An old joke is the one about the diner who went into a restaurant and asked: “Do you serve crabs here?” The quick-witted waiter replied: “We serve anyone. Sit down.” The joke plays on the dual meaning of the word “crab” as both a crustacean and an ill-tempered person.
The joke is cited in print from 1932, credited to London Tit-Bits. A 1933 newspaper story told of how the joke made even the King of England laugh. Despite any English origins, the joke quickly caught on in 1930s America, where restaurants frequently refused to serve customers because of dress, race, etc.
Main Entry: crab
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English crabbe, from Old English crabba; akin to Old High German krebiz crab and perhaps to Old English ceorfan to carve — more at carve
Date: before 12th century
plural crabs also crab : any of numerous chiefly marine broadly built decapod crustaceans: a: any of an infraorder (Brachyura) with a short broad usually flattened carapace, a small abdomen that curls forward beneath the body, short antennae, and the anterior pair of limbs modified as grasping pincers b: any of various crustaceans of an infraorder (Anomura) resembling true crabs in the more or less reduced condition of the abdomen
Main Entry: crab
: an ill-tempered person : grouch
5 May 1932, Buffalo Center (Iowa) Tribune, pg. 6, col. 6:
Diner—Do you serve crabs here?
Waiter—We serve anyone; sit down.—London Tit-Bits.
The catering industry employee: official journal of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America
By Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Hotel & Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union, Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union
Published by The Alliance, 1932
Diner — “Do you serve crabs here?”
Waiter — “Certainly, we serve anyone; sit down.” — College Humor.
23 June 1933, Piqua (OH) Daily Call, “Here are jokes that made the King of England laugh” by Milton Bronner (European Manager, NEA Service), pg. 13, col. 3:
A gloomy-looking individual went into a restaurant and said to the waiter:
“Do you serve crabs here?”
To which the waiter, with deep melancholy, replied:
“We serve anybody!”
December 1937, The Steward, pg. 18, col. 1:
One evening a diner unfamiliar with Schultz’s viands (Schultz’s Sandwich Shop, Grill and Stop-in Restaurant—ed.) asked of her “do you serve crabs here?” “Oh yes,” answered Judith “we serve everyone.”
Public Service Magazine
Published by C. W. Battley, 1943
Item notes: v. 74-75
Diner: “Do you serve crabs here?”
Waiter: “We serve anyone; sit down!”
8 December 1946, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “What makes you laugh?” by Maurice Zolotow, pg. E4:
Like the one about the man who walked into a restaurant and asked, “Do you serve crabs?” The waiter stared at him. “Sit down. We’re not particular.”
11 March 1967, New York (NY) Times, “Dining on Denizens of the Deep Is Way of Life in Mobile” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 32:
One of the oddest and most popular restaurants in Mobile is another sea food establishment, Wintzell’s Oyster House at 605 Dauphin Street.
The entrance looks deceptively small, for there are many dining rooms. Walls are papered with several thousand small signs offering wit that runs along the lines of “Duncan Hines never ate here,” “Emily Post fainted here” and “Do you serve crabs? Yes, we serve everybody.” Old South camp, someone has called it.
Tales of Times Square
By Josh Alan Friedman
New York, NY: Delacorte Press
(Bing Crosby: “Do you serve crabs here?” Lindy’s waiter: “We serve anyone. Sit down.")