Millions of people, of all ages and walks of life, make their living in the restaurant and hospitality industry. I worked as a server, trainer and manager in various food service establishments for over 10 years, from high school all the way through graduate school.
Serving is, to this day, one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs I’ve ever had. Not because it’s rocket science, but because you never stop dealing with people. And people, as we all know, can be rude, demanding and completely devoid of compassion, especially when it comes to the “punk kids” bringing their food.
Whenever I had a particularly bad experience with a customer (and it wasn’t always about getting a small tip), I used to think: This person has never worked in this industry. Once you get a glimpse behind the curtain of how a restaurant works, and what it’s like to be the one bringing the food instead of eating it, you realize it’s about much more than carrying plates.
Some of you will never experience this segment of the workforce. This makes it hard to imagine life in a server’s shoes. So, drawing from my experiences and those of my fellow service industry employees, here is some food for thought:
1. Don‘t go to a sit-down restaurant if you‘re in a rush.
I used to work at one of the most popular restaurants in my city. Especially on weekend evenings, people would be seated and immediately say, “We only have 20 minutes until the movie/concert/theater performance starts. Can you hurry things up?” This puts your server in an incredibly awkward situation. See, we don’t control the pace of food preparation–the kitchen does. And the kitchen has lots of orders before yours. If you don’t have time to be served at the normal speed, eat dinner at home or go to a fast-service restaurant.
2. Look them in the eye and listen when they talk.
I can’t tell you how many times I approached a table and, before I could even introduce myself, the customer grunted “Diet Coke” without taking their eyes off the menu. Nothing makes you feel like more of a turd than being denied the courtesy of eye contact, and the opportunity to finish my (mandatory) greeting. Same thing goes for people who refuse to stop chatting or get off the phone. This person is your server, not servant. Treat them like the equal they are.
3. Be ready to order.
You are not your sever’s only table. Each of their guests needs timely, individual attention. Unless you‘ve never been to a restaurant before, you know how things are likely to go: drink order, appetizer order, entree order. You know what restaurants have to drink: water, soda, juice, coffee and usually a bar. If you’re undecided when the server comes for the drink order, ask for water while you decide. If you plan on having appetizers or cocktails, be ready to order them when the water comes. Once the appetizers come, be ready to order your entree. One polite request for extra time is fine, but don’t drag it out further.
4. Be upfront about number of guests and check preferences.
If you’re dining with a big group and others are coming at a later time, say so. Your server will then know to avoid coming back to the table until all guests are present. Likewise, if you’d like separate checks, tell your sever before they take your order. Depending on the POS (point of sale) system used at the restaurant, doing so after the order is placed could be extremely difficult.
5. Don‘t camp.
The amount of money a server makes in a day is directly correlated to the number of times they can “flip” each table. This doesn’t mean you should rush or feel like you can’t relax. However, you should never sit at a table talking or drinking free water/coffee/tea for an hour after the check has come. I don’t care how big your tab was. This is doubly true if the restaurant is at or near closing. How would you like it if someone came and hung out in your office until 8 pm, preventing you from getting your work done or going home? Exactly.
6. Tip properly.
I know this has been said many times before, but so many American restaurant patrons still don’t get it, so it bears repeating: Most servers are paid just over $2 an hour. Long ago, someone brilliantly decided that you, the customer, should be responsible for the balance of a server’s salary instead of their employer. This means a tip is not some kind of bonus for good behavior, but an essential part of the server’s compensation. I repeat, tipping is not an option. Not tipping (or undertipping) is the equivalent of telling your mechanic you‘ll pay for the parts used to fix your car, but not the labor required to install them. Never tip less than 15 percent of the total before any discount or gift card is applied. And unless the server did something truly malicious (burned or undercooked food doesn’t count, again that’s the kitchen’s responsibility) it should be 20 percent. Period.
A final note about tipping: Some people think this mandatory 20 percent business is crazy. They think tipping is at the customer’s discretion and should be treated like a gift. Or they remember the “old days” when a 10 percent tip was considered adequate. To those people I simply say: treat the server (however young and inexperienced) like they were your own son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter. Because someday it might be. Just because your server wears an apron instead of a tie doesn’t mean they’re a second class citizen, or a “kid” working for pocket change. Many have much bigger plans for their lives and are just “getting a job” and “working hard” — you know, striving for that ever-elusive “American Dream.” They deserve your respect and a proper tip.
Image via neilconway