I accept the way things are in the US, I assume most Americans expect service to be as it is in most places, and I typically tip 15%, or more if service is exceptional. However, I must say that I feel stressed upon entering a restaurant. I know I will feel rushed 9 times out of 10. I know a server will be lurking behind a pillar, ready to take away my plate as soon as I put my fork down. I know that, as soon as someone at my table is done, his plate will be removed, leaving me to feel as though I need to catch up. Not to mention the constant interruptions by the server in the midst of my conversations with those at my table. As a result, we eat out less and less. I only go under business circumstances, or when a relative is in town and wants to "do us a favor". A meal's significance is different in the US compared to that in most of Europe, although I suppose one might say it is changing? It doesn't seem to be valued as a place to socialize, or at least not for more than 45 minutes, if that. I have this letter written by a Frenchman in 1835. He was visiting Philadelphia for the first time, and commented on the food (not appetizing, mostly boiled meat and starches, served with buckwheat pancakes), and on the fact that people ate fast and in silence.
As someone who serves at a chain restaurant and an armchair pop culture philosopher, the event of dining out has evolved from an event in and of itself to a very commonplace one. When I was growing up, people drove through McDonald's for dinner, and now those people have graduated to sit-down restaurants. I waited on a family of four tonight who stayed long after the bill was paid helping their gradeschool daughters with their math homework. In a lot of ways, for better and worse, many people who we serve use our tables as their dining room. It is very common for me to serve people who use mealtimes this way. Regarding the servers themselves, because of the overall homogeneity of the cuisine at same or similar price points offered by many of these restaurants--Chili's, Applebee's, Friday's, Bennigan's, Houlihan's, and the like--these chains feel that the biggest way they can compete and differentiate themselves from the next guy is with the service they offer. The training programs many of these restaurants use to equip servers with the skills they need are designed to be (overly) attentive to guests. They are designed to suggest the most expensive thing on the menu, to always suggest specific things. And most of the time, the people serving often times have very little experience and don't know any better, in which case they can't be faulted for doing what they're told. Most people would rather not look at dirty dishes with remnants of food on them, so we take them away, and most people appreciate this. Of course, a server worth his/her salt will always ask first, and there are some people who would rather sit at a table full of dirty crockery. Personally when I go out to eat, I prefer to not eat at chains because I go for the food. However, chain or not, just like my own workplace, service depends ultimately on who is presiding over the section you're sitting in.