5 Things Everyone That Eats Out Should Know

Today, I got my last ever check from my first ever job – and I couldn’t be happier.

Not because the check is loaded with money or anything. It’s not.

No, I’m happy because I’ll never have to worry about the stresses of restaurant work ever again. Working at a small, high-end restaurant taught me invaluable lessons about people, power dynamics and my own personal work ethic, but man was it hell.

The crazed temperamental tantrums of an overgrown bully of a chef with an ego the size of the Yankee state he’s from and a mouth that would make Ramzy concede defeat come to mind, in particular.

But let’s not get too personal or anything, shall we?

That’s not to say my work was a wholly bad experience, though. In fact, I personally think everyone should work a job like my old one – just so they can understand what it’s like when they go out to eat.

In particular, I think there are five things I learned working in the restaurant industry doing everything from washing the dishes to bussing to serving that I think everyone should know.

     1. Servers not servants

First and foremost, your server is a human being, so treat them as such.

Putting on an apron and asking if you’d like a salad with that in no way demeans your server and it certainly does not give a license to patrons to suddenly treat their waiters or waitresses with poor manners – even if the service isn’t all that good.

Because, given a choice, do you think your server genuinely wants to be there? Probably not.

Working a food service job is like any other job, except it probably sucks a lot more, so don’t bark orders at the wait staff and don’t expect them to be your personal servants for the time you’re in an establishment.

     2. Twenty percent is the new 15

If someone waits on you in a formal sit-down restaurant, the minimum tip you should leave is 20 percent. Period.

Anything less nowadays is an insult to the staff that helped provide your meal.

After all, servers and other wait staff have to earn a living just like you do, and they’re almost certainly making under minimum wage from their employers directly. Therefore, be kind and tip well.

If you do, you’ll probably be remembered the next time you visit and may get even better service.

So if you can’t afford to tip well, then don’t go out to eat. It’s really that simple.

     3. Your jokes haven’t been funny for 30 years

If you make a habit of saying how bad the food was all the while your near-spotless plate is being taken from you, then the server is probably inwardly rolling their eyes and thinking something insultingly vulgar about you.

Likely while smiling his or her face off at you, nonetheless.

Because, at the end of the day, servers would rather fake a smile or a laugh and get a (potentially) bigger tip than tell you how bad and unoriginal your jokes are.

So, rule of thumb, if you’re ever heard someone tell a joke to your server about their meals, never use that joke ever again.

     4. Some people just like to complain

“Oh, I ordered this steak medium-rare, but the steak you brought me is clearly medium-rare plus. Be a dear and get me another. Thank you.”

Statements like these really get under my skin.

It seems that for every 10 ordinary, stand-up people that come into a restaurant, one borderline-psychopath with narcissistic control tendencies can’t help but follow. Because it’s not an issue of quality food preparation (usually). It’s an attitude issue.

Really, some people just like to control and manipulate others. To them, it’s almost a cruel and sick little game they play, which sometimes even results in a free meal.

Don’t be that person.

     5. Give your server the benefit of the doubt

Now, let’s suppose that you go to a busy restaurant around eight o’clock at night, wait a few minutes and get seated with your party of four.

Your server comes over, takes your drink orders and lets you know the specials. Then your server disappears, never to be seen again. Or at least it feels that way.

Finally, she comes back with the drinks and takes your food orders. And after 30 minutes or so, the food arrives, looking and tasting absolutely amazing. That is, everyone’s food but yours comes.

Your waitress tells you that there was a problem, but that it’ll be out in a few minutes. Finally, after an inordinate amount of time, someone else brings it out, thanks you for your patience and your waitress does another disappearing act until the check comes. No refills are offered, and no bread provided.

Anyway, when she comes back, she thanks you, tells you she’ll take the check at your earliest convenience and promptly walks off – never mind the fact that you wanted desert.

Now, ordinarily you’re an excellent patron that isn’t incredibly demanding, tips well and treats your server with respect. How do you handle this situation? Do you stiff her with a 10 percent tip? 15? What’s fair?

Now, it’s time that I tell you that not all is as it appears in this hypothetical scenario.

In this story, your waitress is filling in for someone else’s shift, doesn’t feel well and is working a double. Further, the problems with the drinks weren’t really her fault because the bar got overloaded, someone else mistakenly took her drinks and she had to run out the food for another person’s table of six while she waited for the rest of her drinks to get remade.

In the case of your food, the chef forgot, as happens with increasing frequency, to check his inventory and had to send someone to the store a few blocks away to get a crucial ingredient – it was no fault of the waitress.

Now what’s the point of this long, probably unnecessarily drawn-out narrative?

Merely to show that sometimes the problems or mistakes you find with your server may not accurately reflect the situation and that stiffing them on a tip won’t exactly help things, either.

You see, when servers get stiffed, they don’t view your lack of tip as a holy judgment on their abilities – something completely justified due to their lack of proper attention. Instead, they’ll probably bitch about you to their co-workers, move on to another table and hold you up as an example of a cruel, niggardly tightwad – particularly if you’re nasty or mean to them.

The point is this: not everything is always as it seems and servers can’t control everything.

Sometimes they screw up. Sometimes the kitchen screws up. Sometimes miscommunications happen on both sides.

So be understanding and give your server the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. It’s just the kind thing to do.


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This is the personal page of Chris Shattuck -- an Atlanta-based media professional with a background in business reporting, nonprofits and agency PR.

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