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As restaurant/bar industry employees, our job is to make others happy– and for most of us, we love to do just that. It’s quite rewarding to know you’ve played a role in someone else’s satisfying and memorable experience out. As someone who loves traveling and visiting new places, I’m especially thrilled when an out-of-town visitor has a great experience that they will take home with them.

However, we occasionally must walk the tenuous line between your (the customer’s) happiness and our (the industry employee’s) misery. When the latter becomes a trade-off for the former, it really is quite a drag. So as a general courtesy, please try and let us satisfy you; please do not come out with a rotting chip on your shoulder, unable to be pleased by even our direst efforts.

Also, please keep in mind that as employees who must interact with scores of people (most of whom are complete strangers) each shift, we inevitably will make an ASS out of ourselves at least once a day. {…at least I know I do} Whether it’s a failed attempt at humor, an uncooperative tongue, sheer clumsiness, or a mistaken mental gaffe–these are our hazards of the work place. So show a little love, and go easy on us from time to time. Thanks!

With that being said, lets get back to the ways you can help from pissing us off. Ohhhhh just kidding.… but seriously.

6. Don’t Try and Cheat Us

As I’ve gone over: we want you to be happy. What we don’t want, however, is for you to try to pull one over on us. Like the parent of a teenager who once misbehaved in their own youth, “We know all your tricks, so don’t even try it.”

Sending something back because it came out wrong or you simply “don’t like it” (as aggravating as this can be) is one thing. Most of us will go out of our way to get you something else more to you’re liking. However, if you down ¾ of your cocktail or devour the majority of your entrée then complain (often after we’ve already checked on you) that you don’t like it and would like something else [read: complimentary], that is something completely different. We are not here to give you a hand-out. I believe they have soup kitchens for that. There, I said it.

In the eloquent words of former-industry-employee-turned-military-wife-expat :

“Unless you found a that your last bite was in fact a dead rat, pay for the meal you ate and suck it up.”

Additionally, it is not our fault if you fail to read the menu and get the wrong impression of a dish. If you have questions about something, please ask us. That is what we’re there for. And, for the most part, please refrain from ordering something that you’ve despised partaking in in the past. Your shoddy memory and/or inability to select something that you may actually (*gasp*) enjoy does not warrant you a free meal. Sorry.

On a slightly different note: if you have a server, please order your drinks through them– not from the bar after you’ve been seated. It’s rude and appears as though you don’t trust your server to do their job. As well as simply making you look impatient. This should also avoid the dreaded “double-order”–where you put in your ONE order to more than one employee, resulting in more than one order being produced.

If you know the bartender and are trying to get their attention, you’re probably trying to get some kind of hook-up. Don’t lie, we’ve all done it. Say “Hello” and return to your table (preferably empty-handed). If you’re bartender-friend really likes you, they’ll probably send you over a drink or round of shots. Whoo! If this is the case, please remember it when taking care of the bill– servers often tip out the bar, so your friend will reap the benefits of it too.

7. We Provide Food and Drinks, Not Child Care

I don’t have children, so I will not begin to assume how difficult it must be to be a parent, especially in public-dining situations. However, it was ultimately your decision to bring a child into this world and to, consequently, bring said child into a restaurant. Keep your kids in check. Most establishments are not run as willy-nilly as Chuck-E-Cheese. So please don’t let them scamper around the restaurant or make an atrocious mess at the table.

Also, if you’re kids have a hard time ordering for themselves, please give them (and us) a hand. In the time it takes to coax your child into going with the grilled-cheese or the chicken tenders, milk or apple juice, we could have gone to the pharmacy for Plan B already.

Having said that, many industry employees are moonlighting for extra money, supplementing their salaries to make ends meet. And what profession do a good majority hail from? You guessed it: education. Teachers are taking care of your kids during the day and serving them at night. Don’t they deserve a bit of a break?

8. Don’t be a Complete SLOB

People dine out for a number of reasons: to indulge in tasty food and drinks they didn’t have to labor over; to people watch/prowl for prospects; or simply to get out of the house. But isn’t it also to have someone else clean up after you? There are no pots to scour, dishes to wash, linens to stain-stick. You eat, pay your bill, and leave. No muss, no fuss.

In turn, we are fully aware that cleaning up after people is part of our job description. Dozens, nay, hundreds of times a day we clear dirty dishes and napkins, wipe down tables, sweep up perhaps, and reset. We also know kids can be messy, and that Cheerio’s are inclined to wind up on the floor (not in the mouth) 9½ times out of ten. As long as you’re not encouraging your child to chuck their spaghetti across the room, this does not bother us.

But what tends to be obnoxious is when fully-grown adults behave in such a disgusting manner. When we have to all-but-power-wash the area once known as table 12 after you’ve departed, then we tend to loathe you.

I’m not talking a few crumbs here… I’m talking chewed-up bits of food, gum, masticated straws, shredded napkins, coasters, and beer labels, dollops of ketchup, the no-longer-needed contents of your purse or wallet, drinking glasses filled with an amalgamation of the liquids (and solids) on the table, etc., etc.

We appreciate you trying to clean-up a little after yourself. We really do. (In fact, we can usually tell which one of our guests has worked in the industry by this very act.) But please keep in mind that we have to retrieve what you’ve shoved into your glasses, find the silverware hidden beneath your used napkins, and carry the plates stacked so perilously that they envy the Tower of Pisa for it’s architectural-integrity. All with a smile and a little grace.

“That’s your job, not my problem,” you say. Fair enough. (*cough-douchebag-cough*) But think about this one: How would your mother react if she saw the mess you’ve left behind? Chances are she wouldn’t be too happy with her little treasure, now would she?

9. There’s a Menu for a Reason, Please Order From It

I’ve learned through the years in this industry that people can be very picky about what they eat. They like what they like, tend to distrust what is out of their culinary comfort zone, and are often unwilling to experiment. This is all well and good. However, can makes dining out (without being a staff’s total nightmare) a bit of a feat.

Restaurants spend thousands of dollars and countless hours developing their menus. Chefs study for years; they research, tinker, and tweak to get their dishes just right. Please do them the honor of actually reading–and then ordering from–the menu. {Sometimes you have to show a little faith.}

Don’t get me wrong, some changes and exceptions can be made: leaving off the tomato, putting the dressing on the side, switching up the cheese or bread, etc. These things are simple to do and are rarely an issue. Most establishments will even make substitutions, with the understanding that some items cost extra (crab meat > steak > chicken). However, please don’t order something that is just straight-up not on the menu. Just because you’re in the mood for Chicken Carbonara, doesn’t mean we’re going to make it specially for you.

And if you’d like us to make a recommendation, please don’t just ask “What’s Good?” without being willing to expand on your preferences. “Good” is a very general term, and tastes are very subjective. What’s “good” to one person may be putrid-garbage-on-a-plate to someone else.

For the most part we’re happy to make suggestions and provide you with more information. But please don’t subject us to such blanket statements. Give us some parameters to work with. For example: How hungry are you? Are you in the mood for a seafood, meat, or vegetarian dish? Do you like robust or more subtle foods? Is there something you’re in the mood for or have been craving lately? These types of gastro-queries can help us immensely when directing you through the menu.

When it comes down to it, I will order for you. But I’d rather have some type of framework to go on to ensure that you like what I’ve selected.

10. Please Tip Well

This probably goes without saying, yet I feel the need to say it anyway: Twenty percent (20%) is the standard amount to tip these days. A little more for great service, a little less for not-so-great service. But if everything was satisfactory, your server was friendly, and your drinks were filled, they deserve at least 20%. If you can’t afford 20%, don’t go out to eat–or don’t order that third cocktail with top shelf liquor you just had to have. This is how we make a living– and in most cases, we don’t get paid hourly, not anything substantial after taxes anyway. Very few of us are in this line of work for the sheer thrill of serving others. We are not independently wealthy. And we don’t want to work for free.

Now for a brief note on the “verbal tip.” Everyone likes to be complimented, especially on their job. Praise is important and can really turn around a bad day. But, when it comes down to it, I can’t deposit a compliment in the bank. Kudos do not pay the bills. Please don’t tell me I did a great job, and gush about how wonderful everything was, then leave 13%. Similarly, telling us “Don’t worry, I’ll tip you really well” or “I’ll take care of you” is often code for: “I’ll make you put up with a bunch of my bullshit, then tip you poorly to boot.” Please don’t say this unless you intend on leaving at least 20%.

We don’t make the prices or the policies. Please don’t blame us. We generally have no control of how much you’re paying for your beer. Bitching at us is not going to sway the monumental forces of inflation or corporate greed. It’s only going to annoy us, and make you look cheap.

Please tip on the full amount. “What is this?” you ask. If you took advantage of a special (half-off entrees, discounted bottles of wine, etc.) that’s great–we’re happy to get you in her, and save you some money. However, we’re doing the same amount of work for what can end up being half the money because you’re tipping on the final discounted amount, rather than the full-price (a.k.a. had there not been a special.)

Also, if you’ve gotten any portion of your bill discounted, please consider this when tipping. Say the bartender’s your friend and he hooked you up with a round; or the chef sent you over complimentary dessert because you used to tutor their kid or they want to get on your sweet side; or the manager, who happens to be your neighbor, discounted your check because she’s trying to be polite. These are all great for you. But please remember that your server is working just as hard, whether or not you got the discount.

In the end, an extra dollar or two– hell, even 50 cents– is probably not going to break the bank for you. But for us it means a lot. It validates that we’ve done a good job in your eyes. And in this case it’s not even about the money.

There’s the oft-forgotten tradition of the single penny (in conjunction with a good tip, not a replacement for, of course.) Leaving a single penny for the server is a way to share that you truly enjoyed the service you received. It’ll brighten our day and show that we’ve brightened yours.

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2 Comments

  1. As a Baby Boomer who is tending bar while taking a break from 17 years in the corporate world, I really appreciate your perspectives. I agree that diners should have to work a shift in a restaurant before being allowed to patronize one; too bad that won’t ever happen.

    Specific to the bar/bartender, I’d like to offer a couple of other thoughts on ways NOT to be tagged a moron:

    Don’t complain about the amount of liquor in your drink or wine in your glass. Our “standard pour” is set by the boss (or us, if we’re the boss) because, as you’ve said, we’re here to make a living.

    Don’t ask me to “make it strong.” If you want a strong drink, order a double — and be prepared to pay for it. Although it may not occur to you, bartenders are not there to help you get drunk. In fact, a substantial responsibility of our job is to see that you DON’T get drunk.

    I second the comment about tipping well, but “well” can be interpreted a little different at the bar. If you’re just getting a glass of wine, a beer (either bottle or tap), or a simple mixed drink (e.g., a vodka/tonic or rum/Coke), then $1 a drink is the absolute minimum. If you order a Long Island Iced Tea, mojito, Pina Colada, or any drink that requires muddling of fruit, etc., tip more. They’re more difficult and take longer to make, so a better tip is indicated.

    If you’re ordering top-shelf liquor, a better tip is also indicated. If you’re willing to pay $45 for a shot of Johnny Blue, expect to be labeled a cheap s.o.b. if all you leave is a buck. At those prices, even a $5 bill is barely 10%. (Though I’ve been stiffed outright a few times, the most memorable bad-tipping experience was the two couples who ordered four top-shelf doubles, which came to $75 with tax. They left me $2. Yikes!)

    Finally, if you’re having dinner at the bar, then 20% of the total bill should be the benchmark for good service. And these days, most companies will allow business travelers to expense us to about 20% (some are 18%), so if you’re getting it back from your company, why not share the wealth?

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Carl. I agree wholeheartedly with all of your input. In an attempt to keep the article relatively simple, I chose to “gloss” over the bar-specific tips at this time…perhaps I’ll write another in the future. Thanks again for visiting my blog!

    Claire


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