We’ve all been victim to crappy restaurant service—feeling neglected, or a poor server attitude—but if it happens to you often, there might be some things you can do to influence your experience for the better. From a former server, here are some insider tips to getting better restaurant service.
Typically the server takes the blame for a poor dining out experience. After working in the food service industry for almost 10 years, I’ve learned a ton about how to get great service at any restaurant. I’ve also learned—from friends who’ve never served—that the level of control we have over our own dining experience isn’t common knowledge. Your server multitasks, a lot, and some tasks naturally take priority over others. You can keep your table towards the top of the priority list. After asking some of the readers who share food service experience to contribute, here are some of the best tips for doing so.
Use Body Language and Gestures to Send Signals
Servers observe body language and other gestures, instead of frequently interrupting your experience, to see if you need anything and make sure you’re happy. For example, if you keep looking through your menu after you’re ready to order, many servers will assume that you still need time to decide on a meal. They wait to approach you so you don’t feel rushed.
When you are ready to order, close the menu and/or place it on the table in front of you to indicate that you are ready. This should be done for every menu. Many customers continue looking through it by inertia.
If you’re worried about pronouncing the name of the meal, or remembering exactly how you want it, you can always pick the menu back up to order.
You can use body language and other gestures to signal just about anything throughout the meal. When you’re ready for a refill, make the low or empty glass visible on the edge of the table. Put your fork down and look to make eye contact with your server if you have an issue with your food. If they’re not around, look around from your seat; they might be watching you from somewhere where you can’t see them, or one of the other staff members will notice and either grab your server or ask what they can do to help.
Chunk Your Requests Together
If you can, ask for everything you need at once. If you don’t, you might “run” your server. This means that every time the server comes back to the table, you’re sending him or her off for something else. Eventually, your server will have to put your requests off to take care of somebody else they’ve been neglecting (for you) at some point. If you want everything (condiments, dinner drinks, etc.) in a timely manner, request it when you order, or when you receive your food, not every time you see the server throughout the meal.
Make Objective, Calm Complaints
This should be obvious, but when you have something to complain about, don’t make the server resent your attitude about the situation. Just like any other social circumstance, the energy, if nothing else, will linger throughout the meal, ruining your experience. Also, don’t point a finger at anyone for mistakes unless you’re 100% sure it was their fault, which is seldom the case. If your food is cold, it doesn’t mean that it’s your server’s fault. It could have been the kitchen, or the food runner. The same goes for your beer taking a while to hit your table. Servers don’t pour the drafts; that’s the bartender’s job. If service is just generally slow, Wonky01 explains:
Don’t always assume that just because you’re not getting the absolute best service that you expect that your server isn’t providing the best possible service he/she can at the moment. Other guests may be overtaxing your server with several piecemeal requests (one drink ordered every time he/she returns to the table. Your server may be negotiating a very busy kitchen that could be “in the weeds”. Or your server may be assisting a co-worker at the request of management. (Sometimes it’s a team game at a restaurant where good talent is forced to support weaker servers).
Instead of getting bent out of shape about it, stay calm and objective. Clearly and calmly explain to your server or the manager what’s wrong, and what you see as a solution. Show some kindness to your server, and they will jump to return it and resolve any issue. Remember: your server wants you to have a good experience; you don’t need to fight for it.
Mind Your Manners
Acknowledge when your server is speaking to you, say “please” and “thank you”, refer to your server by the name they use to introduce themselves, and don’t whistle or snap at them. In short, treat other people the way you would want to be treated. One of the most common complaints among servers is that they’re treated like servants, which they aren’t.
Every day, we had 2 businessmen come in for lunch in their 3 piece suits, acting very condescending to the staff and each order a cup of soup and a cup of coffee. They always ate the full basket of crackers, asked for at least 4 coffee refills and even more crackers, and left a puny tip.
Then there was the elderly couple who were so sweet and polite coming in at dinner time maybe once a month, order a full dinner, and when they left, the man would squeeze a dollar bill into my hand and say “this is for you honey, I was afraid to leave it on the table”. I loved waiting on them; it wasn’t about the money.
Waitstaff still expects to be treated with the respect you would treat almost anyone in a social situation, and there are tables who abide by that sentiment. If you don’t, you’re asking for your server to put those respectful guests’ needs ahead of yours.
While tidying the table isn’t the guests’ job, a messy table that the server has to clean will slow him or her down, and it’s plain courteous to not make the server pick your stray crab leg shells off the table. Just clean up any spilled food you left on the table, and anything else you might be willing to do. If you take care of the tasks that you can do for yourself, it will free your server up to handle the tasks you can’t. Think about it: how long your server spends stacking your appetizer plates is time that could be spent getting your dinner to the table. This is by no means a requirement for better service, but if you want faster service, especially during a busy hour, it’s good to remember.
Don’t Play the “Reverse Tip Meter” Game
So many guests like to play, or allude to, the reverse tip meter, where they actively call out every time they’re going to dock from a tip over something minor. A lot of guests do this in jest, thinking it’s funny, but your server won’t think anything is funny about working for less, or free. Furthermore, since they won’t want to take a chance on whether you’re kidding or not, you’ll be one of the last tables to receive priority attention, because other tables are alluding to being generous tippers. Your server won’t want to work harder for less money, and you shouldn’t want your service to be considered a waste of time.
So much about your dining out experience is in your control. From body language, to simple kindness that you would show anyone, you can influence the amount, and type, of attention your server shows your table. Next time you dine out, remember these tips and see how much better your experience is.