Oh, hey. Nice to see ya.
Before we dive in here, let's get a couple things out of the way. First, my qualifications to even be blogging about such a topic. As I've discussed here previously, I have worked in food service for 20 years and have waited tables for 14 of those years. I have worked in everything from catering to fast food to family-owned diners to upscale casual. I have two college degrees from a highly regarded university and a teaching license, so anyone who jumps to the conclusion that I must be some kind of deadbeat high school dropout who has settled for grease-slinging can just take a hike right now. We good? Good.
Second, for the purposes of this article, I'm going to go ahead and assume that you go out to eat to be waited on, to be served. You don't go to a restaurant to mix your own drinks, cook your own food, or clean up your own mess. You go to a restaurant to have someone else do that for you....for a price. Fair to assume? Great.
The goal of this little post is to show you how you can make your server's night by barely even exerting any effort. All it takes is a little thoughtfulness and you, yes YOU, could be that table that makes your server smile at the end of the evening and decide to come back for just one more day, even when her aching feet and bruised spirit are screaming at her to quit. Just last week I vented a little about an experience I had as a server that left me in tears.
You could be just the blessing your server needs. And it's not even that hard. Let's get started.
1. Acknowledge I am a real person with real feelings.
- Smile, look me in the eye, use my name when you speak to me. Ask questions, value my opinion, use manners. I actually really enjoy talking to my customers, so let's talk about how much we love football, let's discuss what kind of beer you might like, or laugh about how you managed to spill something on your shirt already. Engage me in pleasant conversation and just like that, you're my favorite table!
- Listen and pay attention when I'm speaking to you. I promise, I'm only saying what my manager tells me I have to tell you and it won't take up too much of your time. And guess what, you might learn something! When someone asks me what the specials are after I just spent the last two minutes telling the entire table about them, it makes me feel like you think I'm not worth your attention.
- Don't purposefully waste my time. It's incredibly disrespectful and makes me feel like you see me as the talking monkey who recites the specials and brings you the food you ordered. If you have no intention of ordering dessert, please do not make me recite all twelve of them, "just so you can hear about them." If you need more time with the menu to decide what you would like, that is just fine. SAY SO. Making us stand there and stare at you while you move your finger down the page, reading every single menu item aloud is nothing short of infuriating. Meanwhile, you are keeping me from providing good service to my other tables.
2. Do what you can to make my job easier.
- To the best of your ability, limit the number of trips I have to take to your table. When I wore my Fitbit Flex on a double shift last summer, I walked over 27 THOUSAND STEPS. My feet and joints are taking a beating every day. Anything you can do to bring that step count down a notch or two is greatly appreciated. Here are a couple ideas:
- Ask for multiple things at a time. Once, I had a single table who asked for all of the following things, but one at a time, so that each item required a separate trip - Water, water with no ice, lemon, straw, extra napkins, ketchup, ranch, side plate, new fork, more lemon. They hadn't even eaten anything yet and I already wanted to slap them.
- If you want split checks, tell me right away and then - for the love - do not launch into an impromptu game of Musical Chairs.
- Sometimes you want to chat for a bit after your meal and you don't want your server bugging you to see if you are ready to pay your bill. Just move that book off to the edge of the table when you are ready - it's an easy, visual cue that I can come back to the table and it saves me a bunch of trips and awkward conversations.
- Don't touch my tray! You may think you are helping, but trust me. It's a recipe for disaster.
- Move your iPhone out of the way so there is a place for me to set down that food you ordered.
- Math. Can you at least TRY? Or maybe use your smartphone? When I am slammed and I need to close a check FAST, this kind of stuff does not help:
3. Be aware of your surroundings.
- Look around a little and try to be mindful of what's going on. Is the restaurant busy? Is the lobby packed with people waiting for a table? Does your server have that panicked look on their face? Read their body language, pay attention. This also helps when understanding why drinks might be taking a little longer than you are used to or why your server is rushing a bit through the dessert menu. Take into account what you see, extend some grace and behave like a considerate human being. Everyone will thank you for it.
- Look at your watch or phone and consider what time it is. Not every server is scheduled to close the restaurant - usually only ONE is. The odds are good that many of the servers working in a given night shift also worked at lunch so they are BEAT. I cannot tell you how many times I have been held hostage by my last table. If your server keeps trying to casually walk by and gracefully look to see if you're ready to pay that check yet, by the third lap it would be great if you would take your conversation to the bar so you and your friend can keep chatting and your server can go home to their family. Good way to figure this one out is to simply ask your server. Don't be a Camper.
4. Respect our job as a JOB.
- Sure, we enjoy our job, but it's not always easy or fun. It's hard work that requires a ton of energy, a never-ending supply of patience, and an ability to deal with difficult people on a constant basis. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a job. And it is a job that pays us somewhere around $2.33 per hour. Yes, the system is totally screwed up and it makes no sense that we are one of the only super-developed countries who still use this antiquated tipping system.
For a somewhat foul-mouthed yet spot on explanation of the tipping system in America, check out this video. (WARNING: Strong language. NSFW unless you're wearing headphones.)
None of us designed the system and there's not a single thing we can do about it. It is what it is, so can we all just accept it and move on? Servers rely on gratuity for our income, plain and simple. Here's how you can respect that:
- Don't make jokes when the check comes - Do we walk into your office on Friday afternoon and make cracks about how you won't be getting your paycheck this week? Something tells me you wouldn't find it very funny, especially if your boss told that same joke every Friday. We hear it all the time and we HATE IT.
- For many of us, this is not our career of choice, but we are putting in honest work for honest pay. There is honor in that and it deserves respect. Yes, some of us are college students, but there are also those of us who are working other jobs during the day and changing our clothes to come wait tables late into the night, all to support our families and make ends meet. We are teachers, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, ministry leaders. We are trying to save up money to pay for braces, groceries, or a car with working airbags. We are writers, dreamers, actors, college graduates and high school kids. Don't assume you know your server's story. Instead, ask them to tell it. They just might surprise you. (See #1)
- Understand that a good server takes time to develop. Contrary to popular belief, not just anyone can do this job well. My husband will be the first to admit that he would last a total of 45 seconds with a tough table before he would get fired for calling someone an idiot.
- Tip 20%. That's all I'm going to say on that one.
5. Be Realistic and Honest
- We want you to enjoy your experience. Honestly, we do. We take pride in a job well done and part of that is making sure that you get exceptional food in a timely manner. We want to do everything in our power to make sure that happens. But, not everything is within our power. Here are simple ways to make this goal easier for us to achieve:
- Understand what is outside of my control. I do not determine the prices on the menu, the temperature of the restaurant, the presence of bees on the patio, the song on the radio, the presence or absence of your favorite dish, the time we open, the time we close, any and all restaurant policies, state law, the amount of cushion on your chair, and so on and so on. Just use some common sense here, please.
- Be honest - we cannot read minds. If your salad came with the wrong dressing or your burger is undercooked, tell me. If you know you drink a crap ton of water and it's probably just best I leave the carafe on the table, tell me. If you have a peanut allergy, FORTHELOVEOFSANSASTARK TELL ME!!! If your food came out cold, we poured the wrong beer, the soda tastes flat or you are unhappy with your meal in any way…..please, say something as kindly and as soon as possible. You know, when I can actually do something about it. If you keep silent until the meal is over and you've scraped every last morsel off your plate before you start to rail at me about how the salad was too small and didn't have enough avocado and last time it had onions and you would have preferred it with salmon and there wasn't enough dressing and you are just really disappointed…..I'm going to want to kick you in the shins. But, since I value my employment, instead I will have to smile, go tell my manager that you are being a prize idiot, and make you wait an unreasonable amount of time before I adjust your check and bring it back to you.
- Tell a Manager - If you get exceptional service, ask to tell the manager. We get yelled at a LOT, both by customers, co-workers, and frequently by our many bosses. It can get very disheartening. When someone goes the extra mile to give us a genuine complement, it goes a long way.
Got a restaurant story to tell? I would LOVE to hear it. Share in the comments!
P.S If you watched the video, I hope you'll join me for an upcoming post I'm working on entitled, "I Love Jesus, but sometimes I cuss a little."