As some of you may know, I started working at a restaurant as a hostess about two months ago. In those two short months, I’ve learned so much about how restaurants work, how to interact with people in a service setting, and what behavior is and is not acceptable (from an employee’s perspective) as a patron. Now, not all of the guests that come through are awful in any way. I’ve met some wonderfully nice people, people who tip well, and people who know how to behave in public generally. However, just like with any service industry, there are people who try and abuse the people serving them, or who think that the employees of an establishment owe them something.
These people are the reason I’m writing right now.
I’ve had some crazy-random things happen, and I’ve heard of others. Most recently for me, I was about to seat a party of three at a booth. As I was walking out of the lobby and into the dining room, a couple walked in. I looked at the girl in the couple and said “Hi! Welcome, I’ll be right with you, okay?” and I continued guiding the party of three toward the booth. I must have blinked, but all of a sudden the couple (who I thought I left at the door) sat down at the booth. They must have cut in front of the party of three who was walking DIRECTLY BEHIND ME. I stood there for a moment, and glanced back at the party of three, who looked to be in mild shock. I regained most of my composure and gave the couple two of the three menus I carried, then walked back to the party of three. Luckily I had another table open for them, and I apologized profusely for what happened. They were understanding of me, but were sort of miffed at the rudeness of the younger couple.
The punchline? The young couple moved tables at least two other times throughout the night.
One night a server said that a customer, who he had treated well all evening and who hadn’t complained at all, tipped him with two dollar bills that he had torn in half. This patron also tore the book the check came in in two, and left everything under an upside down glass of water. Moral of the story? If you have a problem with your server, don’t be a passive agressive douche.
A friend of mine at the restaurant told me she was tipped $2 for a $100 tab. $15 would have been acceptable, but I guess these people didn’t think so. A large party with two servers and a $300 tab tipped $10. Total. That’s just over a 1% tip for each server, and just slightly better than writing a note saying “You rock!” in place of money.
We were calling a 20 minute wait one night and a woman walks in at about 7:25PM. (We record exact times that people walk in to keep track of the wait better.) We tell her how long, hand her a pager, and continue with our business. She walks up a few minutes later and asks how much longer. We tell her about 15, and she accuses us of lying about the initial wait since it’s been “10 minutes already.” My co host that evening says “Well, ma’am, I understand your impatience, but it’s now 7:30 and you came in at 7:25. So it’ll be another 15 minutes I think.” She glares at him and stalks back to her party in a huff.
There is so much more than this, but just thinking about it is making me not want to go back into work, ever. Because of the amount of things I’ve seen and heard about, I’ve compiled a list of basic notes on how to behave at a restaurant. I’d like to make it clear that not everyone is guilty of the following, but enough people are that it warrants pointing out as a negative behavior. I’d also like to make it clear that I am by no means an expert at the inner workings of the restaurant biz, and that these are just the things that I’ve picked up on in the last two months.
1) Tip your server at least 15%. This should be a no-brainer, and for most people it definitely is. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories from servers about waiting on a party of 15 who is running a $300 tab and they only end up tipping $20. That may seem generous, but do the math: a tip that size for a bill that size is only 6% of the bill. It’s the same as tipping three dollars for a $50 check. That’s what you’d tip someone who was rude to you and never checked on the table in a fairly empty restaurant. Unfortunately, it’s all too common a story from people who are extremely nice, attentive even on busy nights, and will go out of their way to help a patron have a great meal. When you undertip, it not only effects the server, but the table tender and sometimes the host, who get a cut of the tips for the night.
Easy hint on how to make the math easy for you and the server getting what they deserve: double the tax. Depending on what the sales tax is in your area, that should be a fair to generous tip.
2) Be nice to the host. Hey, that’s me! I’m not saying the host will seat you in a crappy area if you’re rude, but just being nice definitely helps, especially if there’s a wait. A few tips about the host specifically:
2A) Wait times are there for a reason. Let’s say there is a 10-15 minute wait. That means that the host doesn’t want to overseat the servers, and they are waiting for orders to go into the kitchen. If the servers are oversat, they stress out which directly effects service quality. Too many orders go into the kitchen at once, which slows it down, makes service go slower, and it makes the wait longer for other patrons coming in. Just be patient! It ends up with better service for everyone.
2B) Yes, we keep track of the wait, so don’t try and pull a fast one on us. This goes along with the above and why to be patient. It’s only happened to me a few times, but it’s such a rude thing to do: I take a name and tell someone it’s a 20 minute wait, and record their entry time. They come back five minutes later and ask how much longer–I say 15 minutes, then they accuse me of lying about the initial wait time since it’s “already been 10 minutes.” I’m gonna lay this on the line: we know how long it’s been since you came in, sometimes down to the second, and we also know you’re lying about how much time has passed based on this fact. It doesn’t make time go faster if you’re rude to us or accuse us of things we both know aren’t true. Really? It’s not cool.
2C) If you see an open table and are told there is a wait, don’t comment on it to us. Chances are, we know there’s an open table, and there’s a reason we aren’t seating you there. It’s open for any number of reasons…that section is closed, servers have gotten busy and need time to catch up, it’s being held for a reservation, etc. The worst thing I’ve ever had in this situation was someone who made the dreaded comment then pointedly asked if they could just be sat there. I have to refuse them, usually by saying something like “If you’d like that table I can seat you there when we call you” to diffuse it, but I still get treated like I was rude and trying to personally insult them. Commenting that there’s an open table is almost the same as saying “You aren’t doing your job correctly and I know how to do it better.” You wouldn’t want to hear that from a customer at your establishment, so please don’t say it to us.
2D) If you don’t like the table we’ve taken you to, it’s alright to say so…nicely. I’ve had this happen to me a lot, especially on busy nights when we’re just trying to fill tables and make the wait pass. I take someone to a table, and they either make a big show that they’re settling for a table that is inferior to what they wanted, or they look at me and ask if I’m joking. No, I’m not joking. You came to a casual dining establishment to eat, and I’m sorry if this table in the middle of our dining room is not to your liking, but it’ll be at least another 15 minutes til a booth opens up. Most of the time this happens with people who are being sat at a table when they really wanted a booth. Easiest solution for this? Just say you want a booth from the beginning. We will do our best to make this happen for you, and will be honest with you if we can’t or if it’ll be a longer than anticipated wait.
3) As silly as this sounds, clean up after yourself. I’m not saying bus your own table or anything like that, but also be aware of the fact that there is a person in the restaurant who has to clean up your mess. Sometimes, it’s the host, especially if it’s during a lunch rush or otherwise slower than a dinner service. It’s so easy to gather your dishes into one dish along with your trash and make sure that the tabletop itself is free from paper debris, and it helps the table tender. Also along these lines….It’s really disrespectful to mix your ice cream with the last of your soda and throw a ketchup-drenched chicken finger from your kid’s meal in for good measure. If you felt sick just picturing that, picture having to handle that cup that’s almost overflowing with nastiness and walk it from one end of your house to another. In front of strangers. Still feeling ill? Good. Now you won’t do it, haha.
Basically, the moral of this whole thing is treat people in a service industry the way you would want to be treated if you were doing that job. Ask how we are and be genuinely curious. Help out in little ways, and be honest if something is wrong instead of blaming the server for why your steak is too rare. It just makes everyone happier.