mchelly at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2012

If it makes you feel better, I don't think it has anything to do with your weight. Diet soda is the most common order among adults, fat or thin. It's really hard to keep orders straight and so waiters will guess the thing that's most likely (I certainly did when I was in food service). Also, diabetics order diet soda and you really don't want to fuck that up because they can go into insulin shock if you give them the wrong thing. After I had a diabetic ream me out for not be absolutely 100% sure that I was giving her diet, I was always super cautious to err on the side of diet going forward.
posted by bananafish at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2012

i usually order diet, and i'd say at least half of the time, they bring me a regular coke. i guess you should just start eating in the bay area. ha.

this is, most of the time, waitstaff error. however, having worked in fast food for a goodly part of my college career, there is also this possibility - when you are changing multiple syrup packs at once, unless the packs and the hookups are clearly marked (and even sometimes when they are), well - all dark syrups look exactly the same. and considering i was usually doing about 40 other things when the soda went out, it was easy to get things mixed up.

however - if this happens multiple times in the same order, the waitstaff either gets that there's something going on with the machine (and therefore offers me something else), or they keep bringing me a regular coke, and get their tip reduced slightly as a result of continually not bringing me what i ordered.
posted by koroshiya at 12:13 PM on November 28, 2012

Oh, also, when you order, do you say something along the lines of, "I'd like a ________"? Because "like a" (or any long I sound, really) can make it sound like you're saying "diet".
posted by unknowncommand at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2012

This hasn't ever happened to me, other than getting diet in a refill rather than regular. However, if I'm going out to eat with a guy who's drinking diet soda, the server frequently switches the drinks when bringing them to the table, giving me diet and him regular. I just take a sip, gag and complain about how diet soda tastes like poison, and swap drinks. I'd just say to specify "regular coke" and accept that any mistakes after that are just that: mistakes.
posted by yasaman at 1:39 PM on November 28, 2012

The same thing happens to me, and I do ask for "regular Coke." It's not about the food we're ordering, Jahaza, because the drink order is taken before we order our meal. My situation is complicated by my husband frequently being given my soda, and he can't tell the difference so I invariably end up with a mouthful of what tastes to me like poison. I asked a waitress once, hoping for insight, and got that deer-caught-in headlights look common of those averse to psychological interpretations.
posted by Mertonian at 2:19 PM on November 28, 2012

I'm so surprised to find out that most adults drink diet soda!

FWIW, I have never had this happen to me, not ever. I know this is true, because, like you, I would totally take it as a judgmental dig about my size. I'm in Canada, though, so who knows (maybe only Americans mostly drink diet pop?). Just piping up because even though I can't validate the mix-up, I do want to say that I totally empathize with how it makes you feel.

I do think it's weird they would ask, though, because I can't imagine someone who regularly orders diet pop would forget to specify that's what they wanted, any more than I would forget and accidentally order diet instead of regular.
posted by looli at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Happens to me from time to time. I just correct them to regular.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:27 PM on November 28, 2012

Most likely it is a force of habit from diet soda being so popular. I have a similar issue with hamburgers/cheeseburgers. I don't want cheese on my burger, so I order a hamburger. Half the time they ask me "do you want cheese on that?" The other half of the time they don't ask, they just put cheese on it. I have to specifically say "I'd like a hamburger, no cheese" to get what I want. This generally happens at the fast food drive thru so it doesn't have anything to do with what I look like, just that the order taker seems to assume that I want cheese because that's what most people want.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:37 PM on November 28, 2012

I rarely order soda in restaurants, but when I do they never ask if I want it to be diet. I have never noticed this happening to any of my female friends either and they run the gamut in size.
posted by Julnyes at 3:06 PM on November 28, 2012

Start saying "Regular Pepsi" and see what happens.

Many adults find regular soda too sweet (I'm trying to gain weight, but I still drink diet soda) so specifying "Regular" may help break the server's preconception.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2012

This is really weird to me-- I am a thin woman who lives in the upper Midwest. I don't think I've ever been asked if I "actually" meant diet or given a diet soda ever, though if it has happened, definitely not frequently enough that I remember. Maybe it's more popular in the South where coke means soda/pop or large cities where people are more health-/weight-conscious.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2012

I doubt it's you. I've been thin my whole life and yet no matter how clear I am about wanting regular soda, 2/3 of the time I end up with diet soda. I don't know if it's the waitstaff or the machine is hooked up wrong or what. So I just don't order it anymore. Which is better for me anyway. Win.
posted by HotToddy at 4:21 PM on November 28, 2012

I have gotten diet sodas in the past when I've ordered regular but just assumed it was a screw up by a absent minded server. The suggestion of saying diet tastes metallic, bad, ick is probably the best or steal Garfield's line of Diet is die with a t on the end so it sticks in their memory. Really, if a server kept bringing me diet after I repeatedly asked them not too, I wouldn't be worried if they thought I should cut back on the calories. I'd be thinking they were clueless and should try a new profession or were really having a really bad night.
I wish you weren't anonymous since I really want to know if you're making a reference to "Institution", also known as the Pepsi song. I got in trouble in a bar once for getting the DJ to play that so thanks for bringing back that memory whether intentional or not.
posted by stray thoughts at 5:53 PM on November 28, 2012

This happens to me (female) so often that I always order "regular" Coke. It helps, somewhat.
posted by Mallenroh at 5:55 PM on November 28, 2012

I like KatherineT's answer, too. Correct them, and try to say something memorable.

If it took a second time with the same server, I'd just ask, "are you trying to say I'm too fat for normal soda?" And let that be a little uncomfortable. I'm nth-ing that its not. It's habit and sexism. But that is memorable. Accept the hasty apology gracefully.
posted by ctmf at 6:36 PM on November 28, 2012

I have to say, this has never happened to me, but I drink almost exclusively Sprite and Root Beer. Perhaps it's specifically a Coke/sexism thing?
posted by ruhroh at 9:52 PM on November 28, 2012

Great thread. This happens to me so frequently that I have just resorted to always ordering "regular" Coke or Pepsi, stressing regular. I used to wonder if the server was implying anything (I'm of average build), but it has happened so frequently that I believe diet soda is the default assumption of all servers. Nothing personal.

Kudos for quoting "Institutionalized" lyrics in your header, BTW.
posted by flyingrock at 6:43 AM on November 29, 2012

When I was a waitress, I heard people order a "full-fat Coke" a lot so that might be a term you might want to use if you think it just might be a memory thing. It's a little more sticky than just "Coke" and it also indicates that you haven't made a mistake and accidentally ordered regular instead of diet.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:28 PM on November 29, 2012

I don't think I know anyone who drinks regular soda. I don't understand it - I think diet soda is gross and tastes like chemicals. But nearly everyone drinks diet. Skinny people do, overweight people do, in between, men, women, whatever. The few people I've seen drink regular are men. So it could be an unconscious tendency to assume women will order diet soda. But really, I think it happens enough at restaurants that there can be confusion that the servers will just always ask if it is diet or not. I am very sure people are unclear when they order and then complain and now servers double check. Some servers are also airheads. You could start saying "regular Pepsi" or whatever to make it clear. But as someone who overanalyzes and lives in my own head, I'm going to have to guess that you're doing the same here. People with eating disorders or body image issues (I know a lot about this) tend to expect judgement on things that other people really aren't thinking about or noticing. I wouldn't worry. And if it really ruins your meals, maybe don't drink soda when you go out to eat and get lemonade, wine, water, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:16 PM on November 29, 2012

Male chiming in: I had same issue. Mentioned it to my wife and she pointed out I was typically saying "Can I get a Coke, please?" which can sound an awful lot like "Diet Coke, please" in a somewhat crowded, noisy restaurant.

She also pointed out that I might just be mumbling...
posted by jmevius at 12:05 PM on December 4, 2012

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