Just because you’ve been eating your whole life doesn’t mean you’re any good at being a diner.
Sure, you know how to pick a place, and decide what you want to eat. But if you’ve never worked in a restaurant, and can’t see the operation from the other side, chances are you’re leaving some satisfaction on the table.
Recently, I asked restaurant professionals what details, standards and practices they wished more customers understood about dining out. They offered a primer on how to be a happier customer.
Make a reservation, if possible.
That’s true “especially for smaller establishments with limited seating and a smaller staff,” said former server Stacey Mogford. “While most restaurants will try and accommodate you if you don't, understand that there may be a wait and there is a lot of adjusting that is happening to fit you in behind the scenes.”
Call again if your plans change, or you are delayed by more than 15 minutes. Don’t assume that an 8 p.m. table for four can be translated into an 8:30 p.m. table for six.
No reservation, no rushing.
In places that don’t reserve tables, walking in, weighing the crowd, and deciding to stay is a decision you have to own. Have a glass of wine and talk to your companion, like people used to do.
“Patience, patience, patience,” said Lou Fasolino, Salumeria Belsito general manager. “When you see the place is packed, don’t expect your food in 12 minutes.”
Glaring at the server will not bend the laws of space and time.
“A sit-down restaurant is not a fast-food joint,” said former server Danielle Ruhl. “I can't tell you how many times I've had customers order a well-done steak, or extra crispy wings, then tell me they need to be somewhere in a half hour.”
Smartphones will connect you to everything but a good experience.
“When your server is there to take your order, don’t make us stand there and wait for you to finish a ‘quick’ text or decide what it is you want to eat,” said Kathleen Dowd, a server at Black & Blue. “It holds up the process for not just you, but the server, the kitchen and other patrons.”
Also, don’t leave your cellphone on the table where your server must move it with their hands full of plates. One more: “If you ask us to take a picture, please be aware that we do not have 15 minutes to stop our flow to get the perfect shot by taking half a dozen or more of them.”
Ask questions if you don’t understand the menu.
Even in a fast-paced dining room, the staff would rather take the time to set your expectations correctly, if possible, than cope with the fallout of a diner-dish mismatch.
“We don’t know what you know, and what you don’t know,” said Casa Azul owner Zina Lapi. “Maybe ask what ceviche (marinated seafood) is before ordering it, and then complaining it is cold.”
If you don’t like something, or believe it was cooked improperly, tell a server.
“If you are displeased with your entree, please give me every opportunity to fix it before you leave,” said former Garfield’s server Cyndi Schasel. “I would like to see you come back.”
Allergies that aren’t allergies are bad for everyone.
“If you don't care for onions, please just tell me that you don't care for them, don't tell me that you have an allergy to them,” said Schasel. “If you do, it is my duty to tell the kitchen staff that you are allergic and they have to get all new utensils and cutting boards to prepare your meal and that takes time.”
Consider airing addressable complaints in the dining room before broadcasting them to the world.
“Don't run to your phone or laptop and berate an establishment publicly without ever speaking to the staff about an issue you faced,” said Fresh Catch Poke owner Michael Tobin. “Give them the opportunity to make it right, and then comment publicly if need be.”
The customer isn’t always right.
“Eating the entire entree because you ‘were hungry’ and then saying you didn’t like it does not engender much sympathy or a chance at getting it off your bill,” said Roo Buckley, Carte Blanche's floor manager and wine director.
In the end, remember that you are dealing with people.
“Never snap your fingers,” said Buckley. “You are now last.”
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