Monday, December 28, 2009

Copycat, Copycat!

OK, well I spent a lot of my day reading one of my new favorite blogs ( and I must say that writing about the years I have spent in the restaurant bizz has always interested me a little.  Mostly because it is a very unique business, which attracts a multitude of truly funny, strange, messed up people (including moi apparently). 

So, I am not going to to go into my whole restaurant history now (maybe in another post) but I just got done reading some rauciously funny stuff on this blog about the restaurant business and it got me thinking.  Now, I have always been a firm believer that no one should really go out to eat unless they have spent about a month working in a restaurant.  While I think that there isn't a business out there that doesn't have an 'underbelly' (which is not visible to those not working within that business), I think the gap between the illusion and the underbelly in the restaurant business is huge, vast, continental and if you have not ever worked in a restaurant then you probably don't have a clue about what really goes on in a restaurant, or how annoying even the most likable person can be as a diner.  

My list of all the annoying aspects of restaurant life (because it is not a job, it is a lifestyle unique to itself) is very very long but right now, for the sake of anyone reading this who wants to learn how to go out and eat successfully (and for my own ranting jones), I am going to give my own personal list of situations which pissed me off when I worked as a waitress, bartender or hostess in my 10+ years in the restaurant business.  These are definitely situations that you as a diner should try like hell to avoid and if you must, you should tip extra and be gracious about.

These are in the order that they popped into my head:

1.  Separate checks - one of the biggest pain-in-the-behind requests EVER.  Separate checks always adds a whole lot of time consuming work with no benefit for a server (they HATE you), even though today's technology does allow for it, it is still organising a bunch of little pieces of paper and having to make change or organise credit card receipts.  Invariably the same people who want separate checks are the same people who order only an entree or a salad and nothing else (no drinks, appetize rs or desserts).  I hate to say this but it is usually the ladies who do this and it is usually the type of ladies who are not good tippers.  I could forgive it for senior citizens because let's face it, they lived long lives, fought against the Nazis to give us our freedom, etc. But if you are under the age of 60 don't ask for separate checks! Split the bill between you or bring a calculator but don't make us go through an extra minimum 15 minutes of work (which slows down your service).  And if you must ask for separate checks, do us a favor and pay for the extra effort by leaving a more generous tip.  

2.  Campers - people who sit for ages after their meal has concluded.  Do you not realize that the whole way a server makes money is by turning their tables over and by you sitting there to talk or read your newspaper or book, you are depriving them of their ability to earn money and pay their bills or to finish their shift and get the F out of there?  Seriously, once the check is paid, you should not sit for more than 5 or max 10 minutes to get your stuff together.  If you want to sit and talk leisurely and linger over coffee or a drink, go to the bar (that's what it is for) or head to Starbucks. If you must camp, this is definitely something you should pay your server for via extra tippage, because he or she has to wait there until you are finished.  

3.  Gobblers and Suckers - people who run your ass off for more bread and drinks everytime they see your face (particularly when there are free refills).  Many restaurants nowadays offer free refills on drinks, that doesn't mean that you should do your best to drink 17 cokes during lunch.  I always appreciate free refills because I am someone who usually wants a second drink when my meal comes and I appreciate that I don't have to pay extra for it.  So, as a server, I was always prepared to refill drinks just before or just after the entree arrives but, believe me when I say that if you were on your 4th iced tea when salads were over, I was hanging out in the back, firming up my post-working plasns, which uasuaslly involved drinking at a local bar with other waiters, bartenders, cooks and the occasasional manager.  All the while letting you slurp ice cubes and taking my time about it.  Restaurants offer free refills as an incentive, it doesn't mean that you should drink 2 liters of coke during lunch (your mom never would have let you do that at home).  

4.  Large parties - large parties can sometimes be good (and I am talking about 10 or more people) but more often than not, particularly during the lunch and dinner hours, large parties are the kiss of death for a server.  The group ties up all their tables, you run your ass off filling up drinks, bread and bringing dressing on the side and usually only get the bare minimum tip.  It is way easier and more profitable to wait 5 tables of 3 people then one table of 15. Everything takes longer because there is just more of it (drinks, food, clearing).  If you are a large party you should be tipping a little extra (20 percent minimum) and even more for good service (25 percent), because believe me your server is running much more for you as a group.

5. Kids (and I am a bit loathe to put this down since I am a mom and I do go out to eat with my child).  It's not kids per se, but kids at a table can be a lot of work, particularly if the kids equal or outnumber the adults at the table.  Kids meals are really cheap compared to regular entrees and include drinks which means that if you are a table of 3 adults and 3 kids, your server is working 3 times as hard for you but making less than they would on a table of  4 adults.  Many times, kids need special orders (no sauce, no ice,), they spill and make a mess (which we need to clean up) and many parents let their kids run the roost or run wild at a restaurant.  Now granted, I know how difficult it is to make a toddler sit for an hour, but please if you let them out of their chair, please get up and go with them and don't let them run around (even around the table).  We are carrying hot things, they can get hurt and they just get in the way.  If your kid is crying (and I have been in that situation many times with my own child), please get up and take your child out of the dining room (if the weather is warm you can try going outside) or just walking to another part of the restaurant might help.  I appreciate while haivng kids should not prevent you from going out and enjoying yourself at a restaurant that it is a lot of work to serve kids and be generous.  

5.  Snapping, waving or interruping.  Nothing used to make me run into the kitchen crankier than when someone would try to get my attention by snapping, waving or much worse, interrupt me when I was at another table.  I know you are there and believe me, everytime I walk past you, even if I don't say anything, I look at your drinks, bread, etc. to see if I need to bring you something more. And when I am not sure I stop and ask and if I don't and I run off, it is likely that I need to bring food out of the kitchen to you or another table (and therefore you will need to wait for more coffee anyway).  Now I realize that there are probably some servers who don't do this, but the majority are attentive. At least wait until you have been ignored before you begin the grand gestures.  The most elegant way to do this, is to remember your server's name (he or she introduced him or herself to you when they greeted you) and to say, 'Dana, we'd love some more bread'.  Always a winner.

6.  Ask repeatedly where your food is - admittedly this is a difficult concept for non restaurant employees to grasp but your server has nothing to do with how fast your food is prepared.  That is done by the cooks and there are a zillion things going on in the kitchen.and once your server orders your food (by entering your order into the computer or POS), they have nothing to say about it and they are waiting for it the same as you.  It definitely happens that food can take longer than it should, but please don't take this out on your server.  Their bugging the chef/cooks about it only slows things down.  If it is taking a while, a good server should come and say something to you about it (because they have already checked) and will tell you, that it is delayed but should come up now (or in a few minutes).  If it still doesn't appear, a good server will usually send the manager over to your table either then or just after the food arrives.  If none of these things happen ask your server politiely what is happening and if you do not get a satisfactory answer, ask to speak to the manager, as they are the only person who can do anything about the situation.  

7.  Take a million years to order.  If you say you are ready to order, then be ready.  Read the menu and know what your choices are and make them in advance.  If you have kids with you who are shy about ordering, know what they want and be ready to step in should their bashful sides take over. 
If you have questions, then ask questions but unless you can make an on the spot decision, ask the server to come back in a few moments while you ponder your choices.  He or she has other tables and other things to do and you are just slowing things down for everyone including yourself.  People mistakenly think that if they ask questions and don't keep the waiter there it will slow things down, but just the opposite is true.  Question, ponder, then order.  

8.  Ask the hostess a bunch of times if you are 'next' or when your table will be ready.  If you have to wait for a table, most restaurants will give you an idea of how much time you have to wait.  If that amount of time has not elapsed, don't go and check with them.  First of all, the time they have given you is an estimate, if people don't leave their tables or the kitchen or busboys are behind, it can take a little longer (particularly if you have 6 or more people in your party because then they need more than one table in the same area).  The more you ask the hostess to answer questions they cannot answer, the longer it takes you to get to your table. 

9.  Complain about the food after you have finished eating.  This is a sure way to piss off everyone.  You eat half the entree (or all of it - and believe me this happens all the time).  If there is something wrong with the food or if you don't like it, please say something to the server right away.  First off, then there is a good chance to fix whatever the problem is.  But if you ate it and then complain about it, then you just look like a jag-off (excuse my Pittsburgh vernacular) who is trying to score something for free.  If you do get something for free, you should factor the cost of that into your tip, becaue even though you are not paying for it, your server still had to get it and serve it to you (ditto if you use a coupon).  And if the problem was that the food wasn't good, you shouldn't take that out on your server, he or she didn't prepare it.  If it was really not good, then you should take it out on the restaurant by not eating there again but not on your server. 

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