Things Not to Do in a Restaurant Unless You Want Your Server to Hate You

29 Jun

This list is not meant to be an angry rant written on behalf of a lost and disgruntled mid-twenties (ish) generation, stuck in service jobs. It is merely a guide to proper restaurant etiquette directed at the general public, some of whom could, frankly,  use a few pointers.  As someone who has served in restaurants for years now,  I felt I’d share some major peeves coming from a server’s perspective, which, although usually not malicious in any way, many people seem oblivious to. It is in my personal opinion that everyone should work on the “other side” of service at least once in their lives in order to become more well rounded and considerate individuals. Perhaps consider some of these  tips the next time you dine out, especially if you actually do enjoy your server, to save them the embarrassment and inner turmoil of  being forced to fake smile to your face while secretly thinking you are a moron.

1. Sitting at Dirty Tables.  I was going to do a countdown, but decided to go chronologically. Let’s start with the beginning of the process.

I would have rather not started with such a big one, but this one is quite major.  Upon arrival, under whatever circumstances, nothing is worse than plopping yourself down at a dirty table that has not yet been cleared off, especially if there are many clean ones available.  What is the big deal you ask? This is stressful because a) the server feels like they then must drop everything and immediately now clean the table. b) this then forces them to then get water and menus etc right away, when they probably already had a prioritized list of tasks  swimming in their heads.    c) it is sometimes uncomfortable to clean a table with people already sitting at it, i.e. I don’t want to spray vinegar in your face/ swipe crumbs into your lap while you  watch. d) sometimes servers don’t notice and think that you are still the previous patrons that were there. All of a sudden two old ladies becomes two old men, and it’s weird.

2. Yelling out Your Order as the Server Walks Past. Ok, so now the table is clean, and the server has left you with menus and water. Please, then, refrain from shouting out your drinks and/or food order before they have properly arrived at your table and asked if you were ready. Just because you are ready to order does not mean that they are ready to take your order at that moment. They could already have two other orders in their head to punch in. They might not even be your server in your section. Please be patient and wait your turn, at the high risk of your order getting screwed up.

3. Ordering Food Right Away When the Rest of Your Party is Clearly not Ready (and I don’t mean appetizers). This one often baffles me. I understand that you’re hungry, or already know what you want to order  since yesterday, but this really puts everyone else involved in an awkward position. The rest of your party then feels rushed, and your server must then hover around, not sure if they should wait, come back, or punch in one person’s food ahead of everyone else.  Also, this sometimes causes a lengthy delay in the multitude of tasks that are piling up while they stand there, waiting,  feeling like an idiot, thinking you are an idiot.

4. Cutting Your Server Off While They are Reciting the Specials. Reciting the specials is part of the job. Some people are genuinely interested in them. The same is assumed for everyone. Personally, I don’t care whether you despise lamb or can’t eat gluten, it is rude to interrupt.  Also, please refrain from making a comment like “yuck!”, or hold an undisguised look of disgust on your face, because, its like, really not classy.

5.  Re-arranging the Menu to Fit your Strange Diet. Some modifications are inevitable, dressing on the side, no tomato etc, and really not a big problem, but when you must change many things about a dish at least understand that it might not taste that good, and the kitchen will definitely bitch at me, and about you, behind your back.

6.  Changing Your Order After You’ve Already Ordered It. This forces your server to bolt to the kitchen, and mess with the line. The kitchen hates that. It throws off their timing. Again, they will probably curse your name and mine.

7.  Change Tables Without Asking. This one is fairly obvious. We know you by table number, and/or any odd or distinctive thing about you. Consider yourself lucky if you are just “Table Five” and not “Raging Bitch in Red Glasses”. Your food/ bill might then get lost. Also, please do not rearrange the tables for similar reasons.

8.  Making Your Server do Many Unnecessary Trips. Guest #1: “may I have more ketchup?” Server: “sure thing” (comes back with ketchup) Guest #2: “can I have mustard?”. Work it out people!

9.  Forcing Your Server to Decide Who Gets to Pay. I find this happens usually with two women friends. Both will slap down their credit cards and insist that you take just one. “No! It was your birthday last month! This is my treat!” “Yeah, but you paid last time!”. This can go on forever.  Your server does not keep track of your major life events or track record of treating. Usually I just go with whoever is most aggressive about it. If you really want to treat someone, this could be tactfully laid out at the beginning of the meal with a slight “I’ll take the bill” and a wink, or a sneaky bathroom break.

10.   Leaving Your Wet, Nasty Baby Wipes Behind on the Table. I know your baby is cute, and that to you, your baby’s bodily fluids are sacred and beautiful,  but to me, it is just a really gross thing I have to touch with my bare hands after you leave.  Please clean up after yourselves.

11. Even if You are British and Charming, Please Remember that Here in Canada Servers Get Paid Below Minimum Wage Hourly (Goes for Aussies too, etc) . Last but not least. This one is difficult. I can’t tell you how friendly and lovely so many British people are. For some reason they really inspire me to go above and beyond. Maybe some part of me really wants them to like Canadians and have a good experience. I’ve fallen in this trap many, many times. They are jovial. They make my life easier. They ring up huge bills. They seem to really appreciate the good service. But when they pay, my heart sinks. It has happened again.  A $1 tip and a very sincere “thank you”.

Seriously? Tips are a server’s livelihood, not “thank you”s (although those are nice).  If you are in a foreign country, do the smallest amount of research to find out what the custom is for tipping. As a general rule, here 15% is standard, and 20% is if you really enjoyed the service/meal. 10%  is the minimum generally, or  if you think the service  really sucked, for lack of a better word. There are still many across-the-board 10%-ers out there. It is a free choice how much you’d like to tip, but please just be comfortable with the fact that you will either leave the message that the service was abysmal, or else you’ll quickly  gain a reputation for being very cheap if you happen to frequent a place.

So there we are. (I wanted to keep it at an even 10, but I just couldn’t leave out the baby-wipes qualm) Hopefully this didn’t come across as too entitled or ungrateful (“first world problems!” #overit) . No job is perfect,  after all, but hopefully this was  a helpful guide to being a decent human in a public setting.

Do you have any peeves about restaurant service as a guest?  Servers, do you have anything more to add to the list? Would love to hear them!

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4 Responses to “Things Not to Do in a Restaurant Unless You Want Your Server to Hate You”

  1. Mama July 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    I have been guilty of #6! I Hate it when servers breeze by and say “How is your meal?” but turn away before I can respond!

    • food,mostly July 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

      There could easily be a whole separate list about bad servers!

  2. Meaghan July 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    I love this list!! To go along with reading the specials. I hate when after you tell people the specials they say “sorry, can you say that again. i wasn’t paying attention!” Seriously??

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