Turning the tables

Dishing on service: part II

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The traits that make a good guest at a restaurant are the same that make someone a nice person—being nice.

My previous piece, “Dishing On Service” (June 30, 2015), focused on service from the diner’s perspective and detailed some less-than-stellar server moments. I touched briefly on the difficulties of waiting tables for a living, from an economic standpoint, and how difficult it can be to deal with the demands of a capricious public.

For this piece, I interviewed several servers and restaurant managers, some who I knew and some who I’ve never met. Now, it’s time to turn the tables and let the servers and restaurant managers speak about what they wish you knew about their jobs.

As a manager trying to run a restaurant, what would you like the dining public to be aware of?

If you see your server busily running around and not at your every beck and call, don’t take it personally and don’t take it out of their tip. They’re more than likely working hard to make sure everyone has what they need. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of a restaurant; if you don’t see us, it’s probably because we’re running food out, putting orders into the computer, waiting at the bar for drinks, filling the ice bin or making sure the kitchen knows about a nut allergy at one of our tables.

What should you do if you have a bad experience?

If you just have really terrible service and your server was rude, or you saw them standing around while you needed a refill, or they didn’t resolve an issue properly, please ask nicely to speak to a manager. As a manager, we need to know to make improvements with our staff. Most of the time, this is due to server inexperience. Servers know they’re being “graded” and tipped by their ability to make a customer happy. If you can’t make someone happy, they’re not going to make you happy by leaving a good tip!

What should someone do if the meal arrives not done to their liking?

If you stick your fork into the protein you ordered and it isn’t cooked to your liking, kindly tell the server to have it cooked the way you like it. The server is the liaison to the kitchen—they had no influence on the way your salmon was cooked. If you typically like your salmon done more than the average Joe, tell your server; don’t expect them to know that and be upset later that it wasn’t prepared to your liking. You can’t eat your entire meal and then complain that you didn’t like it and expect it to be taken off your bill.

As a server, what is the best part of your job? 

(All of the servers who responded had a lot of great things to say about their jobs. Here are two typical responses.)

When you click with a table, it can be an awesome time and make your night!

It’s the regulars—the people who come in all the time, and you develop a relationship with them.

What is the most difficult or frustrating part?

Not always, but sometimes I feel I am looked down upon for my job. I am 25 years old with a bachelor’s degree. I constantly get asked what else I do for a living, besides serving. Customers seem surprised when I respond that bartending/serving is my only job currently. I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and it is very frustrating to feel judged for my current career choice.

Do you make less than minimum wage, and if so do you make enough in tips to compensate? 

(Surprisingly many servers reported that though they made less than minimum wage, they felt like they almost always made at least minimum with tips factored in.)

I make an hourly rate that is less than minimum wage. After taxes my checks are void. However, as a bartender, I do admit I make good money hourly in tips. Some days are slow, but more often than not, I leave happy.

What’s your opinion on eliminating tipping and offering servers higher wages instead?

On one hand, higher wages would be beneficial in many ways, for instance it would help servers budget (since they can better anticipate how much money will be coming in each week) and it would help eliminate the pay drop that comes with certain seasons. On the other hand, I know a lot of servers who really like serving because you can make really good money with tips. I’ve had a job before that paid $13 an hour and I’m fairly sure I sometimes do better serving.

Do you see this job as a career? 

(No one who responded saw serving as a long-term profession.)

Said one: I don’t see this job as something I want to do indefinitely. However some people make a great living doing this as a career, and hey, more power to them! This is a physically taxing job! It is not uncommon for me to come home exhausted after running around all night. I can’t imagine doing this for another 30 years; I’m not sure my body could handle it!

What do you hate that people do when you’re serving them? 

I hate when I have a table who feels like because they are paying part of my salary with tips they don’t have to treat me politely, by doing things like ignoring my “how are you?” or talking over me as I am trying to answer their questions. Also, when people do a tug of war with the check while I’m still holding it. And asking for free desserts for birthdays or special occasions.

Please, please, please know what you want to order if you say you are ready to order (there is nothing worse for a server than to stand awkwardly at a table while customers peruse the entire menu). If you have allergies or weird eating restrictions, please be specific. Like annoyingly specific. I don’t want to guess (and guess wrong) and put someone into anaphylactic shock.

And finally, if something goes wrong and you are upset about it, let your server fix it. Please do not be one of those people who gets upset, (and continues to do so through the entire meal) but refuses to let anything be done to remedy it. If you’re just looking for someone to be upset at, go somewhere else.

What makes for a good guest? 

(This had a universal response)

It’s pretty much the same thing that makes someone a nice person. Just be nice!

What about guests from hell?

One server reported a table who argued loudly about a bottle of wine they insisted wasn’t what they ordered. When the manager interceded and pointed out that was in fact the correct bottle, they didn’t apologize, but continued to be snarky for the rest of the meal. She said, “When I asked if they wanted me to box their leftovers, they said, ‘Um, no … we’re going out, remember?’”

So there you have it, straight from the mouths of those who run your favorite restaurants and serve you your favorite food. A big shout-out and thank you to all the servers and managers who answered my call for their opinions. Hopefully this gives Dayton diners some insight into what their server is thinking and hoping for from you the next time you go out!

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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