Before every customer gets to "dine out" at his/her favorite restaurant there should be a requirement for them to work as a server for a at least one week first! Like every server out there, I get to experience both ends of the spectrum. I dine out and get served, and in turn serve others. This occurs most regularly for me. I guess you could say that I'm quite experienced in both.
A majority of restaurant patrons, however, only get to experience one end... being a customer. Thus, missing out on the fine joy that it is to serve others. I have a motto: Treat your server like you would treat your grandmother.
Many, however, need schooling in this art and my subscribers and I are here to help you.
First of all, the 10%, 15% or even 20% tip that you're going to leave me at the end of your meal does not buy rude or dismissive behavior. Look at me when I approach you, maybe even smile. This may be just a job, but I'm trying to connect with you right off the bat. I have to approach a table sometimes 15 to 25 times per day (if not more). It's a lot harder for me to muster up a smile and give the same "shpeel" over and over again, naturally, than it is for you, who might be at your first or second restaurant today. When you order from me, look at me! Not your wife, your kids or your guests. I don't consider the item ordered until you tell me what it is! It's all just discussion until that point. It's very important that you make your server feel like a human when he's at your table. Treat your server like you would treat your grandmother.
If we (guest and server) establish a rapport with one another then you can start asking semi-personal questions.
It really amazes me how a guest sometimes feels it's okay to ask or say anything that rolls through their mind to their server. Are you an actor? What have you done? Do you live nearby? Do you have roommates? Are you Italian? Hey! I'm controlling part of your salary tonight and I want answers! (well, they don't say that but it sometimes feels like they are). Would you ever go into the bank and just start grilling the bank tellers? They'd probably hit the alarm!
As long as we're on the subject of stupid questions: Think then speak!
I had a customer ask me where the bathroom was once. I told him "downstairs". He turned around and realized that he was standing about a foot from the staircase. He looked back at me and said, "Is this down?" To which I had to reply, "Only when you're standing up here!"
I lose confidence in us as a race when I hear some of the ridiculous things that only a customer could ask. It's not that I'm bitter or have no patience, it's just that I'm usually dealing with a lot of overwhelming information and stress, constantly. I need to keep my shit wired tight at all times or people don't eat, or make it to the theater, or impress their dates, etc. So, with all this mind juggling that I have to do for eight hours or so, I just expect questions that are of a little more substance if I'm going to snap out of my inner dialogue that's constantly spewing a task list at me of all the things I need to get or do for my tables at any given moment. Questions like, "How long is 16 inches?" or "What do you think I should drink?" are things that should be left inside your own cob-webbed head cave or whip out your iPhone 4s and ask Siri. Even grandma wouldn't have patience for stupidity.
When you say you're ready to order, Be Ready!
There is nothing more frustrating then when I go to a table and ask if they're set to order, they say "yes", then decide to open menus and start discussing possibilities with their guests. To this, I usually tell them that I'll come back in a minute, then leave the table. I'm usually back in about five minutes... to be sure. I sometimes have guests that won't let me leave but still want me to watch as they read the menu. When this happens, I excuse myself and rush over to another table as if I heard them calling me. I'm not mean, I just don't allow for that kind of time spent at a table. I figure a minute to take orders is sufficient. Me watching someone read a menu during a pre-theater rush in Times Square is about the most unproductive use of my time that I can imagine. It's extremely selfish to other guests. If you're not ready, don't feel you have to be, or find a meaningless task for me to do like "Bring us water, I guess. Then maybe we'll be ready". I've got a whole list of things I need to do, you don't have to find me stuff to keep me busy. Just say "Give us a minute" (unless of course you really want water).
Here's a biggie: If someone at the table asks for another drink, I'm not always going to ask everyone else if they need another, as well. If you're thirsty still, it's kind of your responsibility to let me know at that point, NOT when I return with the first guys drink. I do understand that you might not be aware or you were talking and didn't see what was going on so the second trip to the soda machine is forgiven easy enough. What isn't forgiven so easily is the third or fourth trip that I make to the bar or soda station in a two minute period for the same table. Would you send grandma running back and forth to the kitchen four times in a row? Or maybe you would and that's why you end up in a restaurant. Either way, like snapping your fingers at your server, don't do it! It's the epitome of ignorance, selfishness and rudeness.
When you ask for the check and I give you the little check presenter, please either let the card or cash protrude from it when you're ready to pay. This way I don't have to come over and pick it up for you to say,"Oh, we're not ready with that yet". When I see a payment hanging out of it, I'll know you're ready.
Now, when it comes to analyzing the tip: We pretty much all know what good service is when we get it. Easy enough to figure out. But, when you're considering leaving little to no money because you got bad service, there's just one question I have to ask you. Do you really know what bad service is?
I work in one of the most high-volume restaurants in the most high-volume part of NYC, which is the most high-volume city in the world. Now, during Christmas season it's about as insane as you can possibly imagine a restaurant to be. Nowhere to walk, pushing, shoving, baby carriages, shopping bags, etc. Now, I work with some of the most talented servers that I've ever worked with as far as this kind of volume goes. A lot of them memorize all orders and no matter how big the party is, they never use a pad and pencil. It takes skill. That's just a part of it. We would compare stories at the end of the night on why certain tables "stiffed" us and sometimes, rarely, it was authentically something we did. We are professionals, but sometimes shit happens. There are some things to consider before you might render someone a bad server. Here are some tips: Take a look around. Is your server juggling an enormous amount of things going on around him but still getting the job done (even if your food was a little late for whatever reason). He's a bad server if he's hanging out talking to his buddies and neglecting you, not if he's really busy and getting it done. Do you stiff him because a customer knocked your drinks out of his hands and you had to wait? No? Did he tell you it happened? No again, but you should assume because the restaurant is that busy that the bar is probably backed up and that's why you waited. When I dine out and this is the case. I wouldn't even ask the server if that's why, it's assumed! That would be a dumb question. Take a look around and assess what's going on. Does he have a party of 35 screaming kids and 5 other tables including yourself? If that's the case, be grateful for decent service. We have to deal with the hands we're dealt when we're sat. Sometimes you do too. It's not always the servers fault. So, use common sense when you're trying to decide if you got bad service or not. We're more ashamed at your obliviousness when we get "stiffed", most of the time, than at our own inadequacies.
Anyway, I'm sure my readers will have a lot to add to this but at least it's a start. For those of you who already "get it right", we thank you! Keep being decent and treating us with respect and we'll do the same right back.