Everyone’s had great restaurant service…and not-so-great service. What has to happen to slide service from neutral to the good side or to the bad side?
It’s interesting that the experienced and highly-commended owner of a nice local “destination” restaurant with great food, service, and atmosphere told me, “You would not believe the number of complaint letters that I receive each week.” And this is a well-rated, award-winning restaurant according to the professional food critics, nearby residents, and local foodies. The complaints will definitely outrank the positive comments since few patrons will take the time to write a positive letter, unless it’s a super special occasion.
“It was like that one meal experience had ruined the patron’s entire life.”
Maybe I’m just a softie when someone else is preparing and serving my food. Gosh, I can’t imagine any meals that I’ve ever had that may have “ruined my life.”
Over the years, my tastes have changed, and I prefer different types of restaurants than when I was younger. Patronizing a restaurant which offers local ingredients and is family-run tends to get my positive vote more often than not. And while I do like the “fine dining” establishments, the casual ones draw me in more and more. Pulling in tips and tricks from my fellow “well-travelled” diners was fun homework for this posting.
My dining partners and I get great restaurant service when we go out to eat. Here’s how:
1. Become a regular. That means eating at a restaurant at least a couple of times a year if it’s fine dining, or a couple times a month if it’s a more moderate establishment. And obviously, eating there once a week can also help. You’ve got to really like the food, drink, service, and atmosphere though. Once you return to a restaurant several times, the staff will take notice, and remember you.
2. Be sure to make reservations if they are accepted/recommended. That’s one way that the restaurant can track your continued patronage. Use OpenTable or call the restaurant directly. If you are lucky, when you become a regular, you can sometimes email the owner or hostess directly and he/she will personally make your reservation for you. Try to call to make reservations during non-peak hours unless the restaurant has a receptionist whose main role is to take reservations. Not many restaurants can afford that service though. See what works for your local favorites. BE ON TIME for your reservation, and stick to the number of patrons you stated in your party. Don’t expect the restaurant staff to rearrange the restaurant for your “larger” party of 10 when your reservation was for six.
3. Be sure to CANCEL your reservation in advance if you do not need it. You would be surprised how many restaurant reservationists call each other to compare patron’s names for double-and-triple-booked reservations on popular nights. And if you are one of the offending double-and-triple-bookers, you will certainly go onto the “offender list”.
4. Dress nicely. Wear something appropriate and show some respect to the restaurant establishment. Your backwards baseball cap and cycling shorts might be ok at McDonalds, but not where there are cloth linens and napkins on the tables. The restaurant owner/manager will likely remember you and give you preferred seating. Sorry, I know this is a hot issue considering how sloppy people dress these days (do you want my money or not???), but that’s just how it works. I’m not saying that a suit and tie or a fancy dress is required. You can put on a nice pair of khakis and a sweater or polo shirt and likely get better service than the person in the sweatpants and $200 Nikes. It’s all about respect!
5. Get to know the restaurant team. I’m not saying to head back into the kitchen. Yet you should meet the restaurant owner or manager so that he or she knows who you are, especially if you are bringing your own business clients or personal friends to the restaurant. Be sure to introduce yourself to the host/hostess who seats you and to the servers. Each time you see them, be sure to say hello, and how nice it is to see them again, and SMILE.
6. Request a favorite server each time you dine. I’m not a big fan of the “Hello, my name is Trudy and I will be your server.” Yet if you do find a great server, ask the owner/manager or even the server for his/her name and request that same server the next time you make your reservations or dine at the restaurant.
7. Don’t leave angry about your subpar experience. If you do have a bad experience, address it with the restaurant owner/manager right away, preferably away from the table and the rest of your party. Don’t wait to go home and then post a negative review on Facebook or Yelp.
8. Take some time before you write a review. If you do write Yelp or other online reviews, please wait until you have visited the restaurant at least twice before you write a review, whether positive or negative. The overall rating for a restaurant is important. It’s just not fair to write a ripping negative review when you have had one subpar experience and the restaurant may have had an “off” night. We’re all human, and it helps to give a second chance. Plus, the restaurant’s offerings may not suit your tastes, but are exactly what someone else is seeking…so why ruin it for another patron by writing a bad review?
9. Do your research before you complain about the food. Learn about the type of food you are eating and how it is normally served in the host country before you write a bad review because it didn’t suit your personal tastes. A lot of “ethnic” food has been localized to the region’s tastes. For example, if the local people aren’t going to eat a beef tongue taco, then the restaurant will have to use some other type of meat. So, don’t complain on Yelp that there is no tongue taco on the menu unless you understand why. And unfortunately, local food biases sometime keeps patrons from tasting really authentic food. Several BBQ styles exist and you should not expect one over another depending on the restaurant’s locale. If you think casual French bistro food and service is supposed to be equivalent to fine dining, and want to complain that your experience is not up to that fine dining standard, then you need to do your homework.
10. Be a good tipper. So many patrons want to penalize the server for bad food. If there is an issue with the service, of course, you need to politely let the server or the owner/manager know what it is, and why you tipped the amount that you did. If there is an issue with the food, politely tell the owner/manager — and don’t take it out on your server. The generally-accepted tip standard is 15% – 20% of the total bill before taxes depending on where you live. Again, it’s up to you, so make your own informed decision to take care of those who take care of you.
11. Teach your kids how to be good restaurant patrons. If your children accompany you to restaurants, then pay attention to them. Some little ones get cranky if they’re up past their regular bedtime. And you should not expect children under 8 years old to be able to sit still for hours. As a young child, my parents would take me out to a restaurant as a “treat” and I knew that I had to act appropriately — or I would get “The Look” from my mother and risk being removed from the restaurant. It’s not the restaurant staff’s responsibility to correct your child. It’s yours. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that you are not sitting in your own kitchen or living room — and you are out in public.
12. If you have a favorite dish or drink, let the staff know what it is. Servers generally want to anticipate your likes and wants. It’s fun to walk into a restaurant and hear “Will you be having your usual?” from the server. My favorite server at a French bistro always brings me a flute of champagne as I sit down to the dinner table without my having to ask! My favorite local casual Mexican restaurant’s take-out cashier knows that I usually order Tacos Vera Cruz — no longer on the menu but the staff will make them for this 30-year “regular.” And sometimes the chef at your favorite restaurant may send out something special just for you!
13. Find a favorite table, and request it. Obviously, if the table is already seated or if the restaurant doesn’t reserve specific tables, it won’t work every time. Try anyway. We had a favorite table at a restaurant that unfortunately had a kitchen fire and doesn’t exist in its former state. It was Table 25 in the corner of the floor-to-ceiling windowed room and overlooked a lovely inlet along the Eastern seashore. The restaurant didn’t take reservations, so we would try to go off-season just to sit at that table to watch the boats along the canal. The staff would remember us and smile when we requested the table — if it was available. Since the devastating restaurant fire and rebuilding of the restaurant structure to meet current construction codes, that same table and view exists no longer. The new Table 25 is in a different area with a lesser ambiance. Yet it’s still one of those few restaurants where the food is actually better than the spectacular view (which tells you how outstanding that view was previously)!
14. Treat everyone with respect. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be polite. Swearing or yelling at the restaurant owner if you are unhappy won’t likely ingratiate you with him/her, or the staff. Be sure to say please and thank you to your servers and porters, even if they are just refilling a water glass, or bringing you a steak knife.
15. Set your cell phone to quiet mode. If you must take a call, please step outside of the restaurant. There is nothing more annoying to those around you than your loud phone conversation. You are not Mr. or Ms. Important — you are Mr. or Ms. Distracting Patron.
16. Send a follow-up thank you note, especially if your evening was lovely, and it was a special occasion for you. The owner/manager and staff will appreciate the gesture. Remember that a compliment goes a long, long way!
What are your suggestions to get better restaurant service?
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