Bad Waitress: Get Better Restaurant Service
I can't tell you where I work. No, really: there is a Policy, the capital-letters kind. I signed a thing. All I can tell you is that it's a regional chain restaurant (henceforth: the RCR) of the "fast casual" variety: that means you pay three to five dollars for a burger but I'll carry it to your table on a china plate. Unless I drop it. I might even get it to you within ten minute of your order.
See, I am a bad waitress. I forget things. I ring them up wrong. You'll have to ask for napkins and refills and you might not ever see me again after I deliver your meal. I have never sneezed on a customer, or dropped soup on a baby, but I suspect is it only a matter of time.
And yet, I routinely hear effusive compliments from guests. "You're the best waitress I've ever had here!" "You were wonderful!" "I didn't get such good service in Vegas!" I've also been told I'm an embarrassment to the name of the company and that I must be under the legal age limit to explain my tremendous incompetence. Sometimes I get both kinds of feedback from adjacent tables.
Clearly, I am not making the difference in the service experience: the guest is. Some people are just easier to please, in more ways than one.
Here are some things I've noticed my "easy" guests doing around the RCR. I'm not saying they're the key to perfect service, and I'm certainly not saying that it's your fault if your server brings you the wrong food or dumps coffee in your lap. But they're habits that help me be a better server and might save you some aggravation as well.
1. Don't Rush
Let me tell you about one of our unfortunate regulars: I will call him Jake, which is not his name, but I don't want to lose my job (see above re: the Policy).
Jake and his girlfriend come to the RCR for lunch about once a month, and they are always in a hurry. When I take their order—and I usually take it, because none of the other servers want to put up with him—he gruffly barks that he wants everything fast, as fast as possible, in fact, just bring out the to-go boxes with the food. After he gets his order he keeps asking where his food is until he gets it; as soon as he gets it, he pays the bill (or, actually, makes his girlfriend do it) and then he eats. Last time he came in he actually went so far as to phone in his order, thinking this would speed up the service. (Hint: it didn't.)
Please, please don't be like Jake. If you're in a hurry to get food, you probably should limit yourself to places with drive-through windows or carry-out counters. A sit-down restaurant, even a fast causal one like the RCR, implies that you're going to, you know, sit down. Lots of factors influence how fast your food comes out: we might be short-staffed in the kitchen, we might have just run out of guacamole, your order might be stuck behind that table of twenty from the senior center. These things happen.
So give yourself a reasonable amount of time to eat—I'd say thirty or forty minutes is good at the RCR—or consider the Taco Bell next door. That way, if something does hold your food up, you won't be fretting about making your next appointment while I argue with the cooks about whether or not I correctly called for your chicken fingers.
2. Ask Questions
Don't know what comes with that item? Not sure what this coupon covers? Please ask me when you place your order. I like to answer your questions, because a question up front is a mistake I don't have to fix later. For example, if you ask for "everything" on your burger at the RCR, we will give you (deep breath) tomatolettucepicklesonionsmustardmayonnaiserelishketchup. All that, on your burger. Usually when people ask for everything I remember to rattle off that little speech; only about half the time do they actually want the whole mess. Of course, because I'm a bad waitress, sometimes I forget to issue the appropriate warnings, and customers end up unhappy about their sandwich. This is avoidable if you just ask, "Now, what all comes with that?" or study the small type in the menu. (See below.)
Another example is coupons and promotions. I once took a phone call from a woman who yelled into the phone, "So you've got all these coupons, don't you?"
"They say they come with fries."
"Yes...yes, they do."
"Well, what if you don't like fries? Can you get something else?"
"I'm afraid not, ma'am. The computer will only recognize the coupon if you get fries."
"So people who don't like fries are just out of luck then!"
"...yes, ma'am. Yes, you are."
And you know what? I'm very, very glad that we had that little conversation over the phone, and not at the cash register, with a receipt for a burger and onion rings sitting between us.
So ask me questions, and if I don't know off the top of my head, give me a minute to go find out. I might be wrong—I am, after all, a bad waitress—but you can't say you didn't try. Show me coupons you want to use; ask about the details of sales and promotions. That way you won't end up with any nasty surprises on your bill or on your plate.
3. Look and Listen
I'm going to venture a little into pet peeve territory here: I get very, very frustrated with customers who don't listen to me. For example, the other day someone ordered a side salad and told me urgently, "Don't put any cucumbers or peppers on that."
"No worries," I said. "Nowadays we only put red cabbage, tomatoes, carrots and croutons on our salads."
This guest thought for a minute and said, "You know what? Just give me the lettuce and croutons. None of that other stuff."
This I dutifully did: I brought over a salad plate of lettuce, sprinkled liberally with croutons, with dressing on the side. The guest frowned at this. "Oh. I thought you put cheese on your salads."
No, I did not facepalm. But I wanted to.
As a corollary to asking questions, listen carefully to everything your server tells you. I might be imparting vital information that's not listed in your menu. Believe me, I understand the urge to tune me out—I'd like to skip that part of the interaction, too. But there's always the chance that something is new, or different, or special. Listen to what I say, especially when I'm talking about promotions or reading your order back to you. (If I haven't repeated your order back to you, make me.) Read the menu carefully, and look closely at your check before you pay for anything. This way, you've got the best information I can give you—and if anything goes wrong, it's very clearly the fault of your bad waitress.
Speaking of reading: at the RCR we have a sign at the door that says "Please wait to be seated." We do not have a three-headed dog or a wizened bridge-keeper who asks three questions, or even a dedicated greeter who camps out up front to intercept all our guests. Thus we regularly get people who walk right by our sign and pick a table, which might not even be clean, and then wait for service. If you do this, especially when the restaurant is very busy, we will not ignore you: we won't even realize you are there waiting for us. (Although sometimes after we do realize you're there we may ignore you a while longer out of spite.)
4. Speak Up
You wouldn't think, being a bad waitress, I have any problem getting guests to complain about me. I have, in fact, had a guest come find me in the back of the restaurant to demand napkins and a manager. But surprisingly, it's more common for guests to just sit silently and not tell me anything about a problem, even when I've checked on their table three or four times. One day at lunch I stopped by an older couple's table several times to ask if they needed anything, take away empty plates, etc etc; every time I came by, they brusquely told me, "We're fine," sometimes interrupting me in mid-word, or even just plain ignored me. Yet, as they were leaving, I heard them mutter darkly about the bad service.
What was their problem? I don't know. They never said. I can't help you if I don't know what you need! Yes, demanding customers are annoying, but it's just as upsetting when I discover you've been sitting and stewing over something...especially if you communicate your displeasure by leaving thirty-five cents for a tip. Serving you is part of my job, so please, if you have any questions, concerns, needs, etc., speak up. Even if I can't do anything for you, at least I know the problem exists.
Oh, and: learn my name. I wear a name tag and I usually remember to introduce myself. If for some reason you need me and can't find me—I might be at another table, or making salads, or hiding in the bathroom texting my boyfriend—please don't hesitate to ask another server to help you. But also let them know that I'm the one in charge of your table, so that—if they have better things to do than pick up my slack—they can pass word along to me. I realize that we all dress the same, but we are not actually a hive mind, so for best results keep it personal.
5. Talk To The Manager (He Will Not Bite You)
It sounds serious, and a little bit scary: "I'd like to speak to your manager." I'm pretty sure that's a big reason that people don't want to do it, even if I've just brought you somebody else's food and there's a bug in it. But when I screw up, I'm pretty limited in what I can do to make things right for you: I can ask the kitchen to re-make an item, but I can't take it off your receipt, or score you free milkshakes, or give out coupons.
My managers, on the other hand, are so desperate to keep you from calling corporate to complain about us that they'll do all these things and more, up to and including comping your entire bill if I screwed up bad enough. They are also mostly harmless in front of guests. Unless we're hideously busy, and even sometimes when we are, the manager on duty will occasionally roam around the floor chatting with people; if they're not, just ask me to grab him or her for you. It doesn't have to be a big production, either: just explain what's wrong and ask that the specific item be taken off your bill. You won't have to pay for food that disappointed you and, hopefully, won't badmouth us to your friends and co-workers. Win all around!
The Bottom Line: Dine Defensively
I want to repeat: I am a bad waitress. You have every right to be angry with me when I make a mistake, whether it's bringing you the wrong sandwich or insulting your spouse. The point of these suggestions is not to shift the blame: it's to suggest some ways you can keep me from screwing up in the first place. Think of it as the restaurant equivalent of defensive driving—defensive dining. Bad waitresses are out there and you don't want to get burned. (Or poisoned. Or lacerated. Or drenched. These things do happen, even to good waitresses. But we refund your food if they do.)
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