As someone who is pursuing a creative career (acting and writing), I have had my fair share of “survival jobs.” For many years, that meant waiting tables. There were many aspects of it I enjoyed – bonding with coworkers, taking home cash every day, and flexible scheduling. As grateful as I am to my former employers, I sincerely hope that I will never be in a position where I have to wait tables ever again. It is one of the hardest and most soul-sucking jobs I’ve ever done. The biggest reason? The clientele. I’d say that most restaurant guests ranged from “just fine” to “outstanding” most of the time. But those few that were bad were REALLY bad.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking of a time you went to a restaurant and got terrible service. That absolutely does happen. But here’s the secret – you can actually have a positive affect on your dining experience. I am here to help you have a better meal. There are things that servers would love for you to understand, and it will help you have a better time when you’re dining out.
It’s okay to send food back – just don’t get angry
Truth time – I’m a picky eater. Because of that, I never minded accommodating people’s personal tastes. It’s part of a server’s job. If you ordered a medium-rare steak and it comes to you looking like shoe leather, it is perfectly acceptable to send it back to the kitchen. Just know that it’s not likely that the server was trying to personally offend you. (More on that later.) He or she might have misheard you or rung in the order incorrectly. Or it could have been the kitchen staff who prepared your food incorrectly. Just call your server over, explain what the problem is and ask for it to be fixed – without a sneer on your face. (By the way, if you or someone in your party has an allergy that was disclosed before you placed your order, that is understandable cause for upset.)
Poor tipping affects servers…and you, in the long run
I know many people struggle with tipping. You get the bill at the end of the night and experience a bit of sticker shock. Is it really that bad to leave your server less money? Yes. And not just for them and their ability to make a living. If everyone consistently under-tips, talented servers will be forced to find other means of income. They likely have other valuable skills that translate to other jobs. They will leave the restaurant industry and less-experienced servers will take their place. That means you will have a worse dining experience.
When a server messes up, it’s not personal
The saying “The customer is always right” has somehow gotten twisted. Somewhere along the way, we consumers got the message that if we wanted something, we had to be rude to get it. Do we really believe that if we are condescending to the people who give us our food that we’ll magically be rewarded for it? Food service is a fast-paced environment. Servers are humans and are going to make mistakes. You should absolutely get what you’re paying for, but you don’t have to be mean to get what you want. You’re out to eat – by all means, enjoy yourself. But you can do that without reading the riot act to someone whose very livelihood depends on your generosity.
If you want extra alcohol, I can’t just give it to you because you ask
I only tended bar for about a year (yeah, it broke me). People asked all the time for me to heavy-pour their drinks. Here’s the thing – even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. First, there’s the possibility of over serving and causing a patron to end up in a car crash. The server/bartender can actually be held liable. Also, most restaurant owners and managers track alcohol sales like hawks. If bartenders are consistently over-pouring their drinks (because, again, EVERYONE asks us to do this), guess who’s has to cover that cost? The bartender. If you want drinks with extra alcohol, you’ll have to pay for it or speak to a manager. You can also establish a relationship with a bartender, who might be able to accommodate you from time to time, which leads me to…
If you find a server you REALLY like, find out when he or she works and specifically request that they wait on you. Treat them well and tip them nicely. That’s how you become a “regular” – restaurant lingo for patrons who return to the same establishment and usually have the same server every time. Your favorite server can often give you insight to special promotions, coupons, or other things that might add to your dining experience.
Being polite will get you everywhere
When I go out to eat, I look the server in the eye, smile, ask for – and remember – their name. Servers are people, too. When they realize that you’re going to be a good table, they’ll generally go out of their way to make your experience a good one.
If the experience was bad enough to not tip, talk to a manager
I’ve heard this time and time again. “Well, I didn’t tip them anything because they were awful! That’ll send a message!” I hate to break it to you but, IT WON’T. Most managers don’t closely keep track of their server’s tips, unless the amounts are way out of whack compared to the sales they are doing. Managers check that what you wrote on your credit card slip is accurate to what the server reported and that’s it. Many servers get tipped in cash even when people are paying by a card, so there’s no way to accurately track those tips. Also, plenty of managers know that even good servers will get stiffed from time to time.
If you had truly horrible service that compels you to not want to leave a tip, you owe it to the restaurant to speak with the manager. Most managers will know if the server is just having a bad day or is actually a problem employee. If you don’t want to talk to a manager about what you think is sub-par service, then your service wasn’t that bad, and therefore you need to tip. Eighteen percent for acceptable service is the minimum. I generally tip twenty percent – usually more – because I know how hard servers work.
One final note
Serving is a job where you can make the most amount of money with the least amount of practical work experience. This makes it attractive to all kinds of people – young people who are just entering the workforce, older folks who want an active job to keep busy, people who need part-time income, and yes, even people who decide to make it their sole occupation. I actually wish more people would do that. Servers get such a bad rap – they are just one of so many factors that affect your dining out experience. We’ve become a nation of complainers and it’s not always justified. As I said earlier, you deserve to have a great dining out experience, but your demeanor can make or break that.