Is ‘guys’ an offensive form of address?

I live in Seattle, and the reputation that we are cooler, more casual, and less ‘obnoxious’ (unless we are talking football) than other areas of the country is sometimes well deserved.  However, as this little blurb that appeared today in the Seattle Times, the polar opposite is also true.

In the Rant and Rave column, this gentleman well, rants, over the behavior of his server in (apparently) more than one unnamed restaurant:

“To the wait staff in supposedly sophisticated restaurants who habitually address my wife and I as “guys” as we sit down to dine. I assume they’re not blind and this insulting address is part of Seattle’s legendary and puerile informality. How gauche! Next time this happens we’ll call out the fool and leave.”

First off, I want to thank this gentleman for today’s self improvement; I had to look up the word ‘puerile‘ to determine that this person considers informality ‘childish, silly and trivial.”  How Downton Abbey of him! But to the point, is using the word ‘guys’ really insulting?

Officially no.  According to Merriam-Webster, the word ‘guy’ used as described above is perfectly correct.  The actual definition: “used in plural to refer to the members of a group regardless of sex” fits this scenario. That being said, as a server, I have to admit I would probably not use the word, unless I was addressing a particular demographic, say 20-something males at a sports bar, casual dinner, or otherwise obviously just having a good time.  If it was the same 20-something men at a business or formal function, I would say gentlemen, and if it was a mixed group…this is where the northern climes of the United States have a distinct disadvantage compared to our southern cousins, as in: What is the northern equivalent of y’all? Or folks?  To say either of these words north of the Mason-Dixon line is to invite a query about your ancestry, and if you don’t have answer that includes southern heritage, some odd looks.

For the particular situation above, that so incensed this “ranter”, I would probably just use the collective you, as in, “What brings you in tonight?”  Said to the table, with eye contact to both individuals, shouldn’t cause any outrage.

All that being said, is “guys” really insulting?  Emphatically no.  It may be a bit lazy, socially speaking, and there may be situations where an alternative is definitively the better way to go, but guys (see what I did there), in today’s social and etiquette environment, guys is a more than acceptable stand-in for addressing a mixed group.

What are your thoughts on this?  Please start a conversation in the comments!