Oh Eatocracy, why do you make me like you only disappoint me so? You publish wonderful content and then you turn around and post the self-important whining of your editors just to make my head explode. You are like the lover who makes me feel so special before calling me by someone else’s name. Just as I start feeling it was an accident, you do it again. Today, I am calling you out on it.
I was sent a link this morning to an article by Sean Elder titled, “Five Things You Never Want To Hear In A Restaurant.” I am sent links like this on occasion by people who know that they will make my head explode. The senders usually know of my sincere disdain for those who do not wait tables explaining how to be a great server. They say they are looking for a comment, but know it will spawn a diatribe. This ploy has worked again and today I am once again sitting down to explain why another list critiquing servers is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of the restaurant industry.
I am going to address each of Mr. Elder’s points, but I highly encourage you to check out the original article before proceeding.
1. “It depends on what you like.”
The contributor of this point says that a server should not know the guest’s taste, but should know what the kitchen does well. My kitchen does a number of things well, but you would probably not like me to go in-depth on the steaks if you are a vegetarian. I am frequently asked by guests, “What is the best steak?” This is an incredibly subjective question. My response is always, “How do you like your steak cooked?” A lean cut like filet is awful when cooked well. A more marbled cut like Ribeye does not reach maximum flavor until at least medium. If you tell me you are on a diet, I probably won’t recommend a cream sauce pasta dish. The more information I receive, the more accurate my recommendations are. I wouldn’t recommend a wine without knowing what you were eating or what you enjoy in a wine. Personal preferences are why we have menus. If you want no input in the decision, then just ask me to order for you.
2. “We have two orders of the [blank] left; if you’re thinking of that I’ll put the order in now.”
Would you prefer we let you get your heart set on something only to tell you that we just sold out between the time I recommended it and the time I took your order? Restaurant guests love when that happens. The author points out that his wife responds, “Why didn’t you make more?” The answer is simple: you pay for the food we serve you as well as a portion of the food we throw out at the end of the night. In order to provide a value to guests, we try not to prepare a great deal of extra food. This keeps menu prices down. I am not sure how many portions that have to be thrown out his wife wants to pay for, but if she let a restaurant know in advance they will order accordingly. There are restaurants that do not run out of items, but it is because they just have to run back to the freezer to thaw more in the microwave.
3. “We’ll bring the dishes out of the kitchen as they’re ready.”
I will give him this one. It annoys me too.
4. “We can’t turn the air conditioning/heat/music down because the chef likes it like that.”
Restaurants are built around concepts. Part of the concept is the music and the volume at which it is broadcast. It is not always suitable to every guest, but it is set at the discretion of the management. It may not suit you, but you cannot expect the restaurant (and all of the other guests) to conform to your preferences. You can choose not to frequent that restaurant because their concept does not appeal to you. That is the risk they are taking, but it is a decision they are entitled to because they pay the rent and put their name on the sign. Temperature changes may be mentioned, but it is generally set to make the entire dining room comfortable.
5. “What are we talking about here?”
Where does this guy eat? I can tell you that the reverse of this situation occurs far more often. I have known a number of servers who carried a picture of their kids, spouse, or significant other in their server book. Before you think this is odd, remember that it is as close as we come to having a desk or cubicle. This often serves as a reminder to not choke out the guest who says, “Why didn’t you make more?” I have even in my younger years carried a picture of my sweetheart in my server books. Guests frequently asked to see it when they noticed. I couldn’t exactly refuse to show it, but never understood why they felt entitled to comment on it. One even asked, “Is that your daughter?” I am still not sure how old they thought I was, but trust me that there is nothing on this list that comes even close to the liberties that guest take with their servers.