Want to enjoy eating out?

Then this post, my friend, is for YOU.

Every Monday, my friends and I go out to this restaurant/bar for karaoke. I have been doing this for almost four years, but some of us have been going for longer. As time has gone by, our group has grown and changed, but the Monday night karaoke has become tradition. We make a point to not miss it, often because for a lot of us, it’s the only time we get to catch up with each other. All of us have lives, things to do, and it isn’t always easy to make time for all of your friends. Our Monday night tradition solves that problem.

Last night, we were stricken with a particularly horrible server. We’ve had her once before, and she was awful the last time, as well. Across the bar, I watched as some other patron absolutely laid into this poor girl. Her service was terrible, but he was just treating her like she was no better than dog shit. I wanted to walk over there and slap him for it!

See, I have a bit of a soft spot for treating servers well. I was one for three years, and a damn good one at that. After starting my first job as a waitress, I was promoted to a trainer and a shift leader in less than three months. I worked my ass off as a server, liked my job, and in general, made good money. But as a server, you have to put up with an unbelievable amount of crap.

When I get bad service, I try to give them a little bit of slack, because I know that 9 times out of 10, bad service means that there is something going on beyond the server’s control. Rarely is the server just a dickhead who doesn’t care about the table. So watching a patron be rude to a server gets underneath my skin; I’ve been there and done that.

And frankly, people just do not seem to give servers the respect they deserve. There is so much that people either don’t understand or care about when it comes to serving, and either don’t know or don’t care that they’re treating an actual human being like crap. I could write a post about how to be a great server — and maybe one day I will — but there are more patrons out there than there are servers, and judging by my three years of serving experience, plus observing what goes on when I go out to eat, these kinds of posts are needed. Because people just do not get it.

So, we’ll start at the beginning and work our way through the meal. Read. Absorb. Being good to your server will ensure that your experience is a good one.

  • Be patient.
    One of my personal rules, as a server, was the thirty-second rule. At the absolute least, I would acknowledge my guests within at least thirty seconds. On really busy nights, this was sometimes just a quick stop: “Hi, I’m Cassy. I’ll be with you guys in just one minute, OK?” I wanted them to know that I had seen them, I knew they were there, and that I would be with them as soon as I could if I couldn’t actually stop and begin my spiel right away to start the meal. But for some customers, this was not good enough. They would get huffy and annoyed that I wasn’t there to get their drink order and greet them the instant they sat down, no matter how busy the place was.
  • The thing is, servers do not get one table at a time. At the beginning of each shift, the restaurant is divided into sections. As shift leader, my job was to divide up the sections and assign servers to each one. In some restaurants, two servers would split a section and have as little as three tables at a time. In others, they’d get the section all to themselves, giving them as many as eight tables to look after at a time. I mention this because a lot of people do not seem to understand that a server is not there to serve them exclusively, as much as we would like to — trust me, it would make our jobs much, much easier. But on busy Friday and Saturday nights, we’re running all over the place like chickens with our heads cut off. We’re trying to give the best possible service we can to all of our customers, so if your server is not there instaneously and it’s a busy night, give them a break. Be patient. They will get to you as soon as is humanly possible.

  • Be friendly and responsive.
    When I first greet my table, I try to be as friendly and upbeat as possible. It sets a good tone for the evening ahead. But when I walk over there, bubbling over with energy (even if its fake energy), chirp out, “Hey, I’m Cassy! How are y’all doing tonight?”, and hear silence, or a “Yeah, I’ll take a Diet Coke, please.”, it ruins that. When we come over and say hello, say hi back. Actually talk to us. It’s great to get a little conversation going. We won’t stand there and talk to you all night, but it does lighten the atmosphere. You’re more likely to enjoy our service, and we’re more likely to give you better service if we like you. So when we talk to you, don’t be afraid to respond. Be friendly; have fun. Think about it. When you have a really great server, who you’re able to talk to and joke with throughout the meal, doesn’t it make your experience at that restaurant more enjoyable? When we ask you a question, answer it. Be nice. We’ll be nice back. Remember, servers work for tips — if you’re a total asshole from the beginning of the meal, you’re likely to get written off as someone who won’t tip well right from the get-go, and therefore will not get treated as well.
  • Being rude to your server can be hazardous, as well. Watch the movie Waiting. That stuff actually happens to guests who have too much of an attitude problem. I’ve never done it myself, but I can guarantee you that it does happen. So, be nice if for no other reason than self-preservation.

  • Don’t interrupt.
    When you go to just about any restaurant, a server is likely to give you a whole spiel about the specials for the night, mention a specific appetizer or drink, or recommend a certain dish. Don’t interrupt them; don’t cut them off.
  • One of the restaurants I worked for was the Olive Garden. We were required to present a bottle of wine to each and every single table, to describe the qualities of that wine, and to offer a wine sample. If we didn’t, our general manager promised us that we would be fired on the spot.

    So yes, while that information may be completely useless and annoying to you, just listen. It’ll only take a minute or two. Your server probably hates saying it as much as you hate hearing it, but if you aren’t interested in anything they tell you (and you never know, they might mention something that does catch your interest), then just let them finish and then politely say, “No, thank you,” before you proceed to order.

  • Don’t blame your server if your food takes too long.
    A lot of people seem to get very, very angry if you don’t get your food promptly. This just boggles my mind — do people think that their server is the one who goes back in the kitchen and cooks it?! We, as servers, have absolutely no control over how quickly food comes out. It annoys us more that it annoys you, because we know that the longer the food takes to come out, the lower our tip is getting, because we’re the ones who get blamed. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. The only time you can blame your server for your food being late is if it has obviously been baking underneath the heating lamps, and you can tell when it has been — sauces will be congealing on the plate, for example. If your food has taken forever, but comes out fresh, steaming, and hot, then you can’t blame them. They got your food to you as soon as it was prepared.
  • Don’t blame your server if there’s a problem with your food.
    Maybe it doesn’t taste right. Maybe there’s onions mixed in with your pasta when you asked for no onions. 9 times out of 10, this is, again, not the server’s fault.
  • Say it with me: the server does not make the food!

    Just nicely, politely, let them know what the problem is. They will take it back to the kitchen and get it fixed for you. If the customer was nice about it, I’d usually “reward” them by offering them a free dessert (and this free dessert came out of MY pocket — servers usually can’t comp anything without managerial approval). I’d always have the manager bring the corrected dish out to lend a nice touch. The key here is, that by being polite even when things are going wrong, you’ll often get even better service. Your server will be falling all over themself to atone for the mix-up, unless you get an attitude. Again, this will cause you to likely be written off as a lost cause.

  • Control your children.
    I absolutely love kids. I love waiting on them, because they’re fun. And parents love a server who will interact with their kids rather than just ignoring them; plus, the kids will feel special and important. That said, there are too many parents who let their kids run wild at restaurants.
  • I’ve had kids at my table completely empty the salt and pepper shakers and all of the sugar packets into a big, salty, peppery, sugary mound of powders onto the table, before playing with it for the rest of the night. The parents don’t lift a finger and just let them play. I’ve had kids at my table throw their food everywhere — the tables, the chairs, the walls, the carpets — rather than eat it. The parents don’t lift a finger. In one particular instance, a kid saw a server coming towards him while carrying a tray loaded with food. The kid purposely stuck out his ankle and tripped the server. She went sprawling all over the carpet, the food was obviously ruined for some other guest, and broken dishes were everywhere. The parents saw the entire thing, and laughed affectionately: “Oh, he’s such a little troublemaker!”

    Parents, just please control your children. You’re the adult; you should be in charge. It should say a lot if your kids control you more than you control them.

  • When we ask you how your meal was, be honest.
    Be nice, but be honest. If you didn’t like your food, tell us why. If something wasn’t great about the restaurant, let us know. If you are nice and polite about it, we’re going to absorb that information and know what we can do to improve the experience for you and other guests in the future. If you’re rude and bitchy about it, we’re going to brush it off as an asshole customer and not really listen to anything you say.
  • Are you sensing a trend? It’s OK to complain if things don’t go right — just be nice about it. There’s no need to be rude. It’ll get you nowhere.

    Also, don’t be afraid to tell us if your food was fantastic, or if you loved our service. Nothing, and I mean nothing, put more spring in my step than my guests telling me how much they loved having me as a server. Nothing made me happier than seeing guests come in a second and third time and ask for me, specifically. Letting your server know how great everything was is the best compliment you can give them.

  • If you’re really angry, take it to the manager.
    Let’s say you’ve had absolutely horrible service. The server was awful, the food sucked, and everything went wrong. Do not lambast your server. If you’re that angry, you need to go to the manager about it. First of all, laying into the server only means that the server is not going to report your complaints to save their own skin. Second, servers are not trained to deal with irate customers; managers are. The manager won’t try to cover up your problem, they’ll try to solve it. The manager is in more of a position to fix it, even if it means firing that employee. So if your problem is that bad, then you need to go to a manager about it.
  • When you pay your bill, don’t forget to tip well.
    Here’s something that people who don’t tip well must not know: servers only get paid about $3.00 an hour. When I was a server, it was $2.13/hr, but I’ve heard that since then it’s been raised to just over $3.00. Your tips pay our bills.
  • Yes, servers have to earn a good tip. But even if their service was just average, then you need to tip an absolute minimum of 15%. If their service was great, then tip higher. Never withhold a tip unless their service was so bad that you were going to complain to a manager. Usually, they’re trying the best they can.

    If you aren’t willing to tip well, then don’t go out to eat — period. Go into it recognizing that a 15% – 20% tip is part of the final bill.

    I have a quick and easy way to figure out how much you should tip your server. Take the first digit of your bill (or the first two digits, if you’re into the hundreds). Double it. So on a $20.00 tab, tip $4.00. On a $60.00 tab, tip $12.00. On a $200.00 tab, tip $40.00. It’s an easy way to figure out how much to tip, and it’s a fair amount relative to the amount of your meal without having to go overboard on the tipping. Tip your server well, and they’ll remember you when you come back.

    Likewise, leaving a shitty tip is not acceptable, especially when your server has given you great service. It’s even worse when you’ve complimented your server on how great they were, and then leave a $2.00 tip. It’s an insult. If you’re going to leave a buck and think that’ll be enough for a tip, then don’t go out to eat at all.

    Servers have bills to pay just like everyone else. We have to pay rent, buy food and gas, pay for electric and water bills… just like everyone else in the world. And perhaps most people don’t know this, but your tips are our main source of income. So if you’re going to stiff your server, it will have a bigger impact than you may think it will. Also, servers are required to report everything they make to the IRS, so we don’t even get to keep the entire amount you tip us when all is said and done.

  • And finally… don’t park.
    After you’ve finished your meal and paid, don’t just hang out there. Don’t sit around and just relax for another half an hour unless you are willing to tip more — a lot more — for it. By parking at our table for an extra half an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour, without ordering anything, you’re keeping us from making money on another table. It’s then your responsibility to make up for that loss of money. If you want to stay at the restaurant for a while after you’re finished eating, you can. There’s a place made for that specific purpose: it’s called the bar.
  • Making your server happy will make your experience at restaurants much more enjoyable. Keep these things in mind when you go out to eat. A happy server means a happy customer.

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