January 31st, 2009

sock puppet klae

How to Eat Out Right: You, Your Server, and Your Check

So, since I have nothing better to do on a Saturday night while video renders, I've decided to turn my rant from the other day into a column entitled "How to Eat Out Right." Yes, I know. That's on purpose.

But the other purpose is to maybe shed some light on things people may not think about, and no Server dares tell a customer to their face for fear of the "The Customer is Always Right" wrath. So, for this week, let's talk about your check.

Things you may or may not know about The Check, The Bill, The Tariff, The Damage, or whatever else you want to call it.

Believe it or not, if you're in a nice restaurant, or even a run of the mill chain restaurant, your server generally wants to like you. Any server who makes it past the "Hi! I'm new!" stage knows that liking their customers makes their job ALOT easier, so you get a butt load of points in your favor just for sitting down. But there are a couple things you can do that will take you from Average Joe Customer to Awesome Customer pretty quickly, and we're going to start at the end of the meal, with the bill. Remember, these aren't deal breakers, just things that will make your server's life easier, and your next visit to the restaurant that much better, because (trust me) they'll remember.

  • If you're not going to bother to look at the check, don't ask your server to bring it out, just give them your credit card. Nothing is more frustrating than running to print a check, and bringing it back to the table just to have you place your card on the check presenter and not even bother to open it up. Saving us a trip makes us love you.

  • If you're going to fight over who's going to pay the bill, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't drag us into it. It gives Awkward a whole new meaning.

  • If you are going to scrutinize the check (which is TOTALLY OKAY), use the little plastic holder that says "Place Credit Card Here" or leave the cash sticking a little bit out the top of the check presenter. Contrary to what many people seem to think, we don't have x-ray vision, and can't remember the exact spot on the table where we placed the check presenter to begin with. So if you just drop the card/cash inside and close it back up, we won't know you're ready for us to take it away and make things happen with it until you've become frustrated enough to wave it at us.

  • You know that awesome little hand gesture that is the International Semaphore Signal for 'Bring me the check.' Totally not necessary. Catching our eye and nodding will do. It's probably not true with EVERY server, but some of us in the more upscale restaurants pride ourselves in knowing what you want, so the hand gesture (especially when overdone, as if you're trying to land a plane) feels a little insulting. So be subtle, or just nod. We'll get it.

  • You know that joke that starts with 'Is there anything else I can do for you?' and ends with you saying 'Well, you can pay our bill!' Yeah. Not funny. Mostly because we hear it all the time. Seriously, all the time. But also because we *DO* have customers that we'd love to give the occasional comp meal to, but we're not allowed, because it's not our restaurant.

  • Sometimes, though, if it's your birthday or another special occasion, we *CAN* slip you a complimentary desert or something. Nothing tells your server that you appreciated what they did for you like tipping them on what they didn't charge you for. It's totally not required, but again, it will be remembered. And really, we enjoy the surprise part of bringing your friend the desert as much as you do. So tell us subtly during dinner rather than hollering, "It's Joe-Bob's Birthday, where's our free desert?!" at the end of your meal. If you let the host/hostess know, they'll inform the Server in time for tasty comp treats.

  • Now, in the case of a discount, coupon, or other bill lowering special, you really SHOULD tip on what the full amount would have been. The special 25% off coupon is issued by the restaurant, not by your server. Tipping on the final bill instead of the pre-discount amount will also be remembered.

  • The Even Dollar Total: If you're paying with a credit card, there's really no reason to tip $15.09 so that the total comes out to an even dollar. Cause we're not bringing you change, right? It's a credit card. And when the rounding goes the other way, and you end up tipping $15.98, the first thing that always runs through my mind is "Really? I'm not worth the two extra cents to make it $16.00?" In the end, it causes us more hassle, because instead of trying to figure out how to tip our bus boys 20% of $15, we have to figure out how to tip 20% of $15.09. And as we all know... math is hard. So don't make it harder unless you have good reason to.

  • And there you have it. Stay tuned for more tips on How to Eat Out Right.

    Totally worth the extra two cents...

    Edited to add: Since I've been accused of being whiny and obnoxious, I want to clarify that this post wasn't made to establish "RULES" of any sort. It's a list of things that are merely annoying-- things that, if people decided to pay attention to them, would make my job a little more pleasant. In of themselves (other than the not tipping on a discount/coupon) they're really nothing, and if you think you may have done one, or even ALL of them at the same time, no server is going to hate you for it. But at the end of a 5 or 6 hour shift, when every table has pulled two or five things from the list, it tends to get really frustrating and make the job less enjoyable. I'm sorry if you find the list offensive or rude. I'm just trying to remind myself that SERVER does not equal SERVANT, and that despite the fact that my pay is based on the mood and generosity of the people I'm waiting on, I'm not a lesser class of person for it.