In Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen, the chef tells a story of how he handled an obnoxiously loud table of guests in order to protect the rest of the dining room: He asked staffers to wordlessly break down the entire table in one fell swoop, and then told the bewildered guests that their tab had been covered and to please leave. I can’t imagine pulling this off, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought of doing it. Because when diners are disruptive, they can bring the entire room down to their level.
Have we as diners forgotten that hospitality is a two-way street? Hospitality and service, in their most perfect iterations, are a well-choreographed dance. Navigating the moves successfully requires both parties to have an acute sense of self-awareness. As service-industry professionals, our core function is to meet or exceed expectations. As diners, we should be able to sit back, relax and enjoy a pleasurable experience, but because we are paying for a service, we sometimes seem to think that we can deny our responsibilities in the relationship. The pervasive culture of ungraciousness permeating dining rooms across the country has me feeling a bit itchy.
It’s taboo to publicly discuss guest behavior in the world of hospitality, because the act in and of itself is not hospitable, but guests, like service-industry professionals, need feedback so that they can course-correct as well.
So it's high time that service-industry pros put on our big kid pants and offer some constructive suggestions for guests:
1) Put down the phone. Show respect to those around you, and pay attention to the host, server, bartender. Listen to instructions and advice that will ensure a successful meal. Again, put down the phone.
2) Get down to business and then get down to the business of having fun. Once seated, do your part. Scan the menu. Figure out a cocktail and an app, because the first thing a server will do is to ask if they can start you with a drink and appetizer...and you’ll be ready. This leads to a seamless process, and also keeps the pace rolling. We don't want to hear that service took too long when the delay was your fault for not stepping up to the plate when it was your turn to bat.
3) We love families and their kids. We go to great lengths to provide you with options that work for everyone; in exchange, we ask that you, the parents, manage your kids and their mess. We are your servers, not your servants. If it takes a team of Hazmat workers and a Zamboni thirty minutes to undo the destruction of your presence, then you’re doing it wrong.
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4) Learn to drink as an adult. Getting hammered at a restaurant means you are a nuisance. Ride your perfect buzz into the sunset and be respectful. Know when to say when and tap out before you become the death of the party.
5) Time is money. This is true across all businesses. If you park in a paid lot beyond the hours of your terms, you simply pay extra. No issues; that’s how it works. The same should be considered when people take up a table longer than planned. If you find yourself catching up with an old college chum after dinner, there’s no issue with you sipping coffee and water for hours, but you are keeping the business and server from making money. In this instance, understand that it's a best practice to tip on the time and not just the tab. The same goes for families sitting at a bar. While it might be allowed, it's making everyone uncomfortable...and you're taking up sales space reserved for drinkers. This is how the business and bartender make money. Again, be aware that a tip on that used bar stool is always appreciated.
6) You have a voice, and that voice can be heard when you're at the table or the bar. There are countless opportunities to express your displeasure with a negative experience during a night out. If you’re Yelping for sport during the meal, you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. Like any craft-driven small business, we sometimes miss the mark, but we thrive on your feedback because it helps us to improve. If you have a less-than-stellar experience and can't wait to get home to share it with the world, but do so while you're still at the table without taking the time to share it immediately with the staff and management, then you’re part of the problem.
Be aware and do your part. Help us help you enjoy your meal. Now, put down the fucking phone!
Jamey Fader, founding chef of Lola Coastal Mexican and a veteran of many other kitchens, is now the culinary director of Marczyk Fine Foods and ready answer all your restaurant-related questions. What do you think about restaurant etiquette? Email your thoughts — and any other topics you'd like Jamey to take on — to firstname.lastname@example.org.