As a service-industry lifer/professional, I loved Lori Midson's list of the "Ten rudest things things customers do to make servers wish you'd never come to their restaurants." Over the course of my 27-year career in service, I've seen examples of all of her top ten...and more.
But what really gets to me is when people in my industry treat guests like they're doing the guests a favor by taking care of them. In my opinion, the hospitality starts with us regardless of the attitude or actions of our guests. It is our job to turn any poor treatment around; that's what we are here for. So I came up with my own list, of the ten rudest things that servers/bartenders do to make guests wish they'd never come into their restaurants:
10. Not focusing on the guest in front of you. I know servers/bartenders are supposed to have eyes on the whole room -- but that only applies when you are away from your guests. To maintain hospitality while at a table, you must make those guests feel like they are the only ones in the room; your focus must be completely on the people in front of you. Looking at other tables while waiting on another gives the impression that you are disinterested, and that those guests are not as important as someone else. Save your scanning eyes for when you step away. And on a related note, it is rude for other servers or managers to interrupt you while you are at a table, taking orders.
9. Being too familiar. I am all about getting to know your guests and building a relationship, but joining in conversations uninvited or talking about yourself without being asked is just plain wrong. My wife and I once had to sit at a local restaurant for twenty minutes while our food got cold and our server told us about her experiences in Lebanon....all because we ordered hummus. If guests ask your opinion or ask about you, that's fine -- but keep your answers interesting and keep them brief. The experience is about the guest, not about you.
8. Sitting down on the job. This one happened to me just last week. My wife and I went to a Denver restaurant for brunch. When we walked in the door, the hostess was sitting in the waiting area. She got up begrudgingly, grabbed some menus and took us to a table. We felt like we were inconveniencing her by showing up. After we'd been seated and didn't see a server for at least ten minutes, I walked back up to the lounge/waiting area (where another host and two servers had since joined her) and asked if we could order. Her response? "Oh, I figured someone would have seen you by now." Brilliant. Employees should not be sitting down in view of their guests; it gives them the impression that taking care of them is an inconvenience. Break time should be somewhere in the back of the house.
7. Being on the phone/texting. Sometime last year, at a bar that will remain anonymous, a bartender walked up to us with his cell phone in hand, actively texting. "Hi" he said, barely looking up from his phone, "What can I get you?" My response? "I could text you our order if that would make it easier for you..." That seemed to wake him up, and he put his phone away, startled. Then he took our order. This is a severe example, but I see variations all over town. I love it when I can see a phone lighting up in someone's apron while he's taking our order. That's s just plain rude -- leave it in your locker or bag.
6. Asking if the guest needs change. When guests pay in cash, the proper way to handle it is to give them change without question. Asking if they need change is like asking for a tip. Make it easy for them to leave a tip without asking for one: For example, if the bill is $25 and and the guest gives you two twenties, you would return two fives and five singles, making it easy for them to leave the gratuity of their choice. Asking if they need change is asinine.
5. Correcting a guest. It happens all of the time. We're bartenders...we hear everything. Many times a night I will overhear a guy in front of me attempting to wow his date with his knowledge of cocktails/spirits/history/whatever (usually it's about absinthe -- there's so much bad info out there). Many times their information is way off; and many of my colleagues feel like it is their duty to correct them. But for fucksake, let the guy be cool for just a minute! One correction may cost him the date. Don't be a dick. The same goes for correcting pronunciation...the Scotch whisky Laphroaig is pronounced La-froy-g. No one ever gets it right, but if they are with someone, a date, I let it be. If I think it is safe and won't be embarrassing, when I drop the drink I will say "Here's your Laphroiag" -- pronounced correctly. The guest may pick up on it, and then again, he may not. Bottom line is I knew what he was asking for and saved him any embarrassment.
4. Rushing to leave. Ever been the last guest in a restaurant? I try not to be, but if I am I would really like the atmosphere to be the same as when I arrived. On one of my first dates with my wife seven years ago, we went to a restaurant in town where the advertised closing time was 10 p.m. We showed up at 9:20. The host looked annoyed and just said "Two?" No greeting, no eye contact, no hospitality. Once we were seated, the server seemed put out that they had to wait on us. The rest of the staff was turning over chairs in the dining room and vacuuming (there were two other tables there); they even vacuumed under our feet. The lights went up during our main course, around 9:50. It was a complete fail at every turn. We never returned and discouraged our friends from going there, too. Personally, I've always done very well with late diners -- for the most part, they feel badly about keeping you and if you can make them feel as welcome at 10 p.m. as they would be at 7, then you have won over new regulars. The hospitality, lights, music and overall feel needs to remain the same until the last guest has left the building.
3. Bitching about guests. The service well is often the hub of griping. Servers bitching to each other about their tables, bartenders bitching to the servers about their guests.... Negativity is a magnet. If a server is in the well complaining, three other servers will stop by and listen and pile on their own stories. If a server is standing there talking about what a great night they are having, everyone will just keep working around them. The biggest problem is that most service wells are still at the bar, with guests in close proximity. There is no magic sound barrier to prevent them from overhearing your bitching. It makes the guests wonder what you will say about them when they leave.
2. Greetings/Salutations. I referenced this in number six, but it drives me crazy when I walk into a restaurant and the first thing out of the host's mouth is "Two?" It makes me feel like I am just another notch on the cover count. Whatever happened to "Hello"? "Welcome"? "How are you"?
1. Snobbery. My dad would always tell the story of the $10-an-hour jewelry-store clerk looking down his/her nose at people browsing jewelry that they couldn't t afford. Many bartenders/servers in high-end restaurants have become that person. Order the wrong wine with the food? Oh, my. Order a shaken Manhattan? Holy hell. Order a filet mignon well done? Might as well call the police. Ladies and gentlemen, we will never know more than our guest about what they enjoy. Let them enjoy it without judgment.
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