Here is my next column on things that get under my skin. I thought of this one yesterday when my husband and I were out for lunch and the woman behind me was being incredibly rude to the restaurant staff. I am serious about everything I am saying in this column and hope it has enough humor in it to make you smile.
Over the years I have worked as a server more than once. Sometimes the job can be fun and exciting while at other times it can seem completely thankless. Serving in a restaurant can be exciting and fast paced yet it can also be stressful and emotionally taxing. I am writing this column on behalf of everyone who waits tables to earn an income. It is a list of simple things that you (the diner) should be aware of. It is called common courtesy. There are certain things you should never do while in a restaurant and please take this to heart: I am not pointing fingers. Some of you may do some of these things and not even realize that you are doing it and that is okay. Learn and move forward. If you follow my little list of tips you will make your server happy and make your overall dining experience a much more satisfying one.
A Guide to Good Manners When Dining Out
1. Choosing where to dine
When choosing an eatery in which to dine there is one question you should ask yourself. Do I have time for a sit down meal or should I grab something quick at fast food restaurant? There are so many things to factor in here:
a. what day of the week is it?
I know that may sound funny but restaurants tend to be busier on certain nights of the week. Think of the business on Friday and Saturday night vs. Monday night. On Wednesday do they get large groups after bible studies? Do they have kids night on Tuesday? Is it a sport themed establishment that will have the big game on 5 televisions? All theses things can determine how long service will take.
b. what time of the day am I going to satisfy my hunger?
Restaurants all have peak periods of business. Will you be dining during the peak hours when service will be a bit slower or during the off hours when there may only be 4 other tables in use? Again this can have bearing on the time it will take for your meal to be served.
c. am I on a time schedule?
This is probably the single most important question. Do you have tickets to a major sporting event, movie, concert or show? Do you have to be at church? Are you on the way to a meeting for work? Do you have to pick someone up at the airport? Are your kids in a play at school? If the answer to any of these (or any other question) is yes then you need to decide whether it is more beneficial for you to go to a sit down restaurant or to grab a quick burger. There is nothing more nerve wracking to a server than to have their party seated, get them their drinks, take their appetizer and entree order and then be informed “Can you make it quick? We’re going to our children’s play at school and it starts in 35 minutes.” Really? The restaurant is slam full of people. There is not a single table available. There is a 20 minute wait at the door. There are 22 orders ahead of yours. Sure no problem, the kitchen and other diners will understand that you are in a hurry and your need to see you son or daughter play a tree outweighs everyone else’s dining needs. In a case like this have a snack at home and go out for food after the event. Otherwise you are going to get angry and your server is the one who will suffer for it. Trust me when I say servers are not paid enough to deal with this from people who don’t manage their time. It seems like this particular breed of diner does this all the time and it would appear they think the rest of the world should step aside as their needs and time constraints are far more important than those of anyone else. It wouldn’t be bad if it were just this one time, only it is never just one time. It is a constant in their world. If you want sit down service make ample time so you can enjoy a meal without anyone having to rush.
2. When you are to be seated
It is okay to tell the host/hostess whether you would like a table or a booth and it is okay to ask if you can have a seat by the window. They may or may not be able to make it happen but they will try to provide a seat that will please you. Keep in mind that you are seated in a restaurant in a rotation making sure servers get an equal amount of tables. It is only fair and no one is trying to purposely put you in what you might consider a bad seat because it is near the rest rooms or salad bar.
If you are in a hurry (and you just read section 1) let the host/hostess know immediately upon your arrival so the staff can try to accommodate you….I said try.
When you are seated the host/hostess will provide your menus and may or may not tell you the specials. They may or may not tell you who your server is. If the restaurant is very busy keep in mind that it may take your server a few minutes to get to you. Do not get pissed. They are doing the best they can.
3. When your server gets to the table to take your order
By now you have been glancing through your menu and are already deciding what you would like to have. You server approaches and introduces him or herself. Stop looking at the menu and give the server your full attention. This is called good manners
When the server has given you their name he or she will most likely share the daily specials with you and ask may they get you drinks and/or appetizers while you decide. Do not….I repeat do not cut them off in mid-sentence so you can order a glass of wine. Let them finish. It will only take a second. Do you like people cutting you off when you talk?
When the server has finished their greetings and asked for a drink order it is okay to tell them you are ready to order your entire meal if you are pressed for time (again you should refer to section 1).
You order your drinks and appetizers. The server comes back with you beverages and asks if you are ready to order your meal. You are not sure. It is okay to ask for a few more minutes. Don’t keep the server standing there because you are indecisive. The other tables require their services as well. Don’t get other diners pissed at the server because you are not sure if you want the pasta or the shrimp. They will be happy to come back in a few minutes.
Let every person at the table order for themselves. Gentlemen it is very gallant to want to order for you and your lady, however it is much easier for the server to get it right if each person orders individually. If you are that woman (and yes it always seems to be a woman) that tries to order for everyone at the table because you know for a fact what everyone likes or dislikes I recommend that you should just have dinner in your home where you can serve them what you know they want to eat. If not,for the love of Pete, keep your damn mouth shut…please.
When ordering your meal it is okay to make special requests…within reason. Will they melt cheese on my garlic bread? May I get that without tomatoes? May I have my dressing on the side? Do not start making lunatic requests by trying to invent new meals that do not exist on the menu and believe me when I say this does happen. You do not go to Pizza Hut and try to get them to make you tacos do you? Then don’t do it here. You have a menu in front of you for a reason. It does not say create your own meal. Do not make requests if it is clearly stated that there are no substitutions on the menu. Do not ask your server to “hook you up”. Servers do not prepare food or alcoholic beverages and if you get extras they have to explain why to a manager.
4. When your meal arrives.
A server will usually check back with you in 2 minutes or so to make sure your food is to your liking. If something is wrong this is the time to say so. Do not begrudgingly eat it and then give the server a lousy tip or no tip at all. They did not cook your food. It is okay to send food back if it is wrong. No one in the kitchen is going to drop it on the floor, lick it or stick it in their armpit because you sent it back. You are entitled to your meal exactly as you ordered it.
*Dining Tip* When you have a steak or burger that you have requested cooked to a certain degree( i.e. medium, well done) rather than bite into it immediately cut into the meat to make sure it is the way you ordered it. If it needs to be cooked more it can be put back on the grill. If you have bitten into it, due to health regulations, it must be thrown away and a fresh piece of meat cooked. This means it will take longer for you to get your meal.
If your party has requests please ask the server for everything at once. Do not send him or her on a trip each time they arrive back at the table with a requested item. Ask for the steak sauce, lemon wedges, ketchup and extra dipping sauce all at the same time. Please. Your server has 40 other people depending on them at the same time. If a server forgets to bring something to you politely remind them. They are very busy and it was not on purpose.
Do not eat three quarters of your meal and then complain that your double sirloin burger was under cooked. You ate 3/4 of it. It couldn’t have been that bad. You ordered you burger extra well done. You bit into it and it was rare. It took you 3/4 of the sandwich to realize it was wrong? This makes you look like you are trying to scam a discount or free meal off the establishment. We can’t replace it. Almost your entire meal is gone and it must have tasted pretty good.
If you need something during the course of a meal do not whistle or snap you fingers. The person is your server, not your dog. They have a name which they gave you when they got your drink order. Use it. It is okay to raise a finger in their direction. Let them acknowledge they know you need them. They will be there soon as possible.
If they are at the table next to your do not pull their attention away from that group because you want more sour cream for your potato. Now you are being rude to other diners as well. Give your server a moment to get the other order.
5. Dessert and check
When your meal is over your server will usually offer coffee and dessert. It is okay to pass. If you want coffee and to split a dessert that is fine too. Don’t make them wait too long. Either you want it or you don’t. This doesn’t need to take longer than 45 seconds to decide.
After dessert you are presented with your check. Do not look at it like art. Do not let it just sit there growing roots. Pay it. The server is waiting on you. You may stay a few minutes after it is paid. No big deal. If you are going to stay a while occupying that table then make sure you give your server a generous tip. They depend on those tables to make money and if you are there no one else can use it and the server in turn is loosing money. Speaking of tips…
Servers, which many of you may not know, are paid less than minimum wage for waiting tables. The average per server in this day and age is between $3.30 and $4.45 an hour. They depend on their tips to earn a living. The salary the restaurant pays them generally is enough to pay the taxes they owe on their tips. Most servers get a white check which means it is a pay stub…period. Their money all went to Uncle Sam to cover their taxes.
T*I*P*S is an abbreviation. It means To Insure Prompt Service. Although there is no law to say you must tip, shame on you if you don’t. Waiting tables is hard work, I know from experience. If you do not tip you basically have made your server work for free. A proper tip should be 15 to 20%. I always tip higher than that. 10% is not acceptable. It is cheap and disrespectful to someone who just busted their ass for you. Tip that 15 to 20% accordingly, unless the service was truly terrible. Leave something however in a lesser amount. Everyone is entitled to have a bad day at work and if you end up with that server I am sorry but know speaking of most servers, they really are trying to give you a good dining experience.
If you don’t tip or leave a really lousy tip keep in mind that just like with an elephant’s memory, servers always remember.
There are a couple more things I want to share.
Being a server is not usually a career. It is a job people take when they are in school and need a flexible schedule or maybe a mom is working a couple of nights a week to earn extra income for Christmas. I have waited tables part time just because I needed extra cash. Don’t assume because someone is waiting tables that they are not educated enough to do something better. You don’t know them so don’t judge. Someday you could find yourself in a situation where “May I start you off with something to drink” may be a part of your vocabulary.
Servers are people. They have the same feelings you do. Keep that in mind. If you are having a bad day don’t take it out on them. Maybe you would be better served if perhaps you allowed their services to make your day a little better. What I am saying is you can hurt your server’s feelings and that will make the rest of their day harder.
If you come to a restaurant near closing time please eat and get out. You get there 10 minutes before closing. You order and get your meal as the doors are locked. You eat and then just hang out. You are holding your server, bartender, bus boy, kitchen staff and manager up. They have worked a long tiring day and are ready to go home. Don’t waste 90 minutes of precious time where they could all be at home resting up for the next day of work. Also if you arewith a group of friends and you know you are going to hang out why not order the food to go and take to one of your homes and hang out there while you enjoy your delicious meals.
I am going to point out the simplest thing in the world to make your server feel good. Always say “please” and “thank you”. Those words have more impact that you know. They are powerful words that let you servers know how much you truly appreciate them.
Everything is a two way street so next time we will examine things that servers should and should not do to ensure that their guests have an enjoyable dining experience. Until then may all your dining experiences be happy ones.