The benefit of anonymity is that it often encourages candor. At least, we hope that’s the case as we begin our series Notes From The Front, where a server at a popular local restaurants gives us a little insight into the life in the front of the house. Whether you agree with her (or his?) thoughts or find them objectionable, we hope these stories at least provide a new perspective to consider when dining out.
“Why am I waiting? Why can’t I have that table? I think I’ll say something to the hostess.”
There is a flow that is established as soon as guests begin to arrive at a restaurant. Servers receive guests at their tables, server-assistants pour water, bartenders make drinks, wine bottles are opened, orders are sent, chefs prepare the food, etc. This flow continues throughout the night. It is perfect harmony (queue collective industry chuckle). Your hostess is simply controlling the speed at which orders are being sent to the kitchen by controlling the speed at which diners are being sat. The best way to successfully crash service in a crowed restaurant is to slam a kitchen with orders all at once and its service staff with tables all at once. If a restaurant is rocking there will always be something to wait for.
On this journey through indulgence your servers are your guides. They are the attendants, the liaisons between a guests needs and the results. Make eye contact with this person (and everyone working for you). They know you have lives and friends to catch up with, you have stories to tell, you have problems; but they have a job to do. Servers are taught to approach tables when there is a pause in conversation or activity. They’re taught to be friendly and welcoming and to set a standard of trust with guests right off the bat. Give your server the courtesy of pausing and looking at them when they are speaking. Take a break to get your end of the process taken care of. Its fine if you have absolutely no idea what you want to drink or eat, we have time to decide on that, but say hello. Smile. If you wan’t a stretch of time to settle in before anything is ordered, let your server know and they’ll back off. We are all in this together. Communication is key.
There’s a place for the iPhone, and it’s somewhere else
A good server is in total control of their table. An excellent server can look at any table in a dining-room at any point of a meal and know exactly where the guests are in their experience. They do this by observing what sits on the table; the positioning of flatware; how full the drinks are; what condiments remain. Everything a guest needs has its place on the table. Keys, phones, scarves, purses – these things do not belong on the table. If you must keep your phone by your side, do it at the edge of the table, out of the way. If you must have a clutter of personal items in front of you on your table move them when the server approaches with food. Theres nothing more awkward than a server attempting to juggle plates of food while clearing a space for them on the table. An excellent server takes care of this before approaching the table with food. To piss off an excellent server put your wallet and cell phone in front of you where your food belongs.
Not interruption, but attention
Servers are taught to check in on their tables regularly. They are not checking in to be annoying, though guests’ facial expressions and body language often suggest that they are. If things are going great, a simple smile and a nod or thumbs up will do the trick. Alternatively, if things aren’t measuring up to your expectations, this is your opportunity to speak up. Servers really do want you to be satisfied and happy. If you’re unhappy, let them know. Doing so will make everyone’s performance and experience better.
Enjoy yourself, but don’t set up a campsite
A server’s table is real estate. Each chair has a value to the service staff and the restaurant as a whole. A seat left empty is money that’s not being made. The money you spend reflects the service you received, the food and drink you consumed, and the time you spent at your table. When drinks are empty, desserts are finished and cleared, check is paid, kindly wrap up your conversation and leave the table. Servers, hostess, managers and chefs are always checking on the status of a table in order to plan for the next “turn” (seating). A table that just won’t leave can seriously disrupt the flow.
In addition, if you are the last people in the restaurant and you linger for too long you are actually costing the establishment money. The thought of “shutting the place down” might be a romantic notion, but in reality, it affects everyone working in the restaurant, and the restaurant’s operation itself. After a long night of serving others, the staff of a restaurant want nothing more than to turn the lights up and the music down so they can close up shop (which in some cases can be up to 3 hours after the last guest has left). If you’ve noticed that you’re at an empty restaurant at the end of the evening and asked the question, “Oh, are we keeping you here?” The answer is yes. Understandably, most service industry folks would never say it to the customer, but the answer is always yes.