By: Jennifer Roach
While dining etiquette is often discussed and dissected, restaurant-specific tips are not quite as commonplace, despite the frequency with which business and social entertaining takes place in our society. Rarer still are guides specifically aimed at the service professionals who make up half of this staff/patron arrangement. Here are ten tips each for both waiters and diners to get the most out of their next meal:
Ten Ways to Get Superior Service in a Restaurant
1. Be patient. Returning a dish or requesting a substitution is fine, but it may take some time. Also, your server is juggling many other guests’ needs, especially during the dinner rush.
2. Read the menu. Asking the waiter’s opinion between two choices is perfectly acceptable, but asking him to detail the entire menu in lieu of actually looking at it is tedious and inconsiderate.
3. Think ahead. If someone at the table orders a drink and yours is one-third full, and you know you’re going to get another one soon, go ahead and order yours at the same time. Don’t wait for her to come back with the other patron’s drink just to send her right back to the bar.
4. Be polite. Don’t respond to “Good evening, how is everyone tonight?” with “I’ll have the Riesling.” Engage in the bare minimum of pleasantries; say please and thank you.
5. Talk to the right person. Ask the support staff to send your waiter over if you need something, rather than for a desired item. Bussers often do not have access to the electronic POS system that allows them to ring in an order, nor the authority to approach the bar directly.
6. Don’t shoot the messenger. The waiter didn’t cook the dish, nor set the menu prices. If you were unhappy with the food make sure to clearly tell your server so management can remedy the situation instead of just leaving a bad tip.
7. Refrain from using your cellphone. Especially when ordering.
8. Send a thank you note. Telling the management in writing that you had a wonderful meal or fantastic service guarantees you will be remembered and welcomed warmly the next time you make a reservation. Detailed notes are kept in reservation systems, especially for regular patrons.
9. Don’t get personal. Inappropriate questions obvious flirting with the staff is awkward and uncomfortable.
10.Remember it’s a person. Someone has to deal with what you leave behind – gum under the table, shoe dirt on the chairs, the remains of blowing your nose into the linen napkin. Please proceed with grace.
Ten Ways to Give Superior Service in a Restaurant
1. Be patient. Don’t clear any plates until everyone has finished. An empty plate is far less obtrusive than making the remaining diners feel rushed or making the first person done feel they ate too fast.
2. Be pleasantly vague. Don’t ask a guest if they want another margarita or some more bread—just ask if they need anything.
3. Timing is everything. Wait for right moment to recite a long list of specials (with prices, please) or interrupt an intense conversation.
4. Be discrete and professional. Don’t laugh or gossip with coworkers within earshot of customers, or eat or drink within site of them.
5. Be upfront. If your restaurant charges an automatic gratuity on parties of six or more, and your eight top just tipped you generously in addition to that, point out the included service charge.
6. Pay attention. Don’t ignore a table that isn’t yours. If you see a guest clearly in need of attention, help them immediately or promptly tell them you’ll send their server right over.
7. Good service flows. Bring all of the appetizers or entrees to a table at the same time. Never leave one guest stranded and plate-less while everyone else in their party has their meal.
8. Read silverware signals. Cutlery crossed in the shape of an X means the diner isn’t finished. A knife and fork together in the 10 o’clock and 4 o’clock position means they are. Think of it this way: X means no, hands off, and a straight line means you can take it straight away. (That is, presuming everyone else is done too. See #1 above.)
9. Left/leave, right/retrieve. Generally one serves from the guests’ left and clears from the right, using the respective hand (ie: placing a dish with the left and picking up with the right).
10. Remember you’re there to help. Never answer a guest’s question with “I don’t know,” without immediately following it up with “…but I’ll find out.”
Jennifer Roach is a pastry chef and cake designer based in New York City. She has over a dozen years experience in fine dining establishments such as Chanterelle, Eleven Madison Park, and Koi. She is currently a freelance bakery consultant and caterer.