Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Restaurant Etiquette

I love going out to eat. Do you? I think it's fabulous. You don't have to do any work and you have a fetch-and-carry slave waiter who makes you feel like royalty, if he's doing his job right. If your absolutely stunning date is doing his job right, you're also luxuriating in a free evening. Or you could be having a brilliant time with your best friend or your group of girls, who will all be sure to be far more scandalous than any guy will ever have the balls to be on preliminary dates. You could be out with clients, piling on the fun so they'll pile on the business. You could be trying to scare away a creepy guy by sticking mushrooms up your nose. Any number of things. They're all fabulous.

Wanna know how to ruin it?

There are many types of restaurant etiquette, but they basically boil down into two kinds: one for the customer and one for the server. I have been both on a slew of different occasions, and, trust me, there are thousands of pet peeves on each sides. Want to hear the obvious ones?

The customer's greatest fallacies are:

  • Treating the waiter like a person who makes more than $2.13 per hour. Most of the time, that is all they make. That salary pays for gas to get to work, and that is all. Unless a new minimum-wage law is enacted for servers, almost every single restaurant will take advantage of their waitstaff and let you pay their salary. This sucks, but, in America, that's the way it is. (Don't do it in Italy; though; they can get offended if you tip them there.) It is NOT okay to leave a dollar tip per person unless you have only had a cup of coffee. It is never okay to leave a tip under 10% unless the server did a miserable job. If you're eating at a café and your entrée was around $8 or $9, don't leave less than $2 per person. It's rude. Moreover, don't you fucking dare send that poor server running all over the restaurant to serve your needs and then tip him or her forty-five cents. That is disgusting. You are exploiting your server. Stop it. Tipping an extra dollar will not hurt you and will let your waiter pay rent.
--Ladies, we're especially prone to under-tipping. Women tend to have separate checks and to tip much less kindly than men do. Frugality is laudable, but not when it comes to an extra dollar.
  • Being an unfriendly jerk. Ladies, beware! On your first dates, there are millions of men who will judge you based on the way you treat your waiter. Do you want to send a gorgeous, successful, funny guy running as far as he can because he's just seen how you treat people you think are subordinate to you? That is not sexy. That is rude. One of the first rules of having class and charm is to treat everyone, everyone, with respect. (Unless some guy is making you seriously uncomfortable. In that case, I firmly advocate everything from deprecating remarks to a swift kick in the groin.)
  • Making a horrific mess on the table. Oh, my God. I hate just eating with people like this. Sometimes I cannot help spilling things, like dipping oil for bread, but it's revolting to eat with someone who treats the tablecloth like a trash-collecting welcome mat. You have got to control this. Eating more slowly helps so much, as does the novel concept of making sure that everything on your fork actually stays on your fork until it enters your mouth and your lips close around it.
  • Bringing children to eat and allowing them to crumble crackers and scatter food all over the floor. Do you even realize what you are doing? You are trashing the restaurant! It makes you look like trash. The servers have to make the place look spotless for every other customer and you are making them hate you. Do you really want all the other customers to look at you and think "oh, my God, who is that trashy bitch who can't even keep her children from making me want to throw up my lunch"? No. I realize children will make messes. Just do your part to try to keep your area from becoming a saltine cracker pasta soda garbage dump.
  • Throwing your trash and your napkin onto your plate. It's gross. Your server will know you are finished if you put your knife and fork into the "five o'clock" position on your plate (okay, I'm left-handed, so mine end up in the "seven o'clock" slot), and if he or she is not familiar with this piece of etiquette, just stop eating. Eventually, your plate will go away. Do you really want to be so rude as to make a trash heap for yourself and the other people at your table to look at? An empty plate is an empty plate, not a garbage can. I hate, hate, hate eating with people who think it is completely okay to shred their napkins and then place napkin bits, straw wrappers, and sodden drink coasters into their plates while I still have food and drink in front of me. EW. Don't ever, ever, ever do this. Please.
Gross Server Breaches of Common Decency:

  • Don't call ladies "guys". "How are you guys doing today?" Great! We just lopped off ten percent of your tip for making us feel less than glamorous! How about you? We're ladies. I don't care what you snicker to your friends in the kitchen, your job is to respect us.
  • When you bring us refilled glasses, take the old ones away. I do not want my table to become a dumping ground for empty glasses.
  • Not cleaning off tables quickly. The surrounding tables feel encompassed by trash and you don't get your table turned in time to catch people who just don't feel like waiting long enough for you to get your act together.
  • Know your menu. Really. Top to bottom.
  • Try not to write anything down. I make exceptions if the party includes more than five or six people, but your memory is better than you think. In most cases.
  • Don't ever, ever touch plates or glasses anywhere near where food, drink, or mouths will go. Ew.
  • Dirty aprons are gross. I worked with a long white apron for about eight months and, sure enough, as it got dirtier, tips dropped drastically. Eventually, I was stuck spraying the damn thing with degreaser, soaking it, and then drowning it in bleach to get it white again before starching, ScotchGarding, and ironing, but it worked. I loved making $100 for a breakfast/lunch shift. It pays for the bleach. ;)
  • Do your customers a favor and remove all bits of trash from their tables when you check on them. Straw wrappers and other obnoxious things like that clog up the table and will guarantee you a happy little tip raise if you are that attentive.
Sometimes, though, you can make terrific mistakes and people will love you anyway. You can spill a tray filled with 20-ounce Coke glasses all over two small boys, and the mother will tip you 40% because she was so happy that it wasn't her kids making the mess.

One of the most lovable servers I ever worked with was named Paige. Paige was about fifty-five, smoked like an oven on fire, was somehow incapable of getting a haircut, and was about the most absent-minded people I have ever met. Paige and logic did not get along, she and problem-solving divorced long ago, and I think multitasking was aborted. She once asked a teenage girl at lunch with her mother if the girl was pregnant and then managed to wave goodbye to them with a solid ten-dollar tip for an eighteen-dollar ticket in her apron pocket. Hundreds of people loved her. It was inexplicable. Just being a lovable, nice person seems to make up for a helluva lot of mishaps.