A Request to Large Parties from a Bad Waitress
It's July, and in August I will be relocating to graduate school at a Big Damn University. I'll still be a bad waitress, just at a different location in the Regional Chain. As I count down the days until my move (and the waitressing hiatus this involves) I wanted to knock off a few more articles on restaurant-related things. Particularly my biggest pet peeves. First up: large parties.
I understand that it sounds like a good idea in theory: you and twelve of your closest friends going out for milkshakes on a Saturday night. Or treating your parents to lunch along with all your siblings, their spouses, assorted kids and step-kids and that guy down the street. Or celebrating the end of the season by taking the whole team out for dinner. I've done this before. I will probably continue to do it.
But understand this: when you come in to my restaurant and ask for a table for more than ten, I die a little inside.
Waitresses hate big tables for a couple of reasons:
- The more people at the table, the more complicated and time-consuming it is to get your order and run out your food and drinks. In fact, I'd say the amount of time I spend on a table increases exponentially for every person there above 4 or 5. Big tables are thus NIGHTMARES.
- The bigger the order, the longer it takes to make. Not only does the kitchen have to juggle all your food, to make sure it's made right and served hot, they also can't make anyone else's food until yours is done. One long table can delay all the other orders by ten minutes or more. That means you are pissing off the entire rest of the restaurant.
- Splitting checks, refilling drinks, bringing over extra pickles and more ketchup, taking away empty plates...see above.
- Given all of the above, few big tables tip decently. A tip below 10% on a table of twenty is just plain insulting.
So next time you decide to descend en masse on a restaurant, please keep a few things in mind. It'll make your dining experience better and keep your servers from trying to kill you with their brains.
0. If you're thinking about coming in a big group—don't.
Seriously. Rethink your plan for a minute here. Are you even going to be able to see or talk to the people at the other end of the table? Is it worth the time investment, especially if you've got somewhere to be later? Would you be happier breaking up into smaller groups?
Okay, at this point the answers are probably "I don't care, yes, no," in that order. But stop and think about it anyway. At the very least, consider splitting up into a couple of smaller tables instead of one epic one that spans the dining room. That allows multiple servers to take on your order, which will mean more personal service.
1. Call ahead
Even if the restaurant isn't the kind that normally takes reservations, a little prior warning can be a wonderful thing. For instance, one weekend we got a head's-up that an entire middle school drama club was coming out to the RCR—about forty kids and their teachers. That meant we held over some kitchen and waitstaff, to ensure we had enough people on hand, set aside tables in advance so they could all sit together and had each seat set up with napkins, water and a menu like the fancy places do. Especially if it's very late at night, early in the morning, or in the mid-afternoon (all times when restaurants tend to have minimum staff) even a few minutes' warning can be helps us be ready to serve your large group.
2. Stay put.
This should be easy. After you order—especially if you've taken the above advice and spread yourselves out over more than one table—stay in the same seat, at least until you get your food. If you start moving around, I will get confused and it will take that much longer to get everything handed around. I may even forget to take your order entirely. Speaking of which...
3. Come Together
If you're going to bring massive groups of people to the restaurant, please try to get everyone there at roughly the same time. Cell phone technology means that if somebody is running late, you should be able to get their order for me anyway. If I put in everyone's order at once, it'll all be made at once; if people are drifting in and out, that makes it infinitely more likely that I'll miss someone, or the kitchen will lose an order, or something else will go wrong.
4. Ask your server to run food out in heats.
This is something I usually do anyway for a table of more than eight people: I'll ring in the order as two or more separate tables, and run out the food as it comes ready. This means everybody gets their food hot, not after it's been sitting under a heat lamp for ten minutes getting manky while someone in the kitchen waits for the last burger to come off the grill.
Of course, some people get annoyed by this, because they want everyone to get their food at once, even if it takes all the servers in the restaurant and a couple of cooks to help carry it all. If the same people are annoyed because some of their food is cold, I do not say anything to their faces, but I want to.
5. Ask for extras up front.
By which I mean things like extra napkins, a side of mayonnaise, a spare plate for your ketchup (something I will rant on at another date) or any other little things you might need. If you ask for it when you put your order in, I can run it out with your food, and it's very efficient.
If you wait until I start bringing out food—when I'm also being asked for drink refills, and checking that every order is correct, and trying to figure out why some orders aren't correct, and looking for the person who ordered the chicken, and just generally concentrating on other things—I'm more likely to forget what you're asking me for. Protip: if I take out my order pad and start making notes on all the things I need to bring back to your table, you should probably wait to ask me for anything else. You can live five more minutes without your ketchup plate.
6. Let me know early if you're going to be splitting your check.
This is especially important if you're going to be splitting the check four or five (or twenty) ways; if you're splitting off parts of orders; or if people who are all on one check are sitting scattered throughout your group. I can split and combine orders easily in the computer, but it helps to know up front how that needs to be done. Trust me, this will save you time at the register, and helps ensure that at the end of the night there are no orphaned sodas or what have you left un-paid-for. Or, rather, nothing at the end of the night that I have to pay for out of my tips.
7. Everybody pays before anybody leaves.
We actually have this as a rule at the RCR, especially on weekend nights when as many as twenty-five high schoolers will come in at once. (I am not exaggerating that number. We counted.)
Why do we have it? Because sometimes assholes use the confusion of a big party with split checks to dine and dash on us. More often, people might leave early thinking that someone else has them covered, or that they left enough cash for their share: it's an easy mistake to make and leaves your friends on the spot if it turns out your benefactor wasn't serious or you can't do math. And I'll admit, sometimes I've made mistakes splitting the check, and having everyone in one place makes it easier to figure out what went wrong and get everything taken care of.
Most places won't mind you hanging around after you pay unless they really need the table for another group, so there's no reason not to get the check cleared up early. Like I said up above, if a guest doesn't pay for something at my table, I have to, and I don't want to pay for a milkshake I didn't even drink.
8. Tip Generously.
Please. I beg of you.
I mean, I want all my customers to tip generously. When I work at a fast casual burger joint where the average guest check is around $7, "generously" usually means "anything more than one dollar per person." But when you've got a large party, I want that big tip even more.
See, when I've got to make sure your big party has food, drinks, carry-outs, extra mayonnaise, and so on, I don't have time to take other tables—at least, not if I want to earn a tip from them, too. So in exchange for my undivided attention, you need to make up the tips I'm not earning from the tables I'm not taking. When the restaurant is busy, that could easily be ten dollars per hour you stay. Even if you didn't order that much—even if some people just got coffee, or got nothing but water—you still took a disproportionate share of my time.
So please, when you feel the need to come out to eat with a massive number of people, be ready to tip accordingly. Even when the restaurant includes a minimum gratuity for large parties, consider leaving a little bit more. Your server(s) will be all the more grateful, and less likely to curse at you behind your back as you leave.
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