Monday, January 10, 2011

Why waiters love you

I've been on a rant about waiters in San Francisco, but there are a lot of things you can do to make a waiter happy outside of a big tip. Here are a few things to do to look like a true pro when dining. Failing to do these does not mean that you will be hated by a waiter. My one big assumption is that the waiter actually cares about the quality of your dining experience. And these are all things you can choose to do. The inverse should not get you any less service than everyone else, but it will set you apart from other diners.

1) Leave a tip in cash. Different restaurant have different policies concerning how to declare tip or allocate to the support stasff. A cash tip puts the power in the hands of the waiter. Whether or not you agree with wait staff reporting less in tips, cash is always appreciated.

2) Request them by name when you return. I'm from the school that a good waiter never introduces themselves by name, especially in high end places. But as a patron, I will ask at the end of a particularly good meal so I can both complement the waiter to the host staff/management and ask by name for future visits. Failing this, most checks nowadays have the waiter's name on it.

3) Close your menu when you are ready to order. This is the biggest clue for a waiter to return and take your order. If the menu doesn't close, then simply put aside.

4) Ask for an opinion. This is probably a bit divisive, but every waiter should have enough of a handle on the food to offer an informed opinion. If a restaurant doesn't have sommelier, wine steward, or someone else with wine expertise, the waiter shoud also be able to provide solid wine recommendations. The better waiters I've known are happy to discuss the food or wine, as long as it isn't a lengthy discourse.

5) Be clear on your food/time requirements. At the very least, indicate food allergies, like dairy, peanuts, or wheat as well as vegan/vegeterian requirements. Some people with complex allergies present cards that indicate common items that they cannot eat. It may seem like overkill, but a waiter's job is to ensure that you leave happy and getting the right information is critical. If you have a movie, play, or just have need for leaving at a certain time, let your waiter know. They should be able to steer you in the right direction if something will delay you. Keep in mind that most places at lunch work on the goal of getting you out within an hour, not necessarily because they want the table turned (although this factors into it), but more because that is the expectation of most people dining.

6) Leave a taste of wine for the waiter. This is especially true if you brought your own or order an expensive wine. By no means mandatory, it shows a lot of respect for the waiter and the staff.

7) Use nonverbal communication. Pointing to an empty wine bottle, a subtle pantomime of signing a check, and even silverware placement are all clues as to your needs.

8) Look appropriate for where you are dining. Sure, a backwards hat, a Patrick Willis Jersey, and sweats works fine for a greasy hangover cure at Mel's on Saturday morning, but not at the hottest spot in town. Good waiters take pride in where they work and notice when someone respects their restaurant.

9) Be discreet with any complaints or mistakes. One time, after an anniversary meal, the waiter mixed up my check with another table. Happens and no big deal. I discretely called over the waiter. When he went to change the checks, the other table had a huge guffaw over how much I spent, going so far as to comment to me directly. Discretion is always appreciated.

10) Smile. Seems silly to mention it, but if you are enjoying yourself, smile. It's one of the clearest indications that you are enjoying yourself, which ultimately is the waiter's job.

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