As a man who paid for his college education by working as a waiter and bartender, I have a unique appreciation for enjoying a meal out. But I notice things in restaurants, too—especially those that affect my brothers- and sisters-in-aprons, and particularly during these strange times when dining out isn’t the same simple affair it has always been.
With this in mind, a new awareness is needed among the dining public—a set of simple rules, if you will, designed to ensure that servers are earning what they can with fewer tables, and that customers are not unknowingly sabotaging that effort.
So, on behalf of servers across the Garden State, I offer my Top 5 Tips for 2020 Summer Dining.
Tip 1: Don’t linger at your table unless you’re planning on tipping well.
And I mean really well. Like so well that your tip will more than make up for the additional customers your server won’t be getting as a result of you growing roots at your table and not leaving.
Consider this: Restaurants are being forced to confine dining to outside for now, while maintaining social distancing mandates. Even when indoor dining is permitted again, capacity will be extremely limited. All of this means that each server’s ability to earn tips is likewise limited.
In restaurant lingo, a server earns their money when she can “turn ‘em and burn ‘em,” meaning that how well she has done at the end of the night is a function of volume: The more customers she can serve, the more money she typically makes. Having those very few tables occupied most of the night by a single party makes it very difficult for a server to earn tip money through volume.
Drink your wine. Eat your food. Enjoy yourself. Tip well. But for now, don’t linger.
Tip 2: Be ready to order.
Ordering food is not hard, but some people seem to make it that way, so this is actually a tip that is good to remember anytime, anywhere.
In today’s New Jersey, many restaurants are offering limited menus to go along with their limited seating abilities. As such, having a difficult time deciding what you want cannot credibly be blamed on an expansive offering.
Telling your server that you are ready to order and then laboring over the decision like you are trying to decide between the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a murder trial is, frankly, ridiculous and wastes valuable time, especially if the restaurant is busy—as it likely is these days.
If, as you hem and haw over choosing a Caesar salad or a garden salad, your server asks you need another minute, they are speaking in restaurant code. The message she is trying to communicate as politely as possible is this—or something similar: “I have to fire [clear off] the entrees for Table 12, the man at 10 wanted more napkins, I still have to take a drink order on 14 and I have to go explain to the kitchen the special instructions on 7 because one kid has a shellfish allergy. Now is really not a good time to be indecisive.”
It is certainly acceptable to ask questions of your server, but don’t say you are ready to order when clearly you are not.
Tip 3: Don’t “run” your server.
For those not familiar with the term, “running” a server is when several diners at one table ask for separate things, one at a time, in successive trips back to the table by the server, despite being asked after each return if anyone else needs anything.
Being “run” by a table is bad enough under the best of circumstances: it is time consuming, inefficient, and annoying. Now imagine doing that while wearing a mask in heat so oppressive that you feel you are in the midst of being cremated.
Be assured that if your table “runs” your server—especially under current dining conditions—you will be talked about in unflattering terms among the staff, and you will deserve it.
Have some compassion for your server. Don’t run them. It is completely unnecessary and totally avoidable.
Tip 4: Don’t arrive late and expect a leisurely meal.
Arguably the most universal pet peeve in the restaurant industry is the table that arrives mere moments before closing. Such a table is even more disliked when it chooses to have a long, luxurious meal at a late hour that is more appropriate for planning tomorrow morning’s breakfast than it is for eating dinner.
Being the last table is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, some table every night has to be the last one, right? But imagine being the server who just worked a six-hour shift out in the heat, constantly moving and doing it all in a hot mask. Now, because you came five minutes before closing and decide to play the role of Henry VIII, you have extended their shift another two hours and have kept them there long after the other servers, while the busboys and the food runners have already gone home.
This leads to a related suggestion: Be aware of your surroundings. If you notice that the only other living creature in the restaurant is your server, then recognize that you are the thing keeping them there. Please have some compassion and wrap things up quickly at that point. Servers have a life outside the restaurant, too.
Tip 5: Be careful when you pay by credit card.
Only a few days ago, a server friend relayed a sad-but-true event that happened to her recently, and I’ll recount it here as a cautionary tale.
One of her late tables had enjoyed a good meal and complimented her on the great service she provided. After running the credit card the table used to pay their $120 bill, my friend returned to the table, presented the two receipts in the presentation book and gave her standard instruction: “The top copy is mine and the bottom copy is yours.”
Retrieving the book after the table left, my friend discovered that the table had taken both credit card receipts. An error, certainly, but a costly one.
Because of the oversight, the server received no tip, but still had to tip the bus boys, the food runner and the bar on the total check because the sale was still reflected in her numbers for the night.
Sadly, this happens far more frequently than it should. When paying by credit card, please be sure to leave the signed receipt for your server. Otherwise, you have effectively stiffed them and they do not deserve that.
These Top Five Tips can be summed up quite easily. When dining out this summer, be as mindful as possible of your servers and mindful of your own role in the dining process. Doing so will help make the next few months a little more bearable for all.