Friday, April 2, 2010

Six Rules for Dining Out on a Holiday

I am heading out soon to work a double shift, on a statutory holiday. This is part of my quest to become a *Real* writer, indirectly at least. If writing and film making were not important to me, I suppose I would find a real job to pay the bills.

Anyway, since I am going to walk through the firey depths of holiday hell today, I thought I would provide a small list of rules for dining out on a statutory holiday. Most of these apply to every day dining, but they are of even more importance on a holiday when kitchens are busier, managers are frazzled, and a server makes half the amount of tips for double the work. I have been in the biz long enough that I have absolutely no hope of these being followed, but hey, I like a pointless exercise as much as the next person. So here we go.


1. DON'T.

(Now I KNOW you're not going to follow this one, but I will give my reasons and then move on.)

Everyone goes out on holidays. I know, all the cool kids are doing it, but for you it means that your food will be rushed, possibly cold, and definitely of lesser quality since the restaurant is likely over capacity. Its more likely that you will get a server who doesn't know what they are doing, since restaurants are always understaffed, and generally days off on holidays are given to servers with seniority (they are the ones with mad skills). There's more chance the restaurant will be overcrowded, over heated, and that they will run of the one item you came for. People go out on a holiday expecting something special. If by special you mean lukewarm food and sub-par service, you won't be disappointed.

2. Make a Reservation

This can be tricky since some places don't reserve tables on holidays, but please look for a place that does. Especially if you have a large group. Large constitutes anything six and over (sometimes five counts). If you haven't made a reservation, you can expect to wait. For a long time. Don't take your rage at not planning ahead out on the sixteen year old hostess who can barely walk in her three inch heels - she doesn't have the pull to fix your problem. Next time plan ahead. If you simply cannot wait, there is a Fatburger across the street.

3. Order off the Menu

There is NOTHING worse than serving a table who wants to custom build their entrees. We have a menu for a reason. They are dishes that have been practiced and perfected by the back of house staff, with ingredients that we ensure are of a certain quality. I'm not talking about a "No tomatos" modification here, I'm talking about the people who come in and ask for green eggs and ham (yes, true story), or request that we whip up some pancakes for them when we only serve french toast, and then proceed to get angry when we cannot meet their requests. Also, if you have more allergies than should be humanly possible, please call ahead to pre-arrange a dish that is suitable for your needs, instead of causing a back log with eight-thousand ingredient questions, while the chef racks his brain for something to serve you that is free of gluten, shellfish, peanuts, eggs, milk, nutmeg, and general flavour of any kind. We do have plenty of cardboard boxes, which are lovely with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

4. Make a list

When you require something extra from your server, politely inquire as to who else at your table may need that item, or something else. Your server should also do this, and when they do - LISTEN! You are NEVER your server's only table, unless you are the first to arrive or the last to leave (which is a whole different story). When you ask for more cream and the server brings it, then Betty asks for more sweetener, when that arrives just as Uncle Oscar remembers he would enjoy a cranberry juice, which is brought when little Suzie wants extra ketchup, etc. etc., You have just used up seven minutes of your server's time. Seven minutes is like half an hour in server time. Have you ever sat at a table for seven minutes without being greeted? Yeah, YOU just caused that. If you don't make a list of your needs, you can expect to wait a while to receive your items while your server follows their list of other priorities.

5. Control your children.

Servers, as a rule, HATE serving kids. Their entrees cost less, they make a big mess, they're loud, and they disturb other guests nearby. I've served some wonderfully well behaved children who have been polite and caused no problems. This was back in the summer of '07 when the sky was blue get my point. Well behaved children are almost an urban myth in a restaurant. There are a few things you can do to minimize the frustration. If your kids are young, be prepared with their order. Don't make your server stand there while you ask "Jason, what do you want?....Jason, mommy is asking you a question....Jason, grilled cheese or chicken fingers?...Jason, I'm going to count to three". I guarantee your server has thought of seventeen ways to kill themselves by now. Don't let your kids run around the restaurant. This is for their own safety. Servers walk FAST and carry HEAVY trays with HOT items. If you let little Emily run around willy nilly, you are almost guaranteeing a hot-coffee-to-the-face incident. None of us want that, despite the looks you may be receiving from other guests. If your child is misbehaving, take them outside. I understand the tactic of ignoring a tantrum, but you are asking everyone within a five table radius to attempt to ignore it as well. Take the child outside, or to the bathroom, and ignore the tantrum there. PLEASE.

And you knew it was coming....

6. Tip Generously

Servers may be getting paid time and a half today (depending on their location and their establishments rules) but even that adds up to a wage that barely rivals what you made your first year of McDonald's management. I've heard all the arguments against tipping. Restaurant owners should pay them more. They won't. They don't work that hard. They do. A monkey could do this job. A normal monkey, perhaps, but if he was restricted to your intellect, definitely not. Why should I have to pay more than my bill? Because, like it or not, tipping is a societal construct of the country in which you live (I'm speaking to YOU North American residents) and you've bought into that construct by continuing to patronize tipping-as-wage-supplement based establishments. If you can't get on board, don't go out. If you can't afford to tip 15-20% eat at a fast food joint, order in, or HEAVEN FORBID, cook at home. Be fair when factoring bad service into a tip. I know when I've screwed up and deserve a bad tip, and I accept my fate. Don't make me pay for the fact that you thought the music was too loud, or we didn't have lasagna on the menu - I can't control those things. I pay my rent based on my tips, and yes, I know I chose this job - but if I didn't, who would serve you prime rib and pour your wine and compliment your toupee?

Think about it. For Me.


  1. I recognize that this blog is your venue to grouse regularly about the woes of being underpaid in the service industry, and usually I do my best to respect decorum by keeping my mouth shut on the topic, but this article is a huge invitation so I'm going to speak my mind.

    As a customer, if I choose to give you extra money beyond the invoice, that's a generosity. End of story. Don't belittle me as though you inherently deserve it. Earn it.

    As a businessperson, I charge my customers what I want I deserve to be paid. If I run over budget on a project, that's my problem to rectify (either by negotiating with the customer, or learning for the future). There is no sense of magical entitlement here. It's business.

    As an underpaid server, you need to stand up for yourself and demand a fair wage, or go work somewhere else.

    Moreover, I urge you to quit complaining. This type of attitude will drive customers away, not bring them in. You are a representative and public face for your business, even if you're just an employee on payroll.

    Your argument in favour of mandatory tipping is based on wishful thinking and implied guilt. Unfortunately, that type of implementation doesn't usually ever change anything. To make progress, you (as an individual, and your industry as a whole) need to consider more fundamental and tangible action.

    Someday, if I have enough business success to be able to afford to do so, I'd like to open my own restaurant. On opening day I will post a sign that proclaims two things:

    - that tipping is discouraged, not expected, and entirely optional
    - that I pay my staff well, and above average.

    By striving to ensure that both of these remain true, I will foster a successful business by engendering happy staff and customers alike.


  2. As always I welcome all comments as long as they are not vulgar or offensive. I understand that most people will not share my viewpoints on this particular topic. Ben, The only part of your comment I would like to address is the "stop complaining" part. As you said, this blog is my forum to say what I need to say on a daily basis and I would submit that the above post was not in the spirit of complaining but in the spirit of offering a perspective. I will continue to offer such perspectives and invite you to discontinue your readership if they continue to annoy.

    Also, if you are able to viably run a non-tipping, high wage establishment without food costs that are through the roof resulting ridiculous pricing I'm sure a best selling "how to" book deal will follow shortly thereafter.

    (iPhone won't let me post as myself so this is Rachel)

  3. Well spoken. I can attest to Rachel being just about the most proficient server I have ever been served by.

    If I may, as a frequent diner, allow me to add my list of things servers could be doing better (current company excluded):
    1. Unless your memory is IMPECCABLE, write my order down. I WILL ASK if I can have your special without the dead pig on it and if you say yes and I order it as such, I will be upset when Wilbur's butt is on my sandwich.
    2. If your restaurant serves breakfast and doesn't leave everything on the table (including vinegar), ASK if there is anything else I need. And bring it. Soon. I will not start my breakfast until I have vinegar for my hash browns.
    3. If your restaurant insists on coffee by the serving, in small cups, either come by frequently or tell management they need to hire a specific "coffee bringer". I'm paying $3 for a cup of coffee, I'd like two or three.
    4. When you come to visit me for the first time to take my drink order, look to see if there is any cream and sugar on the table. ENOUGH for EVERYONE at the table.
    5. You want a tip? Say please, thank you and have a nice day. That's all I really need. If you are grumpy, I don't want to know. I reserve the right to not tip IF you can't do your job correctly. I generally tip well BUT if you mess up my order and don't say thank you, you'll be LUCKY to see 5-10%. 15-20% is my usual and I have on more than one occasion tipped over 50% (on a dinner bill for 3, I might add)
    6. Make a suggestion if you know how I can save money on my meal - if I order a sandwich and a full size caesar salad and there is an option that isn't on the menu to so a combo deal with a smaller salad, ask me. I may be glutinous that day and want the whole shebang but it isn't likely. And your tip just went up.

    Again, to be clear, Rachel IS a pro and she has done ALL of the above the handful of times I have had her serve me. Her colleagues around the city SHOULD be reading this though. Oh, and I will be cooking for myself today. Or fast food. Enjoy your day and may your customers remember Tipping is NOT a city in China!


  4. As a server who works with Rachel and has also served Shaun, I can say that:
    1. Rachel is Damn good at her job and
    2. Shaun does tip well

    And now to address Ben, I do not believe that Rachel was belittling you or anyone else, and if you feel as though she is then perhaps you are experiencing some guilt! As for "standing up" for a fair wage, that's something that the government is in charge of not our boss. Servers in general, unless they are union, make minimum wage. Minimum wage is $8.00, and any restaurant will start you at that wage! As for her complaining, she is doing it on her blog not in the middle of the dining room for all to hear! And I will also have you know that she is not just another employee on the payroll, she is one of the hardest working employees on the payroll who happens to be majorly overworked and underpaid!
    So Ben, perhaps when you make your millions and open this restaurant where everyone is happy and gets a fair wage, I'll drop by and put in a resume. Because it really does sound like it'll be a nifty place to work!


  5. I was going to comment on how awesome this post is (it is). As someone who doesn't work in the industry, I always tip well if I am served well (I'm sure you'd fall in that category). I am heading out to enjoy Easter dinner out...I'm glad I made a reservation, and my kids will be good - tip for parents - bring a portable DVD player, your kid will be occupied through decaf coffee at the end of your meal and the people around you will love you. That's as long as your kid thinks it's a treat. If your kid is plugged into TV every day, there's a slim chance this will work.

    BUT, I'm still laughing at Ben's response. Seriously, I want this cross-stitched on a pillow to remind me that people out there still use their imaginations;

    "Someday, if I have enough business success to be able to afford to do so, I'd like to open my own restaurant. On opening day I will post a sign that proclaims two things:

    - that tipping is discouraged, not expected, and entirely optional
    - that I pay my staff well, and above average."

    Unicorns also fart bubbles when they hop.

  6. After reading this article, I do agree with some of the points listed, however I tend to agree with the commenter Ben in that point #6 is pretentious - I would even go so far as to say it is offensive. Demanding a generous tip with backhanded insults is biting the hand that feeds, and makes me feel that the sole reason my server is being nice is to weasel more money out of me. I'm sure most servers are nice people, but the picture point #6 paints isn't pretty.

    The bottom line is that a tip is designed to ensure the server does a good job - it's not a guarantee. That's inherent in the job description - there is no law or rule that states one must give a 15% tip. Therefore, calling for everyone to 'tip generously' when eating at a restaurant with a minor caveat about 'being fair after receiving poor service' seems to me like you're demanding something you've yet to earn, or didn't earn at all. Don't get me wrong - I will tip if I receive good service, but should I receive poor service, it may be little or nothing.

    In regards to the comment by mamaT stating that the low wages servers get is the governments fault, I find this statement totally ridiculous. Restaurant owners choose to pay their employees what they pay - it is totally up the them. Of course, running a business means keeping a close eye on the bottom line, but please don’t blame it on the government. Surely you have heard the talks about the government raising the minimum wage to $10 in BC; who will you blame then?

    I would like to end my comment (read: rant) speaking to the comment by irreverentmommy. Your lack of imagination is what is saddening here. By your close minded thinking, nothing would ever change for the better. Every new business (or business model) is founded on a couple of key principles, imagination being one of the biggest.

  7. Perhaps my number six seems slightly glib to those not in the industry. When I say it, it comes from a place where I am saying that my tip is my incentive to work hard and serve well. When I say to tip generously, I don't mean to overlook poor service. I don't mean to reward fake sincerity with money. I mean if your server works hard and does well, tipping generously is awesome. I am not fake when I am being nice to a table. I have smiled and wished well many a table who kept me running all night and left nothing at the end, and I have yet to EVER question a tip to a guest. I don't treat them differently after I see the gratuity line. I am simply providing a perspective from my side of the fence. I know I will never win the wage argument, and that I will likely never convince a non tipper to begin, but perspective is something I can provide. Apologies if I came across glib, or demanding, dramatic is always my way. Thanks for commenting so far, everyone!