What makes up good restaurant service? Join the debate
This has been a hot topic over the past few days, so I’ve started it’s own thread and will be moving the comments over.
This started out with the questions, should a server wait to remove an empty plate until all diners are finished? Should they ask if you are enjoying your meal? Do you want to know their name? Should they ask if you need change when they pick up your money? Do you want your napkin refolded every time you go to the restroom? Discuss these questions and anything else you’d like to weigh in on. What do you think are important things that ever server should know? What makes a good server?(note – this post got damaged, but I’ve included the comments to that date below. You can still leave comments the regular way: )
This has been a hot topic over the past few days, so I’ve started it’s own thread and will be moving the comments over.
38 Responses to “Defining Good Service”
March 13th, 2008 at 11:53 am This is a touch off topic, but part of this review caught my eye and I’d love to get good information from all these informed people. In restaurant reviews (not just here, but everywhere) I see frequent mention of the time it takes a server to take plates away after a meal. I was always taught, both as a server and at home, that you should always wait until the entire party is finished with the course before removing plates, that it is rude to the person still eating (implying that they’re taking too long) to do otherwise. When I go out to restaurants, I do find that often the server takes my plate as soon as I’m finished, even if my dining partner is not. The time mentioned in reviews may be noting the time from when the entire party is done until the plates are removed, or not. Every time I see a review that mentions it, I wonder. What’s the right etiquette here?
March 13th, 2008 at 12:03 pm designomad, welcome to the site. The proper etiquette is the plates should not be removed until the entire party has finished. Doing otherwise is a sign of poor training or bad managerial direction IMHO.
March 13th, 2008 at 12:18 pm Slashfood.com has an interesting thread on this topic that quotes several sources including “…according to Pamela Stoner, a dining room instructor at Kendall College’s culinary arts school in Chicago, “fine dining rules” are such that servers should wait until the entire table is finished eating.”http://www.slashfood.com/2006/08/24/when-should-the-server-clear-away-your-plate/
March 13th, 2008 at 7:08 pm Apologies that my virgin post here is slightly off topic (yet follows a developed thread).I have yet to dine at Echo (and what I’ve heard matches the mixed comments here, I have one foodie pal who raves about it, but others who simply say neeaayhhh) but designomad’s mention of server plate clearing touched my etiquette nerve. This is a pet peeve for me, to the point where I find I’m almost looking for teachable moments when I’ve finished ‘working’ (always have disliked that term) on my plate whilst my companions still toil away, or when a server rushes to whisk away my own plate as I pause in conversation, still with one or two savory bites remaining in front of me. This. Drives. Me. Insane. And it happens in all manner of restaurants here (and I’ll politely not name the one where I most recently experienced it Tuesday evening, reviewed elsewhere on this site).Emily Post might posit that we’re headed in a new direction, but dinner is to linger, as a hole is to dig. Don’t rush me, don’t rush my compadres. It’s the experience we savor, not simply the food.
March 13th, 2008 at 10:23 pm Food Dude — I sure wish everyone could be on the same page about this. I agree with you that proper etiquette is waiting until everyone is done with their meal before plating the table.However, as someone who has twenty years food service under my belt, I can’t tell you how often I have had customers VERY angry (or at least stern eyeballed with a heavy sigh and attitude) that I did not pick up their plates, even though not everyone at the table was finished. And I mean rich people with fat cash dining in the nice, fancy restaurants that I have worked in that you think would know better(not just here in Portland, either…Seattle, Los Angeles, and Florida as well).Proper etiquette or not, it’s a total crap shoot trying to figure out what the customers really expect. This is digging up an old pet peeve of mine. I’ll stop now.
March 14th, 2008 at 7:05 am well thank god someone finally brought this up, because it is the biggest plight on the face of Portland service. i’m sure it happens in other cities as well, but here it seems the norm to clear one plate at a time and i think servers believe they are doing the right thing, oblivious to the proper etiquette. pdxbornfoodie even makes the case that customers are so accustomed to this being the norm that when you try to properly clear the table when the LAST diner is done, some customers will view this as poor service, rather than proper. so now the real question is ‘How do we educate servers about waiting to clear and at the same time educate the dining public, who weren’t brought up in an environment where this may be apparent already?’ Ideas, anyone? btw-FD, this really should be it’s own thread- DEFINING GOOD SERVICE, the do’s and don’ts.
March 14th, 2008 at 9:22 am To me, clearing my plate before others are finished is the equivalent of getting up and doing dishes while my dinner guests are still eating. However, as long as people wolf down their food and think they are only being attended to if their plate is immediately cleared, it’s going to be up to the server to make the call.
March 14th, 2008 at 11:56 am Things a server should know:1. absolutely, it is bad manners to clear the table before all parties are done eating. I am only not offended by this if I am at cheesecake factory or the like where the sheer size of the plate prevents me from sitting comfortably.2. Don’t sit down next to me.3. Don’t let my water glass be empty. I never want to have to flag another server / the runner / the bus boy for water.
4. If I am drinking beer / wine by the glass / cocktails, it would be great to be offered another drink while there is still a little left in my glass. Obviously tough to time if I am knocking them back in a hurry.
5. Don’t ask me if “if everythingis great / wonderful / fabulous”. i don’t need your cheerful marketing if my dinner is good. And if it isn’t, you just make me more cynical.
6. I have a small child. We go out to eat a LOT. Be helpful. Don’t set the hot plate / sizzling stoneware soup bowl / steak knife right in front of her. Bring an extra napkin.
March 14th, 2008 at 2:08 pm on the thread that buck started, and not to get off too terribly on a dining-with-children-thread, but can waiters also not bring a child a filled to the brim glass of water/milk/juice? you may as well just bring a wet rag too, as we’re going to need it momentarily when my toddler tries to drink from the 12 oz. full glass of milk. i notice and applaud when a server understands this and brings a glass with lots of room in it. extra tip for bringing at least one straw.
i agree that waiting to remove plates is correct, but also that many, many people i’ve waited on and dined with expect their plate to be removed when they are finished. i’ve given up on thinking that this is incorrect and ascribed it to the portland notion of dining out (aka tevas are always acceptable, you don’t need to honor a reservation, a restaurant should always have a vegan option, etc.).
March 14th, 2008 at 2:24 pm 1. Give me the specials in writing, with prices.
2. Don’t ever ever touch me unless you are a really hot chick and my girlfriend isn’t there.
3. Don’t address us as “You Guys”, especially if I am with my parents aunts and uncles who are in their 70s. It’s disrespectful.
4. Smile and say “Thank you” when giving me the check. This will see an automatic 25% increase in the tip.
5. Be present but invisible. If you are clearing stuff, no need to provide a running narration “I’ll just clear these away for you”. I see what you are doing.
6. Don’t ever comment on how slow or fast I ate: “Wow you sure snarfed that down…you must be really hungry!”
7. Know who gets what dish. There’s no excuse for interrupting our conversation to auction off the dishes. The ticket should show you this so anyone can deliver the food.
8. Don’t ask me “You want change back with that?”
March 14th, 2008 at 2:27 pm I agree, but it happens so often, I expect plates to be taken before everyone has finished. I don’t fault the server, or the management, I believe it has become the accepted ritual. Dinner may be to linger, but expect your plates to cleared one at a time.I don’t really want to know the server’s name as they probably don’t really want to know mine, but depending on the location and the situation, I like a little festive behavior. I certainly would prefer cheerful to sullen or overly hip and self-aware, regardless of the quality of the meal.
March 14th, 2008 at 2:33 pm pdxyogi, you point out some of my pet peeves. I was at a restaurant last night. The waiter never said thank you or you’re welcome at any time. It got to be a game with my guests betting on whether he’d ever break down. On the other hand, the busser frequently said both.I understand why they ask if I need change, but I agree with that one too.Finally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard 4 specials rattled off and had the server abruptly walk away with an “I’ll give you a few minutes to think about it”. Then we are left with the, “What was the third special” conversation.
March 14th, 2008 at 2:41 pm This seems totally ridiculous to me. I don’t want to sit there with a big empty plate perhaps bearing the unwanted remains of my dinner just to wait for ‘ol gums-their-food across the table. And I would not be offended in the least if my dining companion’s plate were removed while I was still eating. I want them to be comfortable and it’s much more expedient on the servers part. Although I’m sure sure different restaurants have different policies regarding nit-picky issues like these.As to this being the “biggest ‘plight’ on the face of Portland service”. I’m not sure what that means exactly but there are a lot of things I’d put on my complaint list waaaay before that. Like: slow, rude servers who pointedly ignore you, over or under cooked food, being overcharged, just plain bad food, too hot or too cold a temperature in the room, somebody’s screaming brat at the next table throwing food all over the place that some poor such is going to have to clean up for a pittance of a tip – just to name a few.
March 14th, 2008 at 6:49 pm You know, the whole plate thing really doesn’t bother me, as long as someone doesn’t try to take a plate away before I’m finished (and, conversely, doesn’t leave them there for 20 minutes after we’re done). Here’s what I do expect from servers:1. Make sure you fill my water glass when it gets half-empty or less. Don’t promise to bring me a refill on my iced tea and then disappear for the next 15 minutes.2. If you see a couple dining with a child younger than 10 years old, you might want to ask if you should bring the child’s dinner out with the adults’ appetizers. You will have an entire family extremely grateful to you — and your tip will increase exponentially.3. If we say we just need a couple of minutes to make up our minds, don’t disappear for 10 (or more). Deciding on dinner is not the equivalent of Middle East peace talks — it just doesn’t take that long. And please DO make sure to punch the order in correctly on the machine — twice in the last two weeks at two different restaurants, they got it wrong at the machine after writing it correctly on the pad. It also helps to bring out everything that was ordered.
4. Do check in 5-10 minutes after serving the entrees — if you see a plate that looks untouched, you might want to ask if everything is o.k. — chances are it’s not (like the completely inedible, mushy pasta I was served at Henry’s the other night — what an absolute mistake to try that place. One I will never repeat.)
I have definitely noticed a general decline in the quality of service throughout Portland restaurants over the last 5 years or so. It used to be that you could point out a few places that everyone knew had bad service. Now, it’s a crapshoot at even the better ones what kind of experience you will have. Economy aside, my boyfriend and I usually like my own cooking better than most restaurants — these days, I have to be bone-tired from a long day’s work to want to eat out rather than cook dinner at home. It’s really adding insult to injury to pay $30-40 per person (without wine) AND get lousy service.
March 14th, 2008 at 10:14 pm I’m neutral on the plate plight.Do: give me a 15 minute neck message as soon as I’m done eating. Juggle sharp or flaming objects. take the cell phone out of the hands of the yakking asshole at the next table and destroy it. Make a joke about vegans. “forget” to charge me for dessert.Thank you. Really big tip.–mcz
March 15th, 2008 at 7:55 am 1. I’m with Buck on in finer dining places waiting until everyone is finished to remove the plates. Don’t give anyone at the table an eating complex about the speed at which they do or don’t eat (we already have too many of those already!). Some of us could have been talking more than others while eating.2. Absolutely fold my napkin when I get up to use the restroom (in finer dining), for the simple fact of checking to see if I may have gotten sauce, wine, burger grease on it, and it should be replaced with a clean one.3. The whole “would you like change?” when I put down cash, oy. Really, I just put down $60 on a $41 tab… oh hell yes there will be change. When it’s set, we generally get up and leave or acknowledge to the server that they’re taken care of. You never those ask paying by credit card if you should add your own tip to their credit card receipt.4. When mistakes are made (it happens, everyone has an off night), apologize, offer to make fix, be appropriately interested. Don’t stare at me coldly like it’s my fault you mixed up my drink order, twice, (which happened this week) or misheard my order – in fact repeat it back to me if there’s a question, that’s fine. Being a little gracious goes along way to your tip at the end of the night.
March 15th, 2008 at 8:24 am “You still workin’ on that?”
March 15th, 2008 at 9:00 am Rules aside, I think it is most valuable to pay attention to the customers one table at a time. I can tell when someone really wants the plate gone no matter who else has finished eating. I use the, clear when everyone is done, as a standard and use my judgement from there.I do find comments from the diners on this site useful to me in my serving.As for the “do you want change thing” I think one should always assume that the customer wants change and will leave the amount they desire to tip after I have returned with the change. I often say “I’ll be back with your change” and at that time the guest can say no need if they choose to.
I do like to do a check in after I served the meal. I say “Are you pleased with your selections” That gives them a chance to tell me if they have a need. Some customers don’t want to be disturbed at all, but need to feel they are taken care of. I can move around the room with a pitcher of water making myself available if the guests has a comment or needs something.I do have off nights. So I appreciate the repeat visits to review a restaurant.
March 15th, 2008 at 10:22 am Do not ever correct my pronunciation, even if you are 100% certain that you are correct.
At Pix last week I asked for a framboise, pronounced frahmbwahzz. The young counter dude twice countered with “you mean the frahmbwah?” In French when there’s an “e” after the ending consonant the consonant is pronounced, same as the words “petit/petite”. Hell, even if I had been wrong it’s not his place to correct me!
March 15th, 2008 at 10:28 am shedoggy – it sounds like you have the right idea in trying to be perceptive about when it might be appropriate to clean one diner’s empty plate as an exception to the rule. but do you really need to say “Are you pleased with your selections” a few minutes after dropping a course of food? what if i’m not – do you really want to refire my dinner with a different order because i’m bummed out that i ordered something with an expectation that wasn’t met and now i want to change my mind? and the reality, of course, is that most people just say ‘yes’ whether that is sincere or not and as was mentioned earlier in the thread, then start to steam a little more about how much they are ‘not pleased’ with the selection. with all sincerity, i think the old adage servers should be seen and not heard (or is that children) goes a lot further toward providing great service. if you are near the table refilling water a few minutes after the entrees are set down, then you do give the opportunity for a diner to mention any problem they are having. but you don’t have to ask orally. better to assume all is well as long as you are within earshot for the diner so they don’t have to flag you down.
March 15th, 2008 at 11:14 am I just got back from breakfast. What’s the deal w/ places that make you get your own coffee? We waited for 45 minutes outside (a nice day, I didn’t mind), but I saw the server exactly once to take our order. I saw the busboy 3 times (he refilled our water).So I ordered a coffee (from the busboy, of course ); he looked at me like I was an idiot, and pointed at a coffee urn in the middle of the room.
The question is: Why would I tip the server more than 10% for basically doing nothing?
March 15th, 2008 at 11:45 am Thank you biabub for your opinion. I have replaced someones order when they were disappointed with the selection. I trust that people are able to speak up if they have something they don’t like. The only way I can correct a situation is if the guest tells me about it. If I can make them happy with replacing or fixing something for them, chances are I have created a customer for life. So it is worth a re-fire.
March 16th, 2008 at 9:06 am nightdoktor – sounds like you were at the Tin Shed. because that was my experience there. can’t really figure out why people would wait in line to have very mediocre food and self-service. i was surprised when i ordered eggs that they didn’t hand me a carton and a pan and point to the stove.
March 16th, 2008 at 11:37 am I’m with shedoggy on asking if people are pleased with their dishes. In nicer places who pay appropriate attention to quality, dishes should exit the kitchen exactly as the chefs and cooks intended. You get avoid asking “is everything ok?” when it should be exceptional, and instead address whether the dishes fit the guests preferred flavor profile and is what they were expecting. Servers often must ask guests if they are pleased because so very often people are unhappy with a dish, but aren’t willing to say something unless prompted. By replacing the dish with one the guest will likely enjoy more you provide an excellent customer service experience and hopefully, like shedoggy said, gain a loyal customer for life. This as opposed to someone who says they didn’t enjoy their meal at your place when it comes up in conversation.
Even if the guest misinterprets what a dish is and doesn’t ask the server (again, often a case of inaction unless prompted or informed by the server), or simnply doesn’t like something about it, one should do what is necessary to ensure that they have a good experience. Everyone is happier all around.
March 16th, 2008 at 12:11 pm Do you think it’s too much for the server to pick up clues about the diners and incorporate these factors into the service? For example, are the diners in a rush or do they want a quick meal? The answer can be used by the server to figure out the timing between courses. Or, are servers in Portland just moonlighting as FOH until their get their “real” job? At Daniel Boulud’s place in NYC, they have table service down to a science with a very strong tie with the kitchen. Definitely the “gold standard” for service (and food) in my travels so far.Worst service in Portland so far has been Capitol Bistro over in SW Portland. Cold food, one coffee refill on a Sunday morning when I’m obvious not awake. Ugh. After reading this thread, I now think maybe I’m supposed to get up and get my own damn coffee.One other irritation about Portland servers that hasn’t been mentioned is the occasional stinky server who hasn’t washed his shirt in days or hasn’t taken a shower in days. What, do these guys not smell themselves or think they are immune to bacterial activity?Just back from yet another trip to Taiwan, I’m ready for some dinner out somewhere tonight. Maybe I’ll go get in line at Toro Bravo for opening tables.
March 16th, 2008 at 1:00 pm I ordered an entree one night, that turned out to be terrible. After politely pushing it around with my fork and managing to get half of it down, the server returned to pick it up. She said, “Oh, you didn’t like that either. Nobody does!”What the hell!
March 16th, 2008 at 2:32 pm I guess I am a minority- I hate having a dirty empty plate sitting in forn of me (I also have a couple of dining companions that eat super sloooooowly). Please remove my plate.What I hate even more is an empty water glass. I drink A LOT of water, I get it… but I don’t want to spend half the evening longing for a second glassI don’t really want to know the server’s name and I also don’t care for it when they ask it everything is “fantstic” or GREAT!I have children, and I need to place my order quickly- when I make a point of saying that, please don’t keep us waiting, and waiting.
ditto, when you hand me the check, and I have my credit card waiting, please go ahead and take it, please do not walk away and make me wait with impatient kids.
I also really value clean napkins, so if I ask for another, please bring it.
March 16th, 2008 at 4:08 pm “Oh, you didn’t like that either. Nobody does!”
Ha Ha Ha! Classic.
Good Service? Clyde Common has been excellent lately, although I have some friends that work there so I might be a bit biased. But the good service at Clyde was (obviously) ruined when I went next door to Stumptown afterward to get a coffee. Why does it take sooo looong to just get a coffee in there?
Honestly, do you need to draw pretty foam on that latte for 10 minutes?
If you’re making Art out of coffee, does the art museum make coffee out of art? And if so, would it take me 20 minutes to get a cup of joe there?
Some days I miss my Pakistani bodega coffee. Dump in cream, dump in sugar, “OK boss, $1.50.”
Now thats good service.
March 16th, 2008 at 7:11 pm I work at one of the better restaurants in town. Our policy is to clear plates as guests finish, unless it’s a two-top. Never leave someone eating alone.But dining is a two-way street. Don’t push your plate away, or cross your silverware/set it aside on your plate unless you are signaling to me that you are finished. Do not ignore me when I’m trying to find a polite way to ask if I may take your plate but you’ve been flapping your gums while your table’s five entrees are coming up. Likewise, if you don’t communicate to me that you are unhappy with your meal, I can’t fix it. That’s why we ask if everyone’s pleased – more often than not the customer needs prompting. I don’t understand this attitude that servers should be seen and not heard. Professional servers are not automatons – we understand that you do not want to hear about our personal lives (most of us do, anyway) but we’re all people here. Service should be both efficient and warm.That being said, “Portland service” drives me bananas, too. I have an ever-growing list of places I won’t return for that reason, namely Oba!, Tin Shed, Kenny and Zuke’s and Park Kitchen. Smile, utilize your basic please an thank yous, shower beforehand, and know the menu and have a working knowledge of what your bartender had stocked, for Pete’s sake. My server at at a Pearl restaurant one night had never heard of Prosecco, for instance. And don’t EVER lie to me when something goes wrong – sincere apologies and prompt corrections go a long way towards restoring good faith. And when I get quicker service somewhere else, I go somewhere else. 45 minutes for my only course is not okay.
March 17th, 2008 at 6:24 am The plate thing may be a pet peeve to some people, but if someone is “offended” by it, there’s not much that’s going to help them besides a thicker skin.Personally, I prefer that my plate be cleared when I’m finished, especially when I’m sitting at a smaller table. Sometimes the plates are so large that there’s not much room for a wine bottle/decanter, two glasses, a bread plate, etc. Being a big, clunky guy, I’d rather have it off the table so it’s not something else in the way.
March 17th, 2008 at 7:32 am I agree with fasterpussycat… I don’t understand thinking that a server should be seen and not heard. I don’t want a chatty cathy, but dialogue is key. And to clarify my point from earlier, I am all for a server verbally checking in and asking how things are going. What drives me bananas is the marketing upsell – “Is everything fantastic for you?” a simple, “how are things for you this evening?” goes a lot further.
March 17th, 2008 at 9:52 am Wow. We expect our servers to cope with all manners of people and opinions, and we only tip them 18%, and many people not even that? Hell of a job.
March 17th, 2008 at 12:17 pm RE: NYC-PDX“Economy aside, my boyfriend and I usually like my own cooking better than most restaurants — these days, I have to be bone-tired from a long day’s work to want to eat out rather than cook dinner at home. It’s really adding insult to injury to pay $30-40 per person (without wine) AND get lousy service.”I feel the same way. Anymore, it just isn’t worth it to go to so many places. I end up just going to a few tried an true places that always have been great across the board.I wish Portland restaurants could focus on the basics like solid preparation and good service. Then worry about bold new expressions of taste or attitude
March 18th, 2008 at 4:26 pm I think in fine dining establishments, the plates should be removed when everyone in the party is finished. However, many casual eateries in Portland have such cramped tables that I want the plates removed as soon as we’re done with them. Especially in a place where people are sharing or eating family style.
March 19th, 2008 at 7:35 am If anyone is wondering whether or not it might be difficult, as a waiter, to please everyone – just read this thread. I could easily write five times as many things about clueless, annoying diners. I think everyone needs to lighten up a bit – it’s dinner, not the Middle East peace talks. I eat out quite often and very rarely have any issues with service, and mostly because I am enjoying the company of my dining companions and not stressing the fact that my water glass is more than half empty (although of course the offender should be publicly flogged for such a transgression).
March 19th, 2008 at 9:17 am This is a really interesting topic for me and hits home with me. I am a private chef and most of my jobs are catering dinner parties. It is definitely a rule of thumb to never clear the plates until everyone is finished. In my own personal experience as a diner I feel that it “rushes” the people that aren’t finished yet. I hate to be rushed. When I get the chance to eat out, which isn’t often, I want to take my time and savor the meal. I recently ate at one restaurant that actually cleared my companions starter and brought them their entree before mine. I spent 14 years in the restaurant business and couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
As a private chef, I do quite a bit of the serving myself and try very consciously to remember my own experiences. The one thing that I struggle with is the “interupting”. This is usually at the point when I am getting ready to serve dessert and am asking if anyone would like coffee. Most of the time the guests are engaged in conversation and I find it difficult to find a time to cut in. I don’t want them to have to wait forever for their dessert or coffee, but sometimes I find myself standing their a little bit awkardly. There have been times I have waited and the client has actually asked if they were getting dessert or coffee after I tried nicely to “interupt”. When I am dining out and the waiter comes to the table I don’t feel as if I have been interupted unless the actually break into the conversation. I realize they are usually standing there for a reason. Thoughts?
In the end, I just moved here 3 weeks ago after 4 years living in Barcelona where service is non existent. You better nurse that drink, because it could be 20 minutes before you see your server again to order your meal. It is pretty easy to make me happy right now. I am sure that will change after I eat out a few more times.
March 19th, 2008 at 12:56 pm Alessandra,Welcome to Barcelona West, buddy.
March 21st, 2008 at 3:06 pm I have been in the restaurant business for 35 years as a waiter. 21 years as a waiter in Portland. I find the “poll” at hand to be amusing and infuriating at the same time. It seems that because someone goes out to restaurants on a frequent basis they are automatically an expert on service. Until you have actually worked in a restaurant and know how the front of the house has to interact with the back of the house AND with the guests they are there to serve most comments made have no validity to me. One comment about not having a server touch him – unless the server was a real hottie – says more about the commentators sexist bent than any authority the person has to critique service. And by the way, surveys have been made about the relationship between servers who are a little physical with there customers and their tip percentage. Servers who tend to be more physical with the customer in general have a higher tip percentage than those who don’t. Go figure!
As far as removing plates are concerned. It all depends on the situation. There is no hard and fast rule – the “proper etiquette” – not withstanding. Ideally it would be great to have plates cleared at the same time to follow those rules but to be realistic, it’s not always practical. I’d like to delineate specifics at some later time. So many of the comments made here seem to come from a perspective that implies the server is a “servant” with all the elitist trappings that come with that. Waiters/servers are definitley not “servants”.
I’ll comment more later – I have to go to work!