Even though they are working and you’re not, it doesn’t mean anything goes when it comes to restaurant staff. Etiquette and manners still apply and the relationship between the restaurant and the patron goes both ways. We’ve talked to restaurant owners, managers and service staff and compiled a list of the top things to do — or never do — when dining out.
When it comes down to it, the vast majority of restaurant owners and employees are hardworking people that do their best to ensure that you have an enjoyable dining experience. Their job depends on it, after all. But little things, like making eye contact or talking on your cell phone, can make all the difference to the staff. Here are the top 10 most loved — and hated — things we as customers do.
Top 5 restaurant dos
Tip your server well
Unless you received really lousy service, tip your server at least 15 percent. The current standard for good to great service now hovers between 18 percent and 20 percent. Servers generally make only a few dollars an hour, so your tip is how they make their living. Servers also tip out other service staff like bussers, food runners and bartenders which, depending on the establishment, can carve out up to 40 percent of their total tips. “If you’re really unhappy with your service and don’t feel like an 18 to 20 percent tip is appropriate, it is OK to leave less, but be sure to tell the manager why you were unhappy with your service,” says restaurant General Manager Rachel Fingerman. “If you’re not willing to tell the manager why you are leaving a poor tip, then you should tip appropriately.” Factor in tip when you are deciding if you can afford to eat out. If you can’t afford the proper tip, you should consider a less expensive alternative. Also, in the age of discount deal sites and promotional offers, keep in mind that even if you received a $100 meal for $50, your server still served you $100 worth of food and should be tipped based on that pre-discounted amount.
Respect the staff
Almost everyone I know has either worked in a restaurant at some point or is close to someone who has. While restaurant staff does serve you your food, there is a big difference between a server and a servant. Respecting the staff is not only the right thing to do, but when they feel respected and appreciated, it almost always leads to better service. Long gone are the divisions between the classes of people that work in restaurants versus those who dine in them. Common courtesies like looking your server or busser in the eye and saying “please” and “thank you” should not be overlooked.
Ask for recommendations
Chances are servers have tried most of what is offered on the menu. They see the food being made, served and enjoyed on a daily basis and probably have a pretty good idea of what are the best menu items. Ask what they personally like to eat and why it is their favorite. If you feel like your server is just suggesting the most expensive thing on the menu to increase their tip, ask them to tell you why they prefer the fillet over the meatloaf. You don’t have to go with their first suggestion, but at the very least, you will have more information to take into account when making your decision.
Be ready to order
If you tell your server you’re ready to order, be ready. There isn’t much that is more frustrating for a server to have to stand at your table while you are contemplating the pasta versus the steak for 10 minutes. Unless you have specific questions, tell the server you would like a few more minutes to decide. If it’s a busy night, they probably have a dozen other things they could be doing, and standing idly for a few minutes can really set them back. “I think it is easy for customers to forget that I am also waiting on several other tables, and I have to give each of them the same good service,” explains Laura Nagel, a server in a fine dining Philadelphia steakhouse. “I might not be able to get back to your table the moment you are ready to order.” Be patient and considerate and keep in mind that the more efficiently the service staff is working, the smoother your dining experience is likely to be.
Tell the manager how your experience was
Many restaurant managers only get requested to come to a table when there is a complaint. A big part of a manager’s job is to ensure customer satisfaction and deal with any issues that arise, but it is also nice, and very much appreciated, to hear positive feedback as well. If you had a particularly helpful server, tell them. Or, better yet, tell their manager. Restaurant work often times feels like an underappreciated job, so a seemingly small compliment can make a huge difference. “We hosted a family reunion recently and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. Afterwards one of the guests made a point to tell all of the servers and the manager how much they enjoyed themselves and how much our efforts and warmth enhanced their experience. It’s comments like that keep us motivated and feeling appreciated,” says Leah Schlackman, a server at Home Restaurant in Manhattan.