I love food. I really do.
I’m a foodie. I like eating, cooking, trying new cuisines and learning about them. I like going to restaurants, new and old, polished and run-down.
When someone visits a restaurant, they give it a subconscious rating in their head. It’s that little voice in your head that might say, “This was the greatest idea I’ve had all week,” or “Note to self… never say yes to a date at this restaurant.” I do that too. One thing I’ve noticed that is common between essentially ALL the restaurants that would not be on, or would be at the very very end of my visit-again list: poor wait staff.
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I can have delicious food, a wonderful atmosphere, and I can be visiting there with my favourite people in the world. Yet, if the person taking my order and serving our table is impolite, inattentive, or arrogant, it’s definitely a turn-off.
Front of house staff make the first impression on the guests, which is why they need to be upbeat, happy, friendly and approachable. And most of them are. But the wait staff are really the ones that are hosting the party during your meal. For a refill on water, specifications on how to make your food, if they “can get you anything else?” and even to find out where the washrooms are in the restaurant, they’re your go-to peeps. In my opinion, aside from the food, atmosphere and company I’m dining with, WAIT STAFF are the most important part of any restaurant. They’re the backbone of the establishment — they (other than the food) are what consumers like you and me remember at the end of the night, and we use that to formulate our opinion on how good our entire restaurant experience was that night.
But not all wait staff are attentive and helpful. Some may be there just to pay the bills but couldn’t care less how hot or cold your soup is, some are brand new and haven’t learned indicators of customer service yet. Everyone’s there from different walks of life, who are we to judge? But admittedly, a bad interaction because a wait staff member is in a bad mood or something, can really go a long way in impacting your own night. So how do we make the best of it?
Here are a couple of things you can do to keep your wait staff experience perfectly grounded:
ASK FOR THE REALISTIC WAIT TIME – You’re out for a night with your friends at a restaurant. You want a booth and none are available. Wait if you have the time. But ask the host(ess) or wait staff to provide you an “as accurate as possible estimate” of how long it will take. Many times, they say “only about 10 – 15 minutes” when the wait actually about 25+ minutes. They may say it because they don’t want to lose business. Tell them you like this restaurant or are interested in trying it, but that you’d appreciate it if they could be a little realistic in their time estimates. You’ll plan your night better, and you can decide to leave now, rather than waiting the excess minutes and eventually not eating there anyway.
ASK THEM TO READ BACK YOUR ORDER – Most wait staff have a little notepad and pen to take down orders. Others do it in their head. I have no problem with either of these. Except when the people who think they can get it right in their heads… get it wrong. Often, more experienced wait staff prefer to memorize the order if they know the material they’re memorizing. It gets a little tricky if you’re making substitutions and special requests. My mom is allergic to seafood, so she always has to tell them that no seafood should touch her dish in the kitchen. My brother can’t get enough spice, and he always gets his dishes (even the spicy ones) extra spicy! Wait staff may not remember all of these things. Save yourself some post-meal grief and ask them to repeat the order back to you (regardless of if they’re attempting to memorize it or if they have a notepad). It’s better for you and the restaurant if you’re not sending back entrees.
ASK THEM TO BRING YOUR FOOD IN SEQUENCE – Some restaurants do this really annoying thing where they bring your entrees and appetizers altogether. No good. The “entree” and “appetizer” categories are separated on the menu for a reason. If ordering appetizers, don’t take any chances. Ask the wait staff to ensure that you hold off on the entrees until you’re received and devoured the appetizers. (Of course this wouldn’t apply if you’re with a large party, and some people are skipping appetizers altogether; then you’d want everyone’s food – regardless of if it’s an appetizer or an entree – to arrive together. But you know what I mean…)
ASK THEM FOR DRINK RECOMMENDATIONS – Looking to get a mixed cocktail or non-alcoholic mocktail? Ask the wait staff for his/her favourite. If you like a particular flavour (I like lime/lemon and mango), tell the wait staff that and ask them what on the menu would suit you. Also, if ordering a cocktails, some restaurants would be happy to substitute alcohols for you (sometimes at an added cost).
DO TIP – Be sure to tip on your way out. But remember to check your bill… some places add a 10%+ service charge to your bill. Especially for parties of 8+, most restaurants do this. The service charge is the tip (so you don’t need to tip extra, unless your server was phenomenal), but if there’s no service charge on the bill already, the general rule of thumb is to tip 10-15% of your bill amount before tax.
DO COMPLAIN, IF NECESSARY – Weird, I know. But “complaining” is important. Say you go to a restaurant that has excellent food and a great atmosphere, but the wait staff assigned to your table was a total damper, was rude, was not knowledgeable of the menu, and overall unpleasant. You’d want to come back to this great restaurant, but that wait staff would deter you. Ask to speak to the manager at the end of your meal. Inform them of your experience and your concerns. In most cases, the manager will be happy to hear your feedback if it helps them create a better restaurant and better trained staff. And you won’t be afraid to come back (they’ll dig that!).
Hoping these tips can help make your next restaurant visit with poor wait staff a better experience for you! Cheers!