Restaurant Etiquette – Part II
The Customer Is Always Right – How to get the service you deserve
August 4, 1999
This is an original Podium article.
One way to guarantee a table in almost any restaurant is to phone ahead for reservations. You may be surprised at how many establishments do encourage this. In some very busy places you may be able convince them to squeeze you in between reservations (i.e. “We can be out in half an hour.”) Making reservations also allows you the freedom to get ready at a leisurely pace, avoid long line-ups and to sit at a window seat or a booth by the fireplace. An afterthought would be to gently suggest that the seating be away from the kitchen and the washroom. Unless the noises and smells of either are something you enjoy.
Without a Reservation. (impromptu)
If you are in the unfortunate position of having to wait for a table there are a few ways to make the wait easier. Firstly, ask how long the wait is for a table. More importantly, if at all possible, get your name on a waiting list and request an approximate (or ideally specific) time as to when your table will be ready. Instead of spending your time in the lineup, you will then be able to leave and come back without the worry of losing your place. If there is no place to which to wander off, ask if there is a lounge or bar in which the time can be spent. Sometimes there will be an appetizer menu or, if the wait is too long, some restaurants make the full menu available in such lounges. Make sure you tell the host/hostess where you are and to call you when the table is set. This is not an imposition. If they want your business they will accommodate you.
Note: Do not point at a dirty table and ask to sit there. Do not seat yourself. This is not only impolite to others in line, but the server will be less than receptive to your dining needs.
Good drinks, good food and good service are your higher- power- given rights! Anything less should be addressed to either the server or, as a last result, the manager. The food and drinks should be the way they are described on the menu. The food should be cooked the way that you want it. The server should be readily available for any further requests (condiments, water, more coffee, etc.) If this is not the case, politely bring it to their attention and expect them to remedy it. Sending back food or a drink will not hurt their feelings, chances are they are not the ones who made them. They can easily void the item from the bill and replace it with something else, or have the cost of the item removed from the final total. A gift certificate towards the next visit may also be a possibility. If the servers do take it personally, then they are in the wrong business. The tip can reflect such a poor attitude. The customer should be made to feel that he or she matters. After all, by paying for the bill you are paying their salary, and the tip will help pay their rent.
Ultimately, if you feel that any problems were not resolved to your satisfaction, and communication between you and the server is less than satisfactory, you should ask to see the manager. If you would like to avoid a confrontation, quietly ask for the manager on your way out and explain the situation. Chances are you are not the first to complain about either the service or the quality of the food. It is not your fault, the waiter will not hate you (chances are they wont even remember who you are, should you choose to return) and you may actually make a difference for the next patron.
Check the bill carefully. Waiters /waitresses and machines can make mistakes. If you feel the prices are not the same as those listed on the menu, do not be afraid to check. Sometimes you may be overcharged or charged for something you did not consume.
Then it is time to decide about the tip. As discussed in Part I, 10% should be the standard unless the servers have been rude or condescending. In this case, it is okay to show your disappointment by stiffing them (leave them nothing or less than 10%). Do not stiff them based upon food or drink quality, or upon the time a meal took to prepare. This is not their fault.
Lastly, check your change. This is an important point because sometimes servers (especially if they feel they they will be tipped poorly) may take it upon themselves to take the tip they feel they deserve before they return the change. This happens! If it does , ask to have the correct amount of change returned and tip accordingly. This is especially true in nightclubs and bars. Beware.
Expect to get what you pay for and more! The employees of a restaurant or bar are there to please you in the hopes that you will bring return business and possibly recommend the place to others; their eager attitude is not just for the sake of tips. That is how a place becomes and stays successful. In order to be successful, an establishment must cater to the needs and expectations of anyone who steps through the door.
Keeping this in mind, the strongest statement you can make in a negative situation is to express yourself clearly to the manager or owner and take your business elsewhere.
Kevin Hilditch is a bartender in downtown Toronto. He is also a registered Shiatsu massage therapist and has never starred in a syndicated sit-com.