Believe it or not, the waiter isn’t the only person who can make an impact on your service. Of course there’s the kitchen, the backwaiter/busperson, the manager, the host, the bartender, and even your fellow diners.
What many people don’t realize is that they have the ability to create a great dining experience or torpedo the entire affair.
While some would say, “Why should I accept any responsibility for the service – that’s your job”, and this is true to a certain extent, things that a guest say or don’t say, the tone that they set and the expectations game that they play can often determine how the dining experience goes.
So, here are some hints that can really help your server make your lunch/dinner better than average (in no particular order):
1. Be happy that you’re dining out, or at least pretend that you are. Any server can tell you that the guest sets the tone for the time that they are there. If you see your dinner as a burden, the server has an uphill battle to turn your night around. The tone is set in the first few minutes of the meal. If you are obviously relaxed and friendly, it helps the server be so as well. You certainly expect others to be nice to you when you’re out in public and the server appreciates it when you are that way to them as well. It relaxes them and allows them to focus on making your dining the best it can be instead of expending energy on trying to turn your mood around. Be nice, for god’s sake, even if it kills you.
2. Let the server do their job – don’t try to do it for them. They are the dining professionals, not you. They know the rhythm of the kitchen and the dining room – you don’t. They rely on maintain a rhythm and flow in order to stay efficient. Asking what the soup of the day is before you’ve even opened the menu screws with the server’s universe, albeit it in a minor way. They are going to tell you when they do their spiel. Why have them repeat it again for your fellow guests that haven’t even hit the table yet? Please don’t micromanage. There is probably a very good reason why a server does things the way that they do. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
3. If you have a deadline such as theater tickets or a babysitter at home, please tell your server. Servers aren’t mindreaders. A good server will work with you to get your meal out in a timely fashion. Keep in mind that servers have certain guidelines that they must follow unless instructed otherwise by the guest. For instance, the usual service standard is to treat each course as a separate entity. Normally, you don’t bring the next course until everyone is finished with the previous course. If you have a straggler during one course, the next course must wait until they’re finished. If you tell your server that you have a time constraint, the good server will ask you if it’s alright to override this service point. Plus, normally, most people want 5 to 10 minutes between courses, so that’s a reasonable standard that most steps of service acknowledge. If you’re in a hurry, the server can ignore that and bring the courses right on top of each other. They can also see if you’re interested in dessert while you’re still eating your main course (this is normally a no-no). If you aren’t, then they can prepare your check and leave it on the table (normally the server doesn’t do this until everything is totally finished). Conversely, if you there for a relaxed dinner, let them know as well. They can be less “on point” with everything and spread things out a little. They can be more relaxed with the time standards that they normally have to meet.
4. If you are having a business meeting, please let the server know how you want your service to proceed. If you are making a critical presentation and don’t want to be disturbed during it, let your server know. They will be able to tailor the flow of courses to accomodate you. And if it’s just a business/social dinner and you want it to go like a normal dinner, let them know that as well. Servers tend to be a little more cautious when it comes to obvious business dinners. They are reticent to interrupt and might actually give you more time between courses than you’re comfortable with in order to give you the space to “do business”. Just let them know if you have any specific needs. This is a situation that countermands my second suggestion – a little micromanaging can work wonders and can help the server provide you with a successful business dinner.
5. Realize that not all expectations can be met. Yeah yeah, I know “I’m the customer and I’m always right” (even if it isn’t true). but restaurants have limitations in what they can and cannot do. No, you probably can’t get a well done 14 oz filet in 5 minutes. No, you might not be able to walk into a restaurant without a reservation and get sat immediately. No, you can’t have a Caesar salad/hold the eggs (it’s in the dressing) although you might be able get a Caesar salad with blue cheese dressing – the thing is, it’s not a Caesar salad anymore, so you can’t reasonably complain that the Caesar salad wasn’t any good. If you tell the server that you aren’t in any hurry and then complain that your entree is taking too long, you probably don’t have any right to complain (unless it’s been an extremely long time, of course). And if you tell your server that you’re in a hurry, don’t complain that they were trying to hustle you out the door – they were but by your request. If you order a well-done filet and it’s dry – well, that’s the risk you run when you order a nice piece of meat well-done.
6. The flip side of this is that if something doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t be afraid to mention it. If the steak was ordered medium rare and came out medium well and the server asks you how everything tastes, let them know. Don’t sit and stew about it or eat most of it and then complain that the steak was cooked wrong. Don’t be passive-aggressive, but don’t be aggressive about it either. Don’t take it personally that your steak was cooked wrong and let the server get it fixed for you at the earliest possible convenience. Believe it or not, servers want to make things right for you. But they don’t like someone pointing out a deficiency when it’s obviously too late to take care of it in a satisfactory manner. You’d be surprised how many people will leave two bites of something on a plate and then complain that it wasn’t any good.
7. Don’t try to bring in a coupon that expired two weeks ago and expect it to automatically be honored. Many times it will be honored but don’t try to bully the server into taking it. You take your chances when you do this and if the server can’t do it, pouting for the rest of the meal or stiffing the server on the tip just isn’t what we call cricket. Simply shrug and go on. After all, such a coupon clearly states an end date. Most of the time the restaurant will try to help you out, but sometimes it’s out of their control. Perhaps they no longer have the product available. Perhaps it’s corporate policy to be strict on expiration dates and they don’t give their managers any leeway on this.
8. If you have a reservation and you can’t be seated at the precise time, be grown up about it. Don’t stew. Perhaps some fellow diners have taken longer than usual to finish up. Hopefully, the manager will find a way to take care of you in some fashion. But don’t be abusive toward them in an attempt to bully them. Be understanding. Getting your blood pressure up before you even sit down is a sure way to create a tense dining experience.
9.Relax. This is general advice that applies to everything I’ve already written. If you’re relaxed, chances are the server will be relaxed as well. Remember, you’re probably dining out in order to wash away the job or life cooties that have infested your day. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes my job when I greet a table that’s relaxed and accomodating.
10. If you must have separate checks (and I recognize that there are times when you must), tell your server upfront and be specific about who is with who. And if you need separate checks, be prepared to spend some extra time waiting on the checks. The server usually has to wait until the end of the meal to separate the checks because the kitchen needs all orders for a single table on a single dupe (the paper order that they read from). This takes time (some point-of-sales systems are easier than others to do separate checks for).
11. If you are in a larger group, don’t switch seats after the order is taken. Sure, feel free to move around to visit, but keep in mind that the server will have your food run in the order in which it was taken, so be prepared to move back to your original position for your food. This is especially important when you have separate checks and you haven’t told me upfront. Of course, you have followed the preceeding tip so you would never do this, right? See, the problem is, that I might not necessarily know that the person sitting in seat four didn’t move from seat ten and I might put the wrong food on your ticket. If you didn’t tell me before hand, I’m flying somewhat in the dark at a time when I need absolute focus on getting your separate checks correct (and remember, I’ve still got other tables that are needing my attention as well).
12. If you are ready to pay, make sure that your credit card or cash is sticking out of the check presenter. If it isn’t, I’m not going to pick it up and you will have to wait longer to get your check taken care of. Some people will stand it upright on the table and that’s fine. If you don’t need change, tell your server because it will save time. However, if you don’t tell your server, expect that the server will bring the change back to you. A server should never assume that they are to keep the change unless they are specifically told.
I’m sure that servers can come up with lots more bits of advice, so hopefully, we’ll get some comments on this subject. Perhaps I’ll will come up with more in a future post.