64 Suggestions for Restaurant Customers
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves
Bruce Buschel created an on-line buzz last week when he submitted his list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1) on a NYT blog called, You’re the Boss, which is a blog devoted to running small businesses. As it turns out, the list is actually comprised of 50 dos and don’ts for the prospective servers and staff who will work for Mr. Buschel at his new seafood restaurant. One of the interesting, and arguably controversial aspects of this list is that Mr. Buschel has no prior restaurant industry experience. Perhaps the list is not the best recruiting tool, but it certainly has generated a great deal of publicity.
Despite the fact that some of the items on Mr. Buschel’s list seem a bit rigid, I agree with almost all of them. Most fine-dining establishments would be well served if their staff adhered to these common sense guidelines. The items listed are consistent with the basic tenets of professional, upscale restaurant service. In fact, many of them are included in CARDINAL SINS, a list of 129 details given to employees at Le Bernardin in NYC by Maître d’ Ben Chekroun. This list is from Eric Ripert’s Life on the Line and reprinted in the NY Magazine. (I personally spoke with Ben today. He was extremely gracious and confirmed that he still uses this list.)
My list of 64 suggestions for restaurant customers has been compiled from my experience as a bartender and restaurant manager, my dining experience over the last 30 years, as well as questionnaire responses from 150 servers, and thousands of conversations with restaurant industry professionals.
I submit my list with a few caveats:
- I tried to stay consistent with Bruce Buschel’s theme of service in an upscale restaurant. (Many of them could apply anywhere.)
- I purposely focused my suggestions on what customers should not do in response to Mr. Buschel’s intent of primarily focusing on what restaurant staff should not do. Obviously there are a lot of positive things that a customer can do to improve their dining experience. Future posts will focus on positive suggestions and “Hall of Fame” customers. There’s an entire chapter of my book devoted to great customers and people in general.
- There are a few comments that relate to bar etiquette, but that’s a post for another day.
- I tried to shy away from suggestions that have been beaten into submission on every customer list ever created, but there are some that needed to be included for emphasis. (Pardon the overlap of recurring themes.)
- There are exceptions to every rule, and two sides to every story. Every situation and interaction is unique.
- My list of suggestions for restaurant operators new to the industry is in the works. (Feel free to email me your suggestions.)
- Never ignore a warm greeting from the host or any employee of the restaurant, even if you are just going to the bar.
- Reciprocate a greeting with a greeting, not I need, I want, or silence.
- Never blurt your name, the number in your party, and the time of your reservation in response to a warm welcome. Acknowledge the existence of a fellow human being.
- Don’t think that holding up a specific number of fingers without saying anything is an appropriate response to a host’s greeting.
- Don’t walk into a restaurant, point to a table and say, We’re just going to sit there, as you breeze by the hostess.
- Don’t pound on the door before the restaurant opens. If the weather is nice, wait until the restaurant officially opens. If you are invited in early (out of bad weather, for example) as a courtesy, don’t start making demands. Good restaurants will graciously accommodate you while you wait.
- Leave the chip on your shoulder, sour attitude, and nasty disposition at home. The staff really does want you to have an enjoyable evening.
- Don’t throw a menu at the host and walk out yelling because there’s a long wait or you don’t like the menu or prices.
- Don’t make a reservation for 6 and show up with a total of 4 and say, We just wanted lots of room.
- Don’t glare at the host and ask, “What are we supposed to do?”, after she gives you clear dining options. I can seat you now at the bar, or “I’ll have a table for you in about an hour” is pretty clear.
- Make a human connection with your server and the staff to acknowledge that you value them and the difficult job that they’re doing.
- Remember that the customer has almost as much responsibility for the success of the interaction and experience as the staff does.
- Never attempt the old; Do you know who I am? Anyone who is ignorant enough to try any variation on that question should have a trap door open under them and they should never be seen or heard from again.
- Don’t expect or demand perfection. The world is not perfect, and neither are you.
- Don’t be a name dropper to curry favor. No one really cares who you know or how important you think you are, especially when they’re in the weeds.
- Some restaurants mandate that servers introduce themselves to their tables and some servers do it at their discretion. If a server introduces herself, skip the sarcastic, My name is Fred and I’ll be your customer…
- Don’t be an (un)amusing douche. If you’re returning to a restaurant known for sending a complimentary taste (amuse-bouche) before your meal, don’t presume that they are going to do it every time, and don’t specify what you want for that little free thing. (Yes, there are people who actually ‘order’ their amuse-bouche.)
- Don’t drop the; I’m in the industry line and expect the seas to part for you. (It defies logic, but some restaurant industry people can be the worst.)
- Don’t walk into a restaurant and start telling the staff what they should or shouldn’t do. There’s an appropriate way to offer suggestions if the opportunity presents itself.
- Don’t tell the staff that you’ve dined in the best restaurants around the world and expect them to be in awe.
- Be aware and observe what’s going on in the restaurant and imagine what it’s like to be in your server’s shoes. No, it’s ‘not your problem’ that a party of twenty arrived at the exact same time that you did, the computer (POS) is broken, or that the health inspector walked in at 8 o’clock on Saturday night, but try to empathize.
- Never snap your fingers, whistle like you’re calling a dog, waive your hand in the air like you’re hailing a cab, or yell Hey followed by anything, when you’re trying to get your server’s attention. (Pardon me, or Excuse me, when you have a moment please work really well.)
- Respect the fact that restaurants have policies for specific reasons, despite the fact that they might not make sense to you.
- Don’t show off in front of your date or dining companions by trying to upstage the sommelier or server with your worldly knowledge. (You actually might learn something from them.)
- Don’t expect the staff to create something out of thin air. We’re out of specials means they don’t have any left, and you’re not getting one.
- Treat the staff with dignity, respect and kindness. You don’t have to kiss ass, but common courtesy is a two-way street. Be friendly, polite and patient. Treat the staff the way that you would want customers to treat you if you were doing their job.
- Don’t be dramatic and make a big deal out of nothing. Don’t let a small mistake or miscue derail your entire evening. Some things happen that your server has no control over. Be forgiving and help get things back on track. Work with the staff. It’s not life and death.
- Speak up when something’s not right, and escalate the matter if necessary. Most high-end restaurants will go to great lengths to correct problems and to ensure that you enjoy everything about your meal and experience. Give them a chance to rise to the occasion.
- Be grateful that you’re out enjoying a nice meal. Life is short and fragile. A lot of people can’t afford to dine out, especially at expensive restaurants.
- Don’t act as if you are the only customer in the restaurant. Be cognizant of the fact that your service team has other customers who expect the same great service as you.
- Understand that everything is not going to happen at the precise moment that you want it to.
- Don’t interrupt a server who is attending to customers at another table.
- If your kids have a complete meltdown, take your food to go, and get them out of the restaurant, fast.
- While we’re on the obvious ones, keep your phone on vibrate, speak quietly if you have to take a call at the table, or take your call out of earshot of your fellow diners.
- Don’t start a sentence with Gimmee or Get me.
- Don’t argue with a bartender who tells you that the barstools you’re trying to claim are for someone who was waiting before you. Forget telling her that the people who just vacated the stools told you that you could have them.
- Be reasonable and flexible. Dining out is a fluid, dynamic event involving imperfect human beings and several moving parts.
- Don’t treat your servers or support staff with disdain as if they are members of a lower caste.
- Never say anything mean-spirited, degrading, condescending or abusive to any of the staff.
- Don’t brag about your income, or anything that is intended to demonstrate your superiority in front of the staff. Leave your insecurities at the door.
- Don’t get angry at a barback, busser or food runner who can’t fulfill your request. There are often limitations on what they are authorized to do.
- Be understanding when there’s a medical emergency, power outage, fire alarm or computer meltdown in the middle of dinner service. Be patient, flexible and supportive. Everyone else is in the same boat. Try to think beyond Me, Myself and I.
- Respond to your servers questions, and never ignore your server. It’s humiliating to be purposely ignored.
- Don’t say you’re ready to order, then contemplate forever while your server is anxiously waiting in a packed dining room.
- Don’t talk loudly about personal things that make the staff and everyone around you uncomfortable.
- Don’t talk loudly, period.
- Don’t indignantly tell the staff what they should have on the menu, the wine list or the liquor shelf.
- Don’t be that customer who isn’t happy until he gets something for free. Sending an entrée back after you’ve eaten half of it is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
- Never clap or laugh when a staff member drops something that smashes on the floor. It’s embarrassing enough without you piling on.
- Lose the I pay you, I own you mentality. Yes, the staff is there to serve you, but not as your indentured servants.
- Don’t be unyielding and play the I’m the customer card expecting the staff to fulfill unreasonable requests.
- Ladies- If you’re part of a bridal or baby shower brunch (or any celebration) at a large table that is part of the main diningroom, please be aware that your shrill, piercing screams are loathed by the staff and everyone else in the restaurant.
- Gentlemen- Upscale restaurants are not frat houses. If you want to shout and high-five each other, with no regard for those around you, do it at home.
- Police your own crowd. If your dining companions exhibit boorish or abusive behavior towards the staff, don’t tolerate it. Be assertive, speak up, and make sure they apologize.
- Don’t even jokingly threaten your server with a bad on-line review to curry favor.
- Don’t throw your credit card at your server like you’re playing cards.
- Don’t leave a shitty tip because you’re from out of town and will, never see these people again. (Tipping will be covered in future posts.)
- Don’t fold up a dollar or two and ‘slip it’ to the host in front of everyone to see, along with the patronizing; Here’s a little something for you. If you want to be a big shot, tip everyone accordingly, and send the kitchen a round of beers or a shot of Patrón.
- Don’t anonymously bash a restaurant on-line or anywhere without giving them an opportunity to address a problem or make restitution.
- Don’t lie, embellish, or omit critical details when you anonymously trash a restaurant on the Internet.
- Actively seek out servers and staff members who do a great job. Tell them and their bosses how pleased you are before you leave the restaurant.
- Be as diligent with your compliments as you are with your criticisms. Take a moment to post a positive review, make a phone call, send an e-mail or drop a note to the owner. Exemplary service should be acknowledged and rewarded.
- According to more than 150 servers who responded to my questionnaire, 19% of customers are impolite, disrespectful or downright rude. Please don’t be one of them. Thank you.
- For the sake of everyone who works in the restaurant industry, please forward this list to everyone you know. Enjoy your dinner.