Looking at my coworkers, I would say in the serving world, I’m still considered a baby. I have been working as a server for a little over a year now and I have dealt with a lot of different types of customers. There are guests you love having, who you can’t wait to have come back, who make your very long shift just a little easier. Then there are guests you wish had never even heard of your restaurant. The guests you don’t even understand why they come out if they insist on being so miserable. The guests that will never be satisfied, even if you are bending over backwards to meet their very specific demands.
A food service establishment and its employees are dependent on people coming in, eating their food, and enjoying their atmosphere. As a server, my $3.70 an hour salary is dependent on tips to supplement the rest of my paycheck. So most places will go the distance to meet a customer’s needs and keep them happy.
I’m saying it’s a two-way road. I will get you that eighth refill in the past ten minutes, reheat the soup until it’s at the precise temperature you want it, and get you a fork with all the tongs in line with a smile on my face and a hop in my step if you treat me like a human being. Any other treatment may result in less than perky service.
- Having to wait: Many times there’s a wait to get a table at a restaurant. As frustrating this is for you as the customer, it’s just as frustrating for us as servers. This means that we are probably overloaded with guests, the kitchen is backed up, we’re running low on utensils and cups, and we know we have to work extra hard to make you happy since you have been waiting. Once your name has been called, the hostess should apologize for the wait and thank you for sticking around. This is not the time to berate him or her with how annoyed you are. Unless you feel like they committed a serious error in their job (not explaining how long the wait was, skipping over your name etc.), you don’t need to make her feel worse about something that is not her fault, and is completely out of her control. And if you do feel like she has done something wrong, speak to a manager once you’re at your table, calmly and respectfully. Having to wait for a table is almost inevitable in the game of eating out, remember that you chose to stay.
- Greeting: There is this really awkward time between when a table sits down and when a server greets the table. Most greeting times are expected to be within a minute of when the customer sits down. I know at the restaurant I work at, servers are almost immediately at a table due to the small dining area. There is typically some sort of script that you’re going to hear from the server– let them do it. Even if you know what you want. Even if you get the same thing every time never and it’s never going to change. We are told by our managers, who are told by their bosses, what to say when we greet a table. This includes listing the specials, telling you any changes on the menus, and alerting you if we have run out of something. Cutting us off creates a tense atmosphere and when you inevitably ask a question we would have answered in our greeting, we think you’re an idiot. Be kind. We’ve probably had a long day and smiling face that actually looks us in the eye makes a world of difference.
- Ordering: Okay, this is a big one. There are a lot of choices, which means we don’t know how long you’re going to take to decide what you want. I know as a customer it sometimes feels as if the server has forgotten about you because they have been gone so long. As a server, I know that is rarely the case (although not never the case). It’s okay to ask for a few more minutes, but please try not to get annoyed with me when I come back to take your order. I have other things that need to get done but I want to make sure that your order is put in as soon as possible. I also don’t want you thinking I forgot about you. If you have questions about the menu, ask them. If I don’t know the answer, I will find someone who does; it doesn’t mean that I’m bad at my job, it just means it’s a big menu with a lot of options, and things change all the time. If you think a server may have copied your order down wrong, especially if you are a picky eater with lots of changes, ask them to repeat it back to you before they put it into the computer. It’s much easier to correct something before it goes to the kitchen than after the food arrives at the table.
- Getting the food: Most places have food runners or operate on a system where everyone helps out. Meaning that if I don’t have something going on and I see food in the window, I check out the ticket, make sure everything that’s on the ticket is on the plate, and take it to the table. This means that I probably don’t know who ordered what. Whenever food arrives at the table, no matter who is bringing it, try to avoid getting that common glazed-over look; it’s the look every customer gets when food is brought to the table. It reads: “I don’t know who you are, what you’re holding, or where I am.” That leaves an awkward couple of sentences where the server is holding several plates, sometimes very hot or heavy plates, while everyone is turning their brains back on. Remember what you ordered, listen to the server as they call out the food, be present and helpful.
- Refills/Dining Experience: People go out to eat because they want to socialize, catch up, enjoy good food, and not clean up when they leave. Going out to eat is a luxury and should be fun. I understand it can be annoying when you’re trying to have a conversation and a server interrupts, but there is no need to be rude. Every time that server “interrupts,” he or she is trying to make sure you receive the best possible service. This includes making sure your drink is never empty, your table isn’t cluttered by empty dishes, and that if you desire to put in another order you have an opportunity to do so. If you think they are being too attentive, a polite, “I think we are fine for a while, just here to chat and hang out,” will do. That’s a major hint to us that says we can give you some space and you won’t hate us for it later. NOTE: IF YOU TELL A SERVER TO BACK OFF AND THEY DO SO, YOU CANNOT COMPLAIN THAT THEY WEREN’T AROUND ENOUGH. If they seem to disappear, just politely ask another server to grab yours.
- Tipping: This is the big one. My dad holds firm to the 15% rule, 18% if a server was good. My sister and I repeatedly take the signed receipt and make sure he’s left the appropriate amount. Consider this while you leave the tip: you arrived at a place where your server brought you drinks, a kitchen crew cooked you food, a server brought the food to your table, refills were given without you having to do anything, and when the meal is over you won’t be the one cleaning anything up. You sat down and hopefully had a comfortable dinner with friends or family, while having servers at your call. Now consider the server: They are not only taking care of you but at least four other tables (sometimes more). They work long hours that either start before the restaurant even opens or end long after it closes. They clean up the food thrown on the ground and those tiny pieces of straw paper that are the products of hands trying to keep busy. They are single parents trying to support their family, students working toward their education, people who need a second chance, someone trying to fulfill a dream, people just like you trying to get by. This server says 20% is the right thing to do.
I could go on and on about this but these are the basics. Also, these are the basic rules for interacting with a good server. Many times a good customer makes a good server. However, I am very aware there are some servers out there who just plain suck. I have worked with a few of them. If that’s the case, calmly and politely state your woes to a manager who will hopefully work to improve that server’s work ethic. Other than that, please keep these in mind as you dine!