The New York Times recently posted a list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do“.
At one time or another, I’ve complained about almost every one of them. Some of my favorites:
- Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral.
- Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.
- Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”
- Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?”
- For red wine, ask if the guests want to pour their own or prefer the waiter to pour.
- Saying, “No problem” is a problem. It has a tone of insincerity or sarcasm. “My pleasure” or “You’re welcome” will do.
- Do not let guests double-order unintentionally; remind the guest who orders ratatouille that zucchini comes with the entree.
- If there is a prix fixe, let guests know about it. Do not force anyone to ask for the “special” menu.
- Do not serve an amuse-bouche without detailing the ingredients. Allergies are a serious matter; peanut oil can kill
- Specials, spoken and printed, should always have prices.
- Let the guests know the restaurant is out of something before the guests read the menu and order the missing dish.
- Do not ask if a guest needs change. Just bring the change.
I love this, though, as the author says in the opening, some servers will argue these points. You can read the article here.
The panhandling for change, pushing bottled water, and not knowing who gets what dish are my biggest peeves.
IMHO, not much sympathy for those with deadly allergies. If a diner has one, the burden is on him to ask the server if a dish in question has the dread ingredient.
Cafe Nell is guilty of both: they always push bottled water in an obvious upsell attempt. (My wife likes San Pelligrino but then had sticker shock after the first visit.) And, after taking food orders and entering them into the POS system by table position, they STILL come to the 4-top asking “who had the beef?” Ok, maybe it’s a runner who didn’t see the ticket, but it is something I expect in a McMenamins location not in a “true restaurant”.
Food Dude says
Service issues aside, how is the food at Nell?
One should have sympathy for such guests especially if you present a complimentary composed dish, be it an amuse bouche, dessert, dipping sauce etc to a guest, given the fact they did not order it. There are always mixed bag of customers in a dining room with allergies, gluten issues, vegans etc. If you still lack sympathy call a lawyer and ask them what they think.
Personally, I think “no problem” is just fine. I read it as “I was/am happy to do that for you.” “My pleasure” sounds overly formal and forced to me, and makes me less comfortable than “no problem.” “You’re welcome” is probably the best, and simplest, thing you can say, I guess.
Food Dude says
There used to be a server at Clyde Common that said “no problem” to every single thing we asked. It became a running joke everytime we went it. Drove me insane (that’s my excuse)
I’ve got a food allergy. Not deadly, but of the spend-a-night-at-OHSU type. Fortunately, it’s to peaches and apricots, which are relatively easy to avoid. I know when going to any restaurant likely to serve them (southern food, Mediterranean, etc.) to make it very clear to the waitstaff that I am allergic, but on the other hand, people will throw weird ingredients into everything, it’s not always forseeable that your particular allergen will be present in your food. I learned that lesson the hard way when I had a cocktail at a fave restaurant, a cocktail I’ve had many many times. One of the ingredients is “fruit juices,” previously ascertained to not contain peach/apricot (or liqueurs of the same), it’s safe…unless the bartender made a peach cocktail in the same shaker and didn’t thoroughly clean it before making your peach-free cocktail. It’s not fair to blame someone with an allergy when the waitstaff doesn’t have, at the very least, the courtesy to tell you what on earth it is that you’re eating.
Kim Price says
Well, I am glad you caught it now, because I read the first 50 and then forgot to go back to read the 2nd installment. I totally agree with most of this, with just 2 major exceptions.
I don’t want to have to ask or wait for the check. Unless by some magic coincidence I do not have to pay for my meal, then I am going to need one and it should be brought soon after my final portion of the meal is brought to the table.
If you have food allergies (I do) it is your responsibility to make the server aware and not rely on them to ask. In fact, I don’t think it is proper to ask. What’s next “Are you lactose intolerant?” or “Does broccoli give you gas?” It is the server’s responsibility to make sure (which includes making the kitchen aware), to make sure there are no allergens in the food you are served. It is ridiculously passive aggressive to go into a restaurant knowing you have food allergies, but you are not going to tell anyone unless they ask.
I also want to add 2. Both were alluded to in other rules, but need to be clarified. Th first one is that when serving beverages from a common container, whether it be a wine bottle of a water pitcher, the container should never touch the rim of the glass. Nobody want the GERMS form the diner whose glass the container previously touched. The 2nd is that unless someone has given clear signals that they are finished (such as a napkin on the plate or they have pushed their plate away from themselves), do not remove their plate without asking permission. “May I take your plate?” works awesome. There is nothing worse to be finishing up your dinner – maybe sopping up the last of the yummy sauce with some bread, and having your plate snatched away. It invariable happens to me when my mouth is full, so I find myself throwing my arms out to block the water’s actions. I should not have to defend my food – at least not from the waiter.
Many of the comments on the NYT’s site complained that these rules were too rigid and took away the personality from the waiters. These rules are simply common sense and good manners and it is a little sad that a list even had to be made. If these things are so difficult for a server, they need to rethink their line of work. Trust me, it is possible to have common sense and good manners and still have a personality.
The bottom line here though is that the “customer is always right” rule applies. If you break almost any of these rules, your wages for the night will be impacted. I am a generous tipper and will even sometimes tip exorbitantly for extraordinary service (yes, I have tipped over 100%). However, my generosity leaves me a lot of room to move in the downward direction. I am not real rigid and if you make an honest mistake and do your best to correct it, I am very cool with that. However, if you are thoughtless or lazy, your tip will indicate it.
Food Dude says
I pretty much agree with you, Kim
Regarding food allergies and the comment from pdxyogi that the server should know everything that is in a dish: many kitchens will use as much trimmings as possible in order to avoid throwing anything out that can be used in a dish to save money and extend/improve the dish. Note that I’m not talking about inedible food here.
I watched once as fruit cuttings were pureed and put into a sauce, to make use of the cuttings and improve the sauce. The waitstaff were not told about this since it was not a standard menu item. I’ve seen this done with nuts/nut paste as well. It just happens.
I’m glad I don’t have food allergies and I know it’s tough for those who do to dine in public restaurants. I don’t see how anyone working in the restaurant could know exactly what was put into a dish by prep chefs, line cooks, etc.
Jeff Shultz says
Waiter Rant (waiterrant.com) has his own take on both lists. In short, he doesn’t exactly agree with many of them.
Food Dude says
It seems like most of his remarks are tongue in cheek, and many of the others show he’s never owned a restaurant. I’m actually a bit surprised.
Nancy Rommelmann says
He’s never owned a restaurant but was a waiter for years and years.
My pet peeve: waiters who squat next to you as they chat, or, worse, sit at the table with you. It’s not because I am stody, it’s just too personal, as though they’re putting their hands down my blouse.
Food Dude says
I remember the waiters at Gotham used to squat down at the table. One night our waiter sat down at the table, complaining about his feet hurting!
pdx gump says
While I’ve always been bothered by the kneeling waiter and (in the past )was trained to never do this, I find that with the level of sound in many restaurants communication is much improved by by bringing both sets of ears and vocal cords in closer proximity to each other. Of course this is something that is restaurant specific and not at all appropriate in many places, it does reduce the discomfort on both sides of not hearing or being heard.
Grapedog is correct, asking the server is of almost no use.
I have a friend who’s deathly allergic to pine nuts.
Twice he’s had to make rather harrowing trips to the emergency room AFTER having not only informed the server of said allergy, but specifically requesting that the server notify the chef as well.
He is actually of the opinion now, that waitstaff are on such auto-pilot, that mentioning the allergy actually increases his odds of getting pine nuts in his food; “Hmm, what was that, oh yeah, table 4, ‘pine nuts!'”.
More items from the story with which I totally agree:
Never touch a customer!
Handling a glass by grasping the top rim.
No one cares that a dish is your “favorite” or wishes to hear “excellent choice” as a response to an item ordered.
Refusing to seat a party of four when three are present.
Here’s one of mine that surprisingly didn’t make the list:
Commenting on how fast or slow a customer has eaten. Things said to me: “Wow you certainly snarfed that down fast!…I can tell you really hated it, har har har!”
How long do you give said ‘incomplete table’ to become complete or do you not understand,nor care why that policy is in place? I’ve had tables be incomplete by 1 person for 2 turns (meaning 1.5+ hours). Few of which ordered absolutely nothing during the hour long occupation of a table while waiting for the friend who was parking (in St Johns apparently).
But yeah Pollo is right again
Example: arrived at Mother’s with five out of our party of six, four of whom were elderly. It wasn’t busy, and was even beginning to empty. They made us wait for our sixth, about 25 minutes. Had they seated us we would have ordered about $50 more in drinks and appetizers. As it was, the table sat empty waiting for us. No “turns”.
I understand and care why the policy is in place. I also understand the need for judgment, flexibility and common sense, which were sorely lacking on their part that evening.
I think that we should all keep in mind that servers are people too. Sometimes after I read lists like these I scare myself silly trying to remember all the details of the “don’ts.” All the rules can sometimes even make me give bad service just trying to make sure I’m behaving myself! When I go out to eat I like people to be genuinely nice, knowledgeable, and make sure that the food and drink are delivered to me as ordered. I could make a list of 100 things that customers do, but in general I know that most of them mean well, and are just people themselves.
Thank you Sarah. People need to lighten up. Just look at the comments and you see what waiters are up against. I’m with you, if the server is pleasant, can answer most questions, and serves my drinks and food in a timely manner, I’m a happy camper.
I must admit I have sometimes squatted down at a table because I had a hard time hearing the customers while standing, but squatting at face-level helps a lot. I don’t know how bartenders in noisy bars can hear orders – they must be really good at reading lips.
Food Dude says
Back in my bartending days, I learned to read lips very well. People pretty much ask for the same drinks, so it gets pretty easy.
Everything always has to be so overwrought and pedantic.
Just don’t be a dick. Recipe for serving. Recipe for dining. Recipe for life.
What pollo elastico said.
#57 talks about condiments, but needs more emphasis. Bring the condiments BEFORE the meal arrives. How many times do we have to wait while our burger, meat, etc., cool off? The server gets forgets afterwards, gets distracted, etc. When they bring the meal, the condiments should already be on your table.
I agree with most of them, though I’d add that some apply more to fine dining, some more to casual. Here’s one of my pet peeves that I think wasn’t on the list – When 3 or 4 people at a table order coffee, and the server asks if they need cream? C’mon, what are the chances they all take ir black? just bring the friggin cream!
Oh, and when a server automatically asks “Is everything okay?” I generally ban my servers from saying that – too automatic. Zero in on a specific – shows you actually care about the answer.
first and foremost this list completely ignores that servers are people too. second of all it ignores just how awful the customers demanding all the details can be. that said, i agree with the large majority of etiquette rules as it shouldn’t be so hard to be proper. however, some are simply impossible. i love how everyone says to never reach over a customer to clear something. in an ideal world us servers could always follow this rule. in reality, most restaurants are set up in ways such that this is impossible. tell me a better way to clear an 8 top sitting on the banquette. of course such clearing will be done with all apologies and pardon-me’s possible, but unless i’m going to let seat 3 keep the same plate and utensils all night there is simply no other option.
what should the ultimate rule be? stop writings rules for servers unless you’ve been one. everyone should be required to work in a busy restaurant for at least one year, then they can form an opinion.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Gum chewing in front of customers, especially when serving or taking orders from customers. Disgusting, tacky and rude. Happens a lot more often than it should.
No doubt about that.
But there’s also the flip side- the feral swine customers that stick their gum to restaurants’ furniture.. or glassware.
But this isn’t a list of the ways that customers should behave in restaurants. Such a list is in need of compiling, and certainly there is enough bad behavior by customers around to warrant quite a long list. Nevertheless, most if not all of the Times’ list is pretty valid, and just because there’s fouls committed by patrons doesn’t excuse bad service, and mentioning examples of bad behavior by customers is a diversion from the need by service staff to better comport themselves.
As for requiring someone to spend a year as a server before they can form an opinion about servers’ conduct…Nonsense. You don’t need to be a composer to say whether you like a song, or judge a trashy film only if you’re a film school grad. Nor graduate culinary school to tell if a dish is too salty, or not at the right temp, or overcooked. I think most people who’ve eaten out a fair amount can tell if a server is incompetent, and what the general rules of conduct should be for a professional server.
Kim Price says
OK – this is for sure a big “NO!” http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local-beat/Time-In-Prison–70426052.html
Food Dude says
Oh, this is great. I’m stealing it for a post! Thanks!
Kim Price says
Awesome, because this is just unbelievable. I can’t wait to see what happens in court, but I’m pretty sure that restaurant is going be history. Ending up on Digg about this is about as bad of PR as you can get.