10 ways to avoid dining disaster

thumb tipjarmoneyIn my workplace I’ve been pinched, bit, squeezed, screamed at, spit on, spanked and had steamed vegetables hurled at my head.

After a decade of serving, you’d think I’d be used to it.

I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 14, starting out as a hostess at a family pancake house. The day I turned 18, I was hired as lounge server and bartender. I then worked briefly in fine dining and banquet service and have spent the better part of the last four years of my working life serving in Calgary pubs.

All this has given me something to say – well ten things, actually.

But, before I let you in on it (lucky you) here’s a promise:

No venting here – venting happens when I’m on shift and I go into the meat freezer to do a crazy hopping-punching-stomping dance and scream at the top of my lungs.

Keeping frustration inside just isn’t healthy – plus, this is also an effective method of meat-tenderization.

Now why should you listen, you ask?

• This will make your server’s life easier and is the best way I know to create a positive experience for both of you.

• You can now avoid inadvertently enraging the person who is control of your dinner and ultimately has veto power on your alcohol consumption.

1. No touchy-touchy

It is never, ever, never in a million years okay to touch me. Simple tap on the shoulder aside, any physical contact with patrons makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to hug you, sit on your knee, or have you grab my butt.

Dinner and a show? I don’t think so. I’m here to do a job, and that job is to make you feel welcome and well taken care of.

Helping you feel welcome involves remembering your name, drink, having a laugh with you. You making sexual advances – no matter how innocent you think they are, or how receptive you think I seem – is never okay.

2. I can’t read your mind

Like any relationship, communication is key. I believe that miscommunications and misunderstandings – like the one above – are the cause of the bulk of customer and server woes. In a perfect world, minds would be read, and actions and words would never get skewed. In this world, however, you need to tell me what you need.

3. The Tip


Writer Alyssa Smith, a waitress on the side, says that if you feel like your service at dinner was above average, to tip between 15 to 20 per cent.
Photo by: Kim Wright
Ah, the loaded gun. You know, the reason servers in Canada make minimum wage?

Religion and politics have nothing on tipping.

Fun fact, servers in Alberta whose primary job is the service of alcohol actually make 35 cents less per hour than their other minimum wage counterparts.

A tip or gratuity is defined as an amount of money given for some service or favour. The answer for what a proper tip is will change every time you ask.

Under no circumstances should tipping be automatic. But if you don’t, please be certain the reason you’re unhappy was definitely the server’s fault and you gave them the opportunity to fix it.

Here’s my general rule:

– Zero to 10 per cent of the bill total, if the service is poor

– Between 10 and 15 per cent if the service is average

– Between 15 and 20 per cent for exemplary service.

Most people I’ve had a tipping debate with generally accept these rules; the issue is actually how individuals define these levels.

4. Tip Out

FYI: no matter what, your server has to give away a certain percentage of their total sales for the night to the house. This tip-tax goes to people like dishwashers and other kitchen staff, as well as management and owners. The server is also responsible for tipping out food-runners and bartenders. This is the nature of the industry and is not likely to change anytime soon. Please note that it doesn’t matter if you tip or not, your server pays a certain percentage to serve a table. An average tip-out in Calgary is around seven per cent. This means, if a table racks up a three-hundred-dollar bill, he or she pays $21 just to serve the table. The money from a potential tip is supposed to cover this cost, and the server pockets what is left – if anything. It’s the nature of the beast, now you know. This is meant to give servers incentive to provide good service and most of the time, this works out.

5. “If you’ve got a problem — yo, I’ll solve it…”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve overheard restaurant patrons whisper behind the server’s back about horrible food or service and then put on a smile when asked how everything is.

It can’t be fixed if you don’t tell me. I can’t tell if your steak is slightly over cooked just by looking at it. If you’re not enjoying your meal, it’s your job to let me know how I could fix it for you. Now, please listen carefully: no one is going to spit in your food.

No, really.

That said, there is no need to be rude if something doesn’t go your way. I have every intention of making sure you enjoy your dining experience and if you’re not, please let me know— I will do everything in my power to make you happy.

6. Some things really aren’t my fault

I don’t write the menu or come up with price points for drinks or dishes. Also, things like sides of hot sauce and ranch dressing cost the establishment money. Before the kitchen will give me any of these extras, they have to be rung through on the computer, then a bill will print up in the kitchen, where the kitchen staff will fill the order, and then put it up on the service line for me to come pick up and bring to you. No bill, no food.

7. Put down your phone for service

You are welcome to chat and text as much as you like, but it’s rude for me to interrupt you to ask if I can bring you anything. Easy solution: put down your phone and I will come over and ask.

8. It’s not all about you

Okay, it is — but it’s also all about my seven other tables. It’s my job to time things so you’re never looking for anything, but sometimes other things (like a hair in someone’s food) need to be dealt with right away. Don’t worry, please be patient, I didn’t forget about you — and if I did, I’m the first to admit it and try to make it up to you… Can I buy you a drink?

9. Chill —  Food and drink are to be enjoyed.

Please don’t take dining too seriously.

10. Golden rule

“He who has the gold makes the rules,” a wise cartoon villain once told me. It’s true: you really are always right — well, mostly.

But, at the end of it all if you remember nothing else, please remember the person you’re not making eye contact with or yelling at is a human being — do unto others and all that.


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