Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tips for Wait Staff

I eat at restaurants a lot. And I eat at a lot of nice restaurants. So I've encountered a lot of wait staff in my life.

I've been to St. Louis' most "venerated" restaurant, Tony's, multiple times and I have to say that, although I sometimes think the food is overpriced, the service has been outstanding each and every time. The wait staff there anticipates every need and yet I seldom notice that the wait staff even exists. Which is exactly as it should be. And I've had outstanding service at many other restaurants - both expensive and inexpensive. I rarely have downright bad service at a nice restaurant but, regularly, I'm amazed at how untrained the wait staff is at restaurants that are not cheap. They don't even know what I consider the basics.

Want to know my current pet peeve? Waiters who try to remove my plate of food before I'm finished. If the fork is in my hand that means I'm not finished and you shouldn't take my plate. (Yes, this has happened. More than once, can you believe?) And just because the fork is not in my hand and is resting on the plate does NOT mean I'm finished (there is a specific way of laying knives and forks that signals "I am finished"; if I haven't laid them that way then I'm not finished).

OK. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I always think that if I owned my own restaurant my wait staff would have rules and they would stick to them. I was happy to see Bruce Buschel, who is opening a new restaurant, feels the same and is blogging about his rules. And I was pleased to see that number 31 on his One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do was this:

31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.

Right. And by the time you get to the question you need to be pretty sure that the person is actually finished.

There were other things on the list that I found myself nodding my head at. For instance:

8. Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.

There is nothing more annoying than being in the middle of a story (or listening to someone else be in the middle of a story) and have the waitperson come over and interrupt. As if it's all about them.

17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.

That #17 was something my mother taught me long ago. I always thought it was basic. But over the years it is clear that many restaurants don't think so.

There were a couple of rules that I thought were missing. I would add the rule "never come up and ask if the table wants desert while the diners are still eating their main course."

I also would add a rule against talking SO loud to the table you are waiting on that the people at the next table can't hear their own conversation.

Finally, here is the rule that should be ingrained into the head of every person who works in a restaurant above the level of a Denny's:

18. Know before approaching a table who has ordered what. Do not ask, “Who’s having the shrimp?”

Sometimes I don't answer. I simply ignore them and let them stand there. My sisters have called me rude for that but, seriously, I am paying for them to know this. I am paying for them NOT to interrupt our conversation in order to find out who ordered what dish. If we wanted to be treated like we were at Denny's we would have gone to Denny's and spent less money.

I approve of all of Bruce's rules and if I'm ever near his restaurant I'm going to have dinner there so that I can check out his wait staff.