How to be a better restaurant customer - stop sabotaging your own dining experiences.
A simple compound sentence that forms the title of a provocative eBook by Marta Daniels, who began this project as a blog. Daniels, who has been in the business for over 10 years, has seen it all and has a great storytelling sense. Using examples that waiters everywhere have experienced time and time again, Daniels’ goal is to educate the dining public about the ways that they make waiters’ jobs far more difficult than they need to be.
Everyone complains about bad service, but they don’t realize how much of the experience they hold in their own hands. Waiters aren’t robots that automatically turn a diner’s presence in the restaurant into a super experience. They are bound not only by the circumstance of the restaurant but also by the behavior of the guest. I think that the average diner would be amazed about how often waiters must deal with diners who come in with chips on their shoulder. Sometimes it’s because they’ve had a bad day, sometimes it’s because they have always sabotaged their own dining experience because of the way that they were taught by their parents or by unreasonable expectations that they’ve held for one reason or the other. We as a modern American country have become a “have to have it now”, “want to change the product to suit my needs”, “the customer is always right” and”I am entitled to have things ‘my way’ ” society.
Daniels challenges that paradigm by showing ways to actually turn dining from a zero sum game into a win/win proposition. It doesn’t have to be a “I only win if you lose” or “I have to rank you lower than me to raise myself up” sort of deal. she does this through concrete examples of self-destructive psychoses that we sometimes see with the dining public. She starts at the host stand and works her way through the ceremonial paying of the check and the leaving of the restaurant.
She covers the importance of reading the menu, the abusing of free stuff like bread, the sense of entitlement that some guests have, the modifying of the menu, the coming into for dinner moments before the restaurant closes, the wage structure and tipout responsibilities of the waiter, cell phones, unattended kids, would-be comedians, delusional types (like the people who have to ask you multiple times if the kitchen can do something that you have clearly said that they can’t do) separate checks, pen stealing, and numerous other behaviors that tend to drive waiters of all stripes crazy.
I’m hoping that some people recognize some of these behaviors and gain a new understanding about how these behaviors can impact the dining experience.
I do have a couple of quibbles.
The first is that a reader can get the idea that waiters don’t have any control of their circumstances and the second is that they aren’t psychic.
To the first, great waiters can triumph even through double-seats, kitchen going down in flames, bad management (up to a point, that is), being so weeded that they can’t see straight, kitchen meltdowns, etc. I realize that this isn’t the purview of this book, but I would have liked to see some acknowledgment that waiters have some responsibility in service, even when faced with obstacles. After all, it’s true to a certain extent that these problems aren’t the guest’s concern, that they are there just to eat and have a great experience. I’m not sure how you would fold this into the theme of the book, but I wish that Marta had tried. After all, if you read my own blog, you know that waiters have strategies that they can employ to turn a potentially distasteful dining experience into an uplifting one.
To the second point, we might not be psychic, but great waiters are mind readers to a certain extent. We read body and facial language and we have to read between the lines sometimes. I understand Marta’s point in that, if something is important to you as a diner, then you need to be specific about it and not leave it to waiters to figure it out for themselves. If you have a certain quirk or a hot button issue about dining out that really ticks you off if it occurs, it’s best to address it with your waiter, not assume that they should know about it. I guess that I would like an acknowledgment that great waiters are psychic to a certain degree and this is one way that a guest can judge the competency of a waiter, i.e. if they ask the perfect questions in order to determine the exact nature of comments that you make. For example, if Mary M. Q. Contrary asks, “How hot is Rattlesnake Pasta?”, she might be asking for one of two reasons – she either doesn’t like hot food (the usual reason), or she loves hot food. It’s up to the waiter to ask, “What is your heat tolerance”? If the waiter assumes that’s she’s scared of hot food but it turns out that she actually loves hot food and the waiter says, “It’s quite spicy” because most people find it pretty spicy, she might very well be disappointed in the Rattlesnake Pasta that the chef has been careful to season to give the semblance of heat while being able to be enjoyed by the greatest number of people possible.
Another slightly anal quibble is the discussion of t-bone vs. porterhouse. Porterhouse is a t-bone. As she rightly goes on to discuss, it’s just a larger version of the t-bone, with the size of the filet portion of the cut and the thickness of the cut being the determining factors. Yes, it’s a “different cut” with a different name, but she misses an opportunity by making it sound like they are completely different cuts (well, technically they are, but not really, if you get my drift). Where she misses her opportunity is by not telling the guest, “We offer the Porterhouse, which is a large t-bone” and then going on to explain the difference. Instead of scolding the guest for not wanting the Porterhouse because they want the t-bone (after all, not everyone has experienced a Porterhouse or knows what one is), she should let them know that the Porterhouse is a t-bone, a “super t-bone”, if you will. If they are annoyed that they can’t get a Porterhouse for the price of a t-bone, that’s their problem (I suspect that this might be the cause of any problems that she might have with this) They can’t get a 15 oz filet for the price of a 10 oz filet either. I don’t think that there’s enough responsibility placed on the waiter in this book, but it is written to educate the diner, so perhaps my quibble isn’t really fair when it comes to this point.
I hope that restaurant diners read this book with an open mind. The tone is one of tough love, of chiding and scolding done to emphasize the points that she’s making. that can be off-putting to some people, especially people who don’t recognize their own dining behavior. But much of this is stuff that needs to be said. There are already plenty of complaints, some richly deserved, about the level of service in the US. This book, through outlining situations that every one of us waiters have been through over and over, shows the other side of the coin.
I think that the idea is a novel one. Most of the time, when you read about restaurant service, it’s either from the aspect of improving service from the service end (like my blog), a waiter’s rant sort of blog, or critical comments from diners about the horrible experiences that they’ve had or complaining about the tipping system that has developed in the US. Daniels has found a unique angle to dining and this should be required reading for anyone who dines out in restaurants. Just understand that there is plenty of waiter ranting, but it’s done to help you, the diner, have a better experience and become a more understanding consumer.
Here’s another, possibly better, review of her book:
You can get the book here:
As of this writing, it’s available for $2.99. It’s a steal at twice the price.
PS Marta, it’s tomatoes, not tomatos. But I’m not one to talk, considering how many typos and misspellings escape my careful editing of my own blog.