I’ve been working in the food service industry for most of my employed life. I’ve worked in the back of the house at big corporate restaurants, front of the house at tiny holes in the wall and I’ve been a barista at go knows how many coffee shops. Though I often feel like moving on, there is something I like about the work. You get to move around all day, you get to eat a lot for very little and, if you are smart, you develop a charm so effective you can make any octogenarian swoon with only a passing glance. As of late though, I’ve found behavior in restaurants has gotten worse.
I remember when I was in grade-school I had a habit of putting my feet up on the desk between subjects. Whenever the teacher caught me, she would ask “Do your parents let you put your feet up on the dinner table.” Being a smart-ass little kid, I recognized the flaw in this argument. The dining room table? No feet there, that’s where I eat. I would however, gladly put my feet up on my desk at home, it’s in MY room. I understood what she was saying though, and, for the most part, the moral has stuck with me, as I suppose was intended: If you think your parents would frown upon it, don’t do it, especially in public.
So here is a handy-dandy list to help you through your dining experience. I won’t specifically mention where I’m at right now, mostly because I love my employer and 97% of my customers, and I don’t mean to blame them. There are many people in the food-service business though, quite a few of them my friends, and we all have these gripes. These gripes are then placed into a slow-cooker and allowed to simmer for a long time, becoming juicier and juicier with each added bullion cube of customer misbehavior. I’m dumping mine out as it has been cooking for too long. Many of these pointers will reinforce things you already know, but some people could use a refresher course:
Tip 15% at least…seriously, 15% – Duh, you say, doesn’t everyone. For the most part, yes. You are always going to have people who tip low, but the majority of people do just fine. A warning though: your waiter is good at math. Well, maybe not ALL math, but he can certainly, and very speedily figure out how much he should be tipped as a minimum. This means if your bill is $21.25 you should be tipping what? I’ll give you a moment. Imagine you are at a restaurant and this is your bill. The service was worthy of exactly a 15% tip. It was passable, nothing special, the waiter did his/her job in a perfectly adequate manner. Have you done your math? If you said “The tip should be at least $3.18,” great job! If you said, “The tip should be at least $3.18, but I know most waiters are paid only by their tips and I was at this table a while, so I will leave a little more,” really great job! If you said “The tip should be at least $3.18 but I’m going to give $3.00 because that make the math easier and the final amount looks prettier,” baaaaaaaaaaaaaad job.
I’m lucky enough to have a job where I am paid an honest wage plus my tips, but many food-service workers are paid nothing. Not just a little, no, I literally mean nothing. When they receive their paycheck all it says is an approximation of this phrase: Everything you were paid has been taken to pay the taxes you owe. I know that in the example above eighteen cents doesn’t seem like much, and really it isn’t. Honestly, most people pay their proverbial eighteen cents, but believe you me, if you don’t, you will be remembered
Ok, you say, now I know to tip an honest 15% at restaurants, but what about a cup of coffee or a drink at the bar? Dollar a drink, period. Nope, don’t argue. There is nothing more dejecting, nothing that makes a barista or bartender more surly than giving someone a nickel back and then watching them put that nickel in the tip jar without ninety-five cents following it. If you don’t like it, make coffee or drinks at homes, it is an easily learned skill.
Order only things that are on the menu – Do you have an allergy that will make your throat close up if you just see the product? Well, by golly, we will do our damndest to accommodate you. Instead of one our wonderfully delicious and lovingly prepared homemade salad dressing would you like separate ramekins of oil, vinegar and mustard? C’mooooooon dude! Kitchen are set up to do one thing and to do that one thing as fast as it possible can. What is that one thing? Make the food that is on the menu.
Example: About three or four years ago I worked at the Rock Bottom on Fountain Square. It officially has the title of the “Worst Job that I’m Glad I Had.” This was an extremely high volume kitchen and this was before Fountain Square looked all pretty and was populated. Whoever the poor soul is that is on fry station these days, my heart goes out to you. Anyway, as the fry cook my job was all things fried, which included making the delicious monstrosity that was our Nacho platter. Much to my surprise when I started working there, Rock Bottom fries up all the tortilla chips fresh every day. We used a combination white and blue corn tortillas to do this, giving the platter a colorful aesthetic from top to bottom. One day I was going about my usual, grab-fry-set timer routine when I saw an odd order pop up on the screen.
NO BLUE CHIPS”
“What?!? Hold on, who put this order in? Why?,” I exclaimed, rather baffled. Doesn’t this waiter understand that all these chips are in one bin and mixed up after I finish frying a batch? Does this waiter realize that in order to complete this order I am going to put all eight other dishes I am putting together to fish out one order of white chips? I argued, I pleaded, but in the end the customer gets what they want. This one order, put me in the weeds for the rest of the night.
Order only things off the menu, we’ve prepared the kitchen to put that food out efficiently. When thinking about a substitution in your head and the thought of “Would this be annoying,” crosses you mind, it most likely means that it is. Every special instruction slows things down. Don’t bother asking “Would it be a bother if you [insert excruciatingly specific instruction],” because it is a problem and we are all generally trained to say “Nope, not a problem at all!” Let’s recap: Deadly allergy? We don’t want you to die, and having an allergy against your will should not exclude you from dining in our restaurant. Picky and you like to create minutiae for us to screw up so you can complain? Make your food at home, please.
These kinds of special orders also baffle the front of the house as well. The price you see on the menu is the price for what is on the menu. We generally know the price to do easy things like add turkey or avocado to preexisting things. However, if you make up your own dish using items that you know we have, we have no idea how to price it. We have to go to the management and ask, another thing that slows it all down. Proper restaurants are designed to operate as a machine. Allow it to do so.
In a restaurant, a cell phone is an invisibility cloak – This one is short, sweet and simple. I think the heading made it fairly clear as well. If you are using a cell phone in the restaurant, you will not be served until you have properly stowed said device. Even if you are a regular and I love you to bits, I will still not bother you. This is not necessarily done out of spite, at least not on my end. I just hate feeling that simply doing my job is an intrusion or annoyance to you.
Control your kids – I love kids. A cute, slightly precocious, good-natured child can make your day. There is a fine line though, that separates that child from a child that you want to set outside while the grown-ups finish their meal. Parents, you know this line, pay attention to it. If the pleasant reassuring words your waiter is saying are coming through gradually more grated teeth, it is time to reign in your child. If your kid is playing with and subsequently pulling apart the decorative fabric lamps, it is time to tell them to stay put. If your kid just spontaneously stood up on his chair to sing the restaurant a rousing rendition of “The A-B-C’s” and then drew me a picture of a hammerhead shark, he/she can eat here anytime he/she wants.
If the restaurant closes at 9, order before 8:30 – I know, I know, technically there is whole half hour left. This is a point that is baffling to those who have never worked in restaurants. During this mystery time period the restaurant, it is not really open to the public. Rather, it is open to those who are already there. It is a time for the staff to begin closing and casually finish up their existing tables. It is a tiny bit of breathing room before the “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!!!” rush of closing. Quarter ’til is not a good time to come in, grab some menus and ask for a full meal and table service. By no fault of their own, the service your waiter provides will be automatic, cold and completely devoid of the personality you would have found just a half-an-hour earlier. If you are totally starved and must eat NOW, I will give you the magic phrase that will get you a pleasant dining experience starting at 8:35: “Can we still get dinner or is it too late.” This simple phrase shows your are considerate enough to ask before you just barge in and basically render any closing work that has been done moot. There is one stipulation to this however, you must rush. This gives you a free pass for pleasant service and a quick dinner. If you are still there at 9:30 and your waiter, trained at a certain level of restaurant to never give people the bum’s rush, is just sitting there waiting for you to leave so he can go home, you’ve ruined your free pass. We have friends/families/fun/Netflixes to get to too. A nice tip will usually smooth things over though.
Your waiter is your waiter – That person who, out of all the staff, has talked to the most? That’s your waiter. The other servers are not your waiter. The host or hostess is not your waiter. The bus-boy is not your waiter. The cook trying to covertly make his way to the bathroom is not your waiter. The sommelier is not your waiter. As the heading suggest, your waiter is your waiter. We have plenty of things to juggle, doing something for a table that is not ours can completely throw you off. It can take a day that feels like your best game of Tetris and turn it into the hell-beast that is missile Command. Now, if your waiter disappears for 40 minutes, feel free to grab someone out of confusion. If you just want a water seven ice-cubes, please wait for the proper employee
At the end of the day, just be nice – Your waiter is human. He or she deserves a “please” and a “thank you.” If they forgot to do something small, and it really is that big of a deal, remind them with a smile. While keeping your table’s order straight might not be a big deal, you must remember we can have many other tables that also need just as much attention and care. You get what you give with servers. If you are kind, caring and understanding, you will get the same treatment in return. If you are cold, angry and a complainer, your service will be the bare minimum. I do not mean your server will spit in your food, (I have honestly never seen that happen, though I’m sure it has somewhere) rather he/she will not go out of their way to make your experience the best it can be. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but one bitter angry waiter can but an entire restaurant staff in a bad mood. Word travels fast behind the scenes, so don’t create the bad apple.
So, to finish, I must reiterate. I do love being in the food-service industry, love the establishment I work at, and love an overwhelming majority of my customers. If you do know who I am, or do figure out where I work, you will get nothing but the best service. I am a professional, though I’ve probably ruined my chances of getting the really nice gigs with this post, and will be nothing but. There are however, varying degrees of “good” service at a restaurant. What I would like to convey with this post is that if you would like to remove the quotation marks around “good,” you would do well to follow some of the advice above.