Well hello all, and Happy Friday to you! For the past several weeks, we‚Äôve been discussing service. I have intentionally and deftly avoiding the topic of tipping. You see, I know quite a bit about fine dining, steps of service, the ins and outs of a restaurant, and of course, have been on the receiving end of many a tip. *Thank you.* But that‚Äôs my point, I‚Äôm on the receiving end. I NEVER want to tell a diner what they should leave for me; although I‚Äôm asked about once a week what I think is fair. A few months ago, a gentleman asked me what my best tip ever was, as he was so happy with my service he‚Äôd like to exceed it. Rather than making up some arbitrary sum so he‚Äôd feel obligated to beat it, I told him the truth. ‚ÄúI received $800 one night. But sir, that was a large party. You should tip what you feel is appropriate,‚Äù I replied. He left around 22%, which was kind and generous. But again, I avoided talking about what I thought he should tip. But it seems y‚Äôall wanna talk about tipping, so here we go. (And you thought you disagreed with me before‚Ä¶)
So there are a few important things we have to address first, beginning with the difference between an order taker and a server. If your server simply comes over and asks what they can bring for you, brings your drinks and meal, and presents the check, they are and order taker, not a server. If this person is fast, courteous, and says ‚Äúthank you‚Äù and ‚Äúcome again‚Äù, they are a step up from an order taker. If they take time to explain unique dishes on the menu, yet another step. If they explain the nuances of the wine that you are considering, it‚Äôs another step up. If they guide you through a luxurious experience where your napkin is magically re-folded when you return to the table from a trip to the restroom, there‚Äôs an extra taste of a fabulous bottle your server simply thought you had to try, and the valet is promptly summoned when you‚Äôre ready to leave, without you lifting a finger‚Ä¶ well, that‚Äôs admittedly different, right?
With that out of the way, there are differing views on what is ‚Äústandard‚Äù tipping procedure. It is the very nature of the process (providing a monetary expression of a job well done) that leaves the issue so open to argument. Many people think that ‚ÄúTIP‚Äù is an acronym for ‚ÄúTo Insure Prompt Service‚Äù but as The Waiter points out in his book, Waiter Rant, which would mean you should tip before service has begun. Some of you have argued that you would prefer the methods that other countries employ: Either including gratuity into the price of the item you‚Äôre are ordering, or that restaurants pay the servers a fair daily wage. Saying that the United States should adopt these rules is like arguing that cable TV should be free. It‚Äôs never going to happen. If you‚Äôd like to fight that fight, please address your congress-person, not your server. We didn‚Äôt make the rules. But we love the old adage, ‚ÄúIf you can‚Äôt afford to tip, you can‚Äôt afford to dine out.‚Äù And that, my friends, is why we‚Äôre all so damn caught up in what/how much/how to tip.
Well let‚Äôs get down to it then. If you tip 10%, it means you got bad service. What constitutes bad? Well, having experienced it tonight let me tell you: Our drinks didn‚Äôt arrive for ten plus minutes with no acknowledgement of the late timing. The bread didn‚Äôt come until long after the appetizers; after the salads had arrived. One entr√©e was unavailable, but we were not told at the time we ordered it. One entr√©e was dropped in the kitchen and didn‚Äôt come out with the rest of the table‚Äôs food. When it did arrive it was wrong. The dining room was not busy. The server was hapless, but apologetic and inevitably accommodating. The dropped entr√©e was free, as were two desserts. My husband and I paid $87 for tardy beverages, wedge salads, terrible entr√©es, piss-poor service, and air conditioning beating us up the entire time, even after complaints. So bad, I‚Äôm tempted to tell you where we ate. It‚Äôs inexcusable to get service like that in a place that charges $22 to $29 for an entr√©e.
Adequate service is just that. You got what you wanted. Your service was timely, and pleasant. This level of service deserves 15% to 18% depending on the restaurant, fine dining getting the higher percentage. A fine dining server has a higher skill set, and even if they didn‚Äôt get an opportunity to display it fully to you on this occasion, the restaurant as a whole deserves a nod. Give the extra percentage ‚Äì we‚Äôll get to why in a minute.
If you receive exemplary service, tip nothing less than 20%. Your server has honed their skills to provide you the best experience possible given their surroundings: Be it Bistro or Burger Joint, these folks know what they‚Äôre doing, and showed you a great time. Do them the favor of acknowledging their efforts. If they really blew you away (remembered your drink from your last visit or had that extra side of mayo before you asked for it) throw them a few extra bucks. Anything over 20% tells a server you were really impressed and often a few measly dollars will make his or her day. Think about that. Your gratitude shown with as little as $5 bucks extra gratuity, could make someone‚Äôs whole day. Why wouldn‚Äôt you?
Now, here‚Äôs something you may not know: Servers tip a LARGE percentage of what they make to their support staff. I tip my Wait Assistant (the proper term for bus boy) a point. What is a point? Well, if I‚Äôm worth 2 points, my WA is worth 1. That means that if I make $150, my WA gets $50, and I get $100, get it? (150/3 points = 50) Then I tip the bartender 15% of what I made. Then I tip the food runner (the additional person working for the restaurant designated to get the hot food out to the guests immediately and describe it‚Äôs characteristics at a table when that table‚Äôs sever is waiting on other guests) 10% of what I made. I was tipped $150 throughout the evening, but I‚Äôm walking with $75. That‚Äôs right. Sometimes I walk with HALF of the tips I brought in that night. It is precisely that reason (in a fine dining restaurant, there is often additional support staff) that I suggest you bump the percentage you leave.
Finally, if you receive free anything, tip on it. If you know the bartender, and you get a free drink on your tab, tip as if you were charged. If you have a coupon for a free order of flingers, tip for it. If you have terrible service, but at least the restaurant (be It the manager or your server) attempted to compensate for it, tip on it. It‚Äôs the least you can do for gratis food or beverage. Let‚Äôs go back to the bad experience I described to you earlier. The server recognized that there were several things that went wrong at our table. I have no idea how bad a night she was having ‚Äì if she‚Äôd had a horrible personal day, if the kitchen was punishing her for no(?) reason, if her manager had it out for her, or if it was just a comedy of errors. At least she knew it. She bought an entr√©e, and two desserts for the table. I tipped her for it. But then, I‚Äôve never left 10%. It‚Äôs just not in my nature ‚Äì I‚Äôve been doing this for too long.
Okay. Let the bickering commence.
Back again, to finish off the 12 Things Diners Should Never Do. What? What‚Äôs that you say?! Last week it was only 10? Well, there are a couple of quickies in here that I‚Äôve decided I simply can‚Äôt omit. Call it a bonus! (Also, these articles about service are simply that: A focus on upper level dining and the interaction between the diner and the server. Unfortunately, you don‚Äôt receive this level of service at every establishment. That is a bigger conversation, but one I‚Äôm hoping to inspire. After all, great service improves your experience no matter where you are!)
6) Don‚Äôt say you‚Äôre ready to order if you‚Äôre not. A server has a sequence of service (steps and priorities of service) long before you sit down. Timing is everything, and that frankly is why there is such great potential for things to go wrong. Your server has come to your table because he/she has found the break in the rhythm of service to proficiently and accurately take your order. If you‚Äôre not ready, or rather if you say that you are, and then keep your server waiting for several minutes while you decide, it throws off the entire system. If you have a few questions, that if of course never a problem (as referenced in ‚ÄòDon‚Äôt‚Äô #3), and will likely help you reach your decision. However, if you simply haven‚Äôt looked yet, or need a few minutes to reach your decision, even if everyone else at the table is ready, ask your server to return in a few minutes. Any server who disagrees with this is unprofessional, and doesn‚Äôt truly care about giving you what you want.
7) Please do not attempt to summon me if I‚Äôm at another table. Waving, yelling or (god forbid) snapping at me while I‚Äôm with other guests is just rude. The other guests deserve service too, and I promise, I‚Äôll be right over. If you truly require immediate attention, a simple hand gesture and/or nod is sufficient.
8) Do not be passive-aggressive if you are unhappy with something. If you don‚Äôt care for your drink, your dish, your wine or your server, just tell someone. Being angry about it doesn‚Äôt improve your experience. Simply asking for the kitchen to remake your dish to your liking gets you the meal you want. Sending back your dirty martini because it isn‚Äôt dirty enough is a quick fix, and one any bartender should be happy to make. Requesting a different server is tricky, and I would begin with asking your server for what you need. If he/she is being too chatty, express that you‚Äôre having a more private evening. If the server is hovering too much, mention that you‚Äôre in no rush. If he/she doesn‚Äôt take the hint, or simply is inept, go ahead and ask for a manager. Leaving a terrible tip teaches no lesson, while providing direct feedback does. Once again ask for what you want. Chances are you‚Äôll get it! On the opposite side of the coin, tell someone if you had a great time! It is always appreciated, and may mean a little something extra the next time you‚Äôre in‚Ä¶
9) Don‚Äôt move things far from where your server has placed them at your table. Every night, I reset tables several times throughout the course of service. I set plates, silverware and glasses specifically on the table so as to accommodate the plates that are on the way from the kitchen. I set the fork a certain way to signal to the person delivering the dishes that the table has in fact been reset, and is ready for the next course. Inevitably, guests move the things that I have set down. That‚Äôs fine ‚Äì it‚Äôs your table. However, I then ask you to be prepared to move these things out of the way when the food arrives. In fine dining, the idea is that a guest should never have to move to ‚Äòassist‚Äô in service. We‚Äôve done everything we can to prevent you from having to help (complete with secret signals and all!), but if your bread plate is directly in front of you when your entr√©e arrives, the person with their hands full has no place to set your plate. Thank you in advance.
10) If you are splitting the bill multiple ways, don‚Äôt forget about the tax. So very often, I wait on big groups who just have cocktails, and share some appetizers. I love groups like this because they are nice, sizable tabs from frequent guests who‚Äôve brought their friends – awesome. However, very often when the bill comes people forget the tax, and end up shorting the server. Let‚Äôs say you and a dozen of your girlfriends go out for drinks. You each have two $12 martinis. Each lady assumes their bill is $24, and leaves $30, thereby leaving a great tip, right? Nope. Liquor tax in Hennepin County is 12.5%, so you‚Äôve actually left a 7.5% tip. Your server ends up bewildered, concerned that the service wasn‚Äôt to your expectation, or simply pissed off that their hard work wasn‚Äôt recognized. All when you sincerely meant to tell them they did a great job! With really big parties, splitting a bill into separate checks becomes a real challenge, and it‚Äôs always important to know if this is required in advance. A lot of computer systems won‚Äôt split a bill more than eight ways. However, if you inform your server at the outset that you prefer separate tabs, that‚Äôs normally not a problem. Otherwise account for the tax, and even Uncle Sam is happy.
11) Don‚Äôt treat your server like a second-class citizen. I‚Äôm going to finish up with the golden rule. Your server is fully aware that the word ‚Äòservice‚Äô is within their job title. It is our job to provide you with the best service, and therefore the best experience we can possibly provide. That said, your server has chosen this profession for any number of reasons, and lack of education is (most likely) not one of them. The servers I have known over my 15 years in the business are some of the most unique, expressive, creative and talented people I‚Äôve ever met. We are students and teachers, artists and writers, yogis and foodies, and we love our jobs. That‚Äôs why we keep doing them. The schedule is flexible, allowing us to continue our educations, and travel frequently. Chances are we are dying to try that new exclusive restaurant as much as you are, and we‚Äôve tasted that exquisite bottle of wine¬†you‚Äôre ordering because we have a passion for wine as well. Treat your server like the intelligent, capable human being they are, and you will get the best service of your life.
12) And one last sneaky little addition (by popular demand) is this: If you are the last person in the room, please end your evening. You are keeping at least three staff members on the property: The manager, (most likely) the bartender or host and your server. Even if you‚Äôve paid, your server is required to stay until you leave. I‚Äôve never understood people who insist on sitting in an establishment past closing time. It‚Äôs rude, and you can‚Äôt get anything more to drink or eat anyway. Don‚Äôt you have another drink to find out there in the world, or some important romance to attend to? Don‚Äôt force us to come over and ask you to leave. It‚Äôs uncomfortable for everyone. Thank you.
In response to several of the comments I received on last week‚Äôs article, I thought a look at the perspectives of a diner vs. a server would be a worthy exercise. Last fall, Bruce Buschel wrote One Hundred Things Restaurant Statters Should Never Do, and the restaurant world was set a-buzzin‚Äô about whether or not we agreed with all of the points made. The response was quick and furious, with a litany of snarky servers airing their grievances about the table last night who tipped them poorly. (I myself have never said a bad thing about a customer EVER!) In writing this I hope to bring exactly what I try to provide my guests with nightly ‚Äì a better experience. I may not agree with every single one of the 100 things, generally, I do. It is with that in mind that I would like to present a brief‚Ä¶
10 Things Diners Should Never Do (Part 1)
1) Don‚Äôt be late for your reservation. Remember the last time you were frustrated that you were unable to sit down at the time of your reservation? It‚Äôs because the four parties in front of you were late for theirs. Running the door of a restaurant is a delicate art ‚Äì judging the ebb and flow of diners and accommodating special requests requires patience and skill. Additionally, if you do not have a reservation, it is never beneficial to point out, ‚ÄúBut that table‚Äôs open, and we‚Äôll be quick!‚Äù Just because a table appears to be empty doesn‚Äôt mean it isn‚Äôt reserved, or being held to form a larger table for a group coming in. If there is a possibility of seating you at a table believe me, they will. It‚Äôs their job to get you in! If you are unavoidably running late, simply call and let them know, it will normally not be a problem to accommodate you. Knowing your arrival time is valuable, and makes getting you sat in a timely manner possible.
2) Don‚Äôt ignore your server. This may sound like a silly request, but I can‚Äôt tell you how many times I‚Äôve said, ‚ÄúDo you prefer your martini up or on the rocks?‚Äù only to receive the response, ‚ÄúYes.‚Äù Chances are, the reason your server is talking to you is to help guide your experience, so you‚Äôll enjoy the restaurant to its fullest potential. It will only be a minute and we‚Äôll get out of your way to let you enjoy each other and the food. A server‚Äôs ‚Äúspiel‚Äù as we call it, will normally guide you through the menu, tell you about things that are not on the menu (specials, flights, etc.), and will provide you with a little insight as to best utilize the unique characteristics of the restaurant. And ultimately, your server is a professional who knows the menu, and can help you with your decisions. Which brings us to‚Ä¶
3) Don‚Äôt be afraid to ask questions. Don‚Äôt know what ramps are? Ask! No idea which Italian wine to choose because you normally drink Merlot? Ask! No matter who you are, you are not as knowledgeable about the restaurant‚Äôs food as your server is. They are not trying to be ‚Äúbetter than you‚Äù, it is very simply their job to know these things, and to communicate them to you. And realistically, you have a far less chance of getting something you don‚Äôt want if you ask for menu clarification when ordering. No vegetarian wants to inadvertently get the pasta with pancetta and the squeamish may be unprepared to receive sweetbreads (although you really should try them). A simple question or two easily prevents sending back inappropriate dishes.
4) PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DON‚ÄôT FORGET TO TELL US ABOUT YOUR ALLERGIES! I recently waited on a couple whose birthday celebration evening was ruined because they forgot to mention the husband‚Äôs severe nut allergy. It was perhaps the single scariest thing that‚Äôs ever happened to me at a table. Although the ingredient you‚Äôre allergic to may not be listed on the menu, it could be in the dish you‚Äôve ordered. Or (worse) your dish could be prepared next to a dish that contains your allergen, and cross contamination can occur. The very last thing we EVER want is for you to have to go to the hospital because of something we served you. I‚Äôm begging you. Just tell us. (On the same note, not liking something and being allergic to something are completely different. Hating mushrooms and possibly being killed by them are not in the same hemisphere. Please, tell us your aversions so that accommodations can be made, but don‚Äôt lie about allergies ‚Äì they are serious business.)
5) Don‚Äôt say you‚Äôre ready to order if you‚Äôre not. A server has a sequence of service in their head before you sit down. Timing is everything, and that frankly is why there is such great potential for things to go wrong. Your server has come to your table because they want to take your order accurately, send it to the kitchen correctly, have it delivered swiftly, thereby providing you the perfect experience. If you‚Äôre not ready, it throws off the entire system. If you have a few questions, that is of course never a problem (as referenced in ‚ÄòDon‚Äôt‚Äô #3), and will likely help you reach your decision. However, if you simply haven‚Äôt looked yet, or need a few minutes to reach your decision, even if everyone else at the table is ready ask your server to return in a few minutes ‚Äì really, we don‚Äôt mind. Any server who disagrees with this is unprofessional, and doesn‚Äôt truly care about giving you what you want.
Next Week: We‚Äôll finish the list of 10, and highlight a few restaurants with truly exemplary service.
I‚Äôll start off by quickly mentioning that we in the service industry love you. Yes we do! Without the dining public, there would be no us. There would be no variety, no celebrity chefs, no James Beard awards, nothin‚Äô. We do sincerely appreciate you every time you decide to spend your hard earned dollar eating and chatting with us. I mean it ‚Äì thank you.
That said, I can now acknowledge to you there are a few days all of us in ‚Äòthe industry‚Äô dread. New Year’s is crazy ‚Äî everyone is drinking too much and frankly, your server wants to be out celebrating too. Valentine’s Day is a nightmare of couples fighting, couples so involved with each other that the server is less an asset and more of an annoyance, and then there’s the fight to turn tables in time to accommodate all of the reservations. (This means if you are seated at 7 p.m. there is most likely another reservation for your table at 9 p.m. Hence, the table must turn.) These days are special occasions for every guest in the room, making it a high pressure situation for the entire restaurant staff. The evening must be perfect for every guest ‚Äî daunting for even the most experienced and polished server. And inevitably, these are the days when your average Joe who doesn‚Äôt go out very often, goes out. (We refer lovingly to these guests as ‚Äòamateurs‚Äô.) However both of these are good money shifts, so all of us put our heads down and plow through; after all, it’s just one shift out of dozens, right?