The New York Times blog "You're the Boss," ruffled the apron strings of restaurant servers nationwide when it ran Bruce Buschel's two-part list of things restaurant staffers should never do. As someone who worked the FOH for 14 years, I have two words for Buschel:
While Buschel made some decent points, his elitist tone reinforced the popular notion that servers are servants as opposed to facilitators. Good servers go out of their way to make the guest's dining experience exceptional -- but getting the recipe for every guest "that goes gaga over a particular dish," which is actually one of Buschel's suggestions, is ludicrous. Seriously, give me a break. Any server on the planet would rather slide down a five-foot razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol than ask the chef for their duck confit recipe during a Friday night push. That doesn't mean they give shitty service.
I have always believed in the peaceful coexistence between the server and the guest -- but like all functional relationships, this takes effort and communication. Regardless, being friendly and respectful toward the people who wait on you will greatly improve your dining experience. And who knows? You may get free scotch out of the deal. Here are some tips to help you make your server's life a little easier (remember, it's the season for giving):
10. Let the restaurant know in advance if you have special food needs. I know it's a bizarre notion, but chefs actually want you to enjoy their food. And they definitely don't want it to kill you. If you have allergies (especially to commonly used ingredients like onions) or are a vegan, the kitchen will most likely prepare something for you that differentiates from the menu. If you call ahead of time, they will have the opportunity to plan something yummy for you instead of throwing a meal together at a moment's notice.
9. Don't bring in more people than your reservation holds. When you're invited to a friend's house for dinner, you don't bring three guests without asking (at least I hope you don't). Don't do it at restaurants. This is the point of a reservation: to reserve space. Often times, adding people to your reservation requires a bigger table or more tables. If more room isn't available, you're putting the restaurant in an awkward position -- and you might go hungry.
8. Don't make the server referee your fight over the bill. If you want to pay, give your credit card to your server when you arrive. Arguments over the bill after 47 glasses of wine are never pretty.
7. Read the menu before you ask for recommendations. Don't try to hide the fact that you haven't looked at the menu by asking what your server recommends. It's totally cool that you wanted to slam your sidecar and whine about work before you looked at the menu. What isn't cool is when you ask for a recommendation without looking at the menu, and then say you hate pork when your server recommends it.
6. Don't repeat your order unless you are positive your server has forgotten something. Servers take orders. Lots of them. Even after a shift shot or six, we're still pretty good at remembering stuff. Servers are not immune to caffeine either, and everyone has had nights when they couldn't sleep because of the accidental cup of java. When you order decaf, trust that your server will do everything short of growing the beans to ensure they bring you the unleaded. You don't have to repeat "decaf" four times, ask for their phone number in case you can't sleep, or grab their arm as they're pouring your coffee just to make sure they remembered. 5. Speaking of arm-grabbing, don't ever touch your server. This goes under the "Servers Are People, Too" category. Few things are more degrading than having a stranger touch you in an unwelcome way. A few years back, I had a guest on a busy night flag me down to demand another bottle of wine. Immediately. When I began to pour the wine, he grabbed my wrist, held onto it, and hissed, "We want bigger glasses this time." I kept my cool until he let go, and then I promptly resumed the smoking habit I had quit the year before.
4. Let your plates be. Don't stack them. Don't put your napkin over your uneaten food. And for the love of Mary, don't hold your plate in the air when your table is being cleared. It's rude, and besides, you're out for the night -- let your server and busperson take care of you.
3. Keep your kids in line. I firmly believe that children should eat in restaurants. It's a beautiful opportunity to teach them etiquette and allow them to appreciate the food world beyond peanut butter and jelly. But restaurant workers are not babysitters, and often times they walk around balancing trays of alcohol and bowls of hot food -- neither of which you want spilling all over your offspring. And nothing is more annoying than trying to have a romantic dinner while some kid at the table next to you is flicking boogers at your shoes.
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2. If your food sucks, say something. Really. Remember the part about chefs wanting you to enjoy the food? Trust me on this one, and don't feel bad about complaining. If your food is oversalted, cooked incorrectly, contains hair that isn't yours, or even if you just don't like what you ordered: SAY SOMETHING. Your server won't take offense, the kitchen will appreciate your feedback, and any respectable restaurant will bring you a new meal as soon as possible. No one will hate you and no one will spit in your food. In addition, compliments go a very long way. Kitchen crews work long hours with low pay and adverse working environments so they can give you a good meal. Let them know you appreciate it.
And a drum roll for restaurant guests everywhere...
1. Do not tell your server you are ready to order when you are not. Waiting tables is a game of multitasking, and even the best of servers can get weeded when they're least expecting it. Timing is everything. It's a server's job to answer your questions regarding the menu and to take your order. It is not their job to stand tableside while you peruse the menu and ask your dining partner where they bought their sweater. Letting your server know that you need a few more minutes to mull over the menu will ensure better service for your table and the people dining around you.