Eating out – a waiter’s perspective

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My post this weekend was supposed to be about hangover food, but sadly I got poorly and didn’t have a hangover to write about (I believe in method writing, you see.) So, I was moping around today, feeling sorry for myself, when in my spare room I came across my old waitressing apron. It was quite strange the effect that apron had on me; rather than feeling nostalgic, I actually felt a bit hollow. Despite the fact I had some of the best years of my life working in restaurants (solely down to the incredible colleagues I had), I also saw humanity in all its forms, guises and states. And many of those weren’t that pretty. When I look back, despite my many happy memories, I can’t help but think about all those people whose food I didn’t spit in. Those people who occasionally made me cry. I dedicate this post to those people; my handy step-by-step guide to having a great meal out. Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.

1. Booking a table

You know how some astrophysicists believe that the universe is increasingly expanding at its edge, thus becoming bigger and bigger the older it gets? Yeah, well, restaurants aren’t like that. They’re finite places with a finite number of seats and tables. So, sadly, if a restaurant is fully booked, it means there are no more tables. It also means no new tables will appear. If you get cross with restaurant staff about the fact that there are no free tables, again, no new tables will appear. Upset? Then why not set up your own restaurant, which can miraculously reproduce tables from nowhere? You may find this website helpful: http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/insidethecell/chapter4.html 

2. Seating

When you come into a restaurant, you may see people sat at tables, being served by people. They’re being served by those staff, because the staff know that they are there. You may see empty tables with no-one sat at them. The staff don’t think anyone is sat at them, because no-one is. If you go in and sit down on an empty table, the staff might not know you are there and so you may not get served and you’ll most likely get very cross. If you wait (possibly up to three minutes), a staff member will come and seat you at an empty table. And you’ll get served, because the staff member has seen you and knows you are there. Confused? Let’s go back to basics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KioGjStkzbo 

3. Ordering

Something humorous on the menu, such as gar-lic bread, spotted dick or cheeeese-cake? It’s great that you’ve found it funny, but the waiter most likely last heard it said in a funny voice approximately 13 seconds ago. If they don’t roll around on the floor in hysterical laughter, don’t be offended.

4. Receiving your meal

You’ve come out for a meal to eat some food, so when the waiter brings the food to you, you might want to know which plate is which. It often helps if you halt your conversation for 10-15 seconds, so that the waiter may give you your food.

If the waiter gives you something, as with all other things in life, it is often nice to say ‘thank you.’ Like at Christmas, or birthdays. If you ignore or speak abruptly to the waiter you may think you are being:

– Middle or upper class

– Cool

– Mysterious

You either are one of these things, or you’re not. And if you have to try, then the chances are, you’re not.

5. Complaining

Life isn’t perfect. And sometime things go wrong. So, if there’s a problem with your food, then the best thing to do is tell someone. If you eat 75% of your meal and then tell your waiter that it’s not right, the waiter then has to go and tell a chef, who will most likely shout at them. If chefs get cross, they suddenly become very slow at their job and your replacement meal will come late, with extra venom and some hatred on the side. That’s not tasty.

Are you mad about the problem with your food? Well firstly, it’s often useful to remember that there such things as civil war, genocide, famine and murder and none of those things have just happened to you. Still cross? Here’s some advice: if you shout, the problem isn’t solved any quicker. Sadly, if you become offensive, things become slower and the chances of your food being infected with something unpleasant become higher. It’s OK to complain, but the equations are simple:

angry = sputum

rational = smiles.

6. Paying

If you’re with a big group, it can often feel (and sound) like you’re the only people in the restaurant. But when it comes to settling up, it often pays to remember that you may be amongst others. If the bill comes to £450, there are 19 of you and you all want to pay by card, it can take a quite a lot of time to process. As such, your waiter may have to wait until they have a spare 15 minutes to stand with you, while you all pay your £23.68 each. Why not visit an ATM before you come out? This will mean you don’t have to flail your arms around and roll your eyes at your waiter, who’ll most likely know that you would like to pay.

In a rush to leave? Try coming in a bit earlier, then you don’t need to get so anxious.

7. Tipping

Most waiters live for their tips and so they try to make sure you have the best service possible. They might spend up to two hours with you, bringing you everything you ask for and answering all your questions. They’ll even let you shout at them in ways which you wouldn’t do in the outside world. Don’t believe in tipping? Well, if everyone didn’t tip waiting staff, then they wouldn’t make any effort as there would be no incentive. It would simply be a transactional relationship, like when you go into Poundland. You wouldn’t have your 40th birthday party in Poundland.

Not got much money? It’s OK to not leave 10%. It does however pay to remember that what you leave is personal to the person who served you, and a reflection on their skill at their job. Call it performance related pay.  If you leave 6p after a great meal, your waiter might be offended and wonder what they’ve done wrong. £1 left with a ‘sorry, that’s all I have, it’s been a lovely meal’, will ensure that the waiter doesn’t go into the back kitchen and punch a hole through the walk-in fridge door. They’ll feel good about themselves – which is a nice thing. Nice things are good.

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I must iterate at this point, that the vast majority of the people I served in 12 years of working in restaurants were very pleasant. However, the things above were the seven things that used to drive me crazy about working in hospitality and which sometime brought me to my knees in despair.

I had the time of my life working in the industry and nothing will ever beat the buzz of swishing around my section on Saturday night, on full form, with some of the most incredible and inspiring people I ever had the pleasure to know. I do miss it. But then I read the above and recall my manager’s face when he saw the walk-in fridge door, hanging from its hinges. Ah, the vicious cycle of life!

What drove/drives you crazy about working in hospitality? 

Let’s flip reverse this: what drove/drives you crazy about restaurant staff??