Thursday, December 24, 2009

A rant on being "in the biz"...

There are a few things in life that I can say I believe with absolute and unwavering certainty. 1.) Crossfit is the best workout I've ever had. B.) I love chocolate. 10.) Although he doesn't yet know it, Michael Buble WILL in fact one day marry me. Aside from that there is one other thing that I really feel pretty strongly about. I really feel that at some point, everyone should do a stint in a restaurant so that they have an understanding of what it is like. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience what it is like to have to bow to everyone's whim and do what everyone else would like WITHOUT ever being able to say a word. Maybe then everyone would have a better appreciation for servers and workers in restaurants. But, since everyone won't have that opportunity, I'll allow you to live vicariously through me. Let me tell you a story about my night at work on Wednesday...

When I got to work on Wednesday, the server who was working with me informed me that there was going to be a party of twelve people arriving at 8:00. Since I was the closer, it made more sense for me to arrange to take the party than it did for her to. Had she taken it, she would have been there past close, and that just didn't make any sense, since I was the closer. Before I go any further though, I should probably explain one thing. Since my restaurant is in Old Town, it has a little bit of a different set up than you might expect from a traditional restaurant. Our restaurant operates on three floors because we are in a renovated town house basically. The bottom floor houses the bar and kitchen, while the second and third floor have the seating for our restaurant. Normally during the week we are not very busy. The amount of business we do can usually be confined to the second floor, and we don't actually staff the third floor. The third floor gets used only if we can't actually seat a party (usually larger than six) on the second floor. When there are only two servers, using the third floor is a pain because it means you have to split floors. Having tables on both the second and third floor to watch and take care of is a little bit tricky, and also a bit of a pain. It involves a lot of stair running, and isn't exactly enjoyable. But regardless, when we have to, we do it.

It wasn't busy on Wednesday evening and the party of twelve could have easily been sat on the second floor, but they requested the third floor. So I set up their party on the third floor and didn't give it a whole lot more thought. The first few people in the party arrived at about 7:40. The other server who was working that night sat them and let me know that they were here. We are not a restaurant that subscribes to the "Your entire party must be present before we seat you" idea, so I headed upstairs to go check on the first four people. When I got upstairs I asked how everyone was doing and was met with silence. Then I asked if they wanted to start with any drinks or appetizers while they were waiting on the rest of their table. They pointed at the empty seats at the table and told me they were waiting on other people and that no they didn't want anything since they were waiting. I thought that that was odd, but regardless walked away and let them sit.

About 10-15 minutes later, I went back upstairs and checked on them again since no other members of their party had arrived yet. One gentleman took me up on my offer of a drink and ordered a water and told me he was ready to order. But the friends poo pooed him and told him it would be rude to eat in front of everyone else, and so he relented and they continued to wait. About 10-15 minutes after that I checked on them AGAIN. By this point it was after 8:00 and no one else from their party had arrived. This time when I went up and asked about drinks, the gentlemen were a little more recpetive. I told them about our half price bottle of wine special that we do every Wednesday, and they began to look over the list. At this point they began asking me which wine was the best and what I would recommend. Now, honestly, wine can be good when paired with certain foods, but when I don't know what they're going to order, it's hard for me to make suggestions. And to be honest, our wine is what you would expect. We have some reds and some whites, but nothing super great or really extravagent, and it is what you would expect for $10/bottle on half price wine night.

After getting some more information out of them, I finally made a suggestion, and as I was trying to finalize their order, two more of their friends joined them. As the friends came in the one gentleman told me that his friend knew about wine and so he'd ask him. Then they proceeded to ignore me and greet each other, so I began to walk away. As I started to walk away since clearly I wasn't needed, they called me back by yelling "hey" at me a few times, and I came back to the table so they could tell me what they wanted. They finally ordered a bottle of wine, and I placed the order in the computer as a few more of their friends arrived. They told me to add another wine glass to the order so that their friend could drink. A bottle of wine typically has four glasses when not overpoured, so I informed the gentlemen of that, and they asked me to add another bottle to their order. So I did, and then began to go downstairs to get their wine. Now please remember, the bar is on the first floor. So to go pick up their things, I'm legging it down two flights of stairs.

Before I go any further, I do need to tell some back story here. Our restaurant is not always the best at staying on top of thiings. We were running incredibly low on wine glasses and actually had to borrow some from a neighboring restaurant so that we would have wine glasses for the night. On half price wine night, that's sort of important. Now, the wine glasses we borrowed were not the same size as the ones we carry. They are much larger, and quite nice. We had borrowed six of them from our friends hoping it would get us through the night. At this point, when I went downstairs, five of those six really nice glasses were loaded onto a tray with a bottle of wine. The second bottle was in my hand as I began to climb back to the third floor. As I was in the middle of the second flight of stairs, with my hands full, the gentleman who had wanted to order his food earlier, was coming down the stairs. He told me he was ready to order and right there in the middle of the stairs while I stood with my hands full he told me his order and then walked away.

I finished climbing up the stairs and began to unload the wine glasses and uncork the bottles of wine for the table. By this point, a few more friends had arrived and so I asked if they would like things to drink. There was a couple who ordered another bottle, and a group of three girls at the end who ordered one as well. So, I went to put these into the computer and headed back downstairs. I hope you're math is good so that you can remember that only 1 of those nice glasses is left. This becomes important in a minute. So I went down to the bar and collected my wine glasses and two bottles of wine. I had the one remaining large glass, and then four of our glasses which as I said before, are not nearly as large or as nice. When I got back to the table, I decided to give the large glass to the girl who was in the couple. I did this for two reasons, one, she was the female in the couple, and two, she was the girl in charge. I gave the gentleman a wine glass from our restaurant and he immediately threw a fit. He made his girlfriend change glasses with him. She asked if we had anymore large ones and when I told her we didn't, she wasn't pleased but was fine with it.

At this point I have to ask. What is the big deal? I know it looks tacky to have two different sized glasses, but they paid by the BOTTLE, not by the GLASS. So honestly, does the size of your wine glass matter? Regardless, I went to drop off the wine with the group of three girls. I put their wine glasses in front of them and began to open their bottle. As I was opening the bottle of pinot grigio they ordered, they stopped me and told me that they didn't know that they had ordered a bottle of white wine. Now, I know that if you're not a big wine fan it is easy to be confused or not be very well versed in wine, so I gave the girls a pass on the mix up as they were also very nice when they asked to switch to pinot noir. As I was on my way to the computer to place their wine order, a different gentleman stopped me and told me he was ready to order his meal. Please keep in mind that at this point, not everyone even has a drink in front of them and he wanted to order, while I was in the middle of doing something else. I asked him to wait one minute while I took care of the drinks. He wasn't happy with me, but did as I asked.

So I went back down to the bar and switched the wine and came back up to give it to the girls. As I was opening the bottle of wine, they asked for wine glasses. Remember I already gave them to them? I told them that they were in front of them, but that we were just out of the larger glasses. They were ok with it, but were a little bit bothered by the fact that they didn't have the large ones. As I was taking care of the wine, the food that the first gentleman had ordered arrived. The friends all thought that he had ordered an appetizer and they were slightly peeved when they realized that he had his meal already. When I asked if they wanted to order appetizers or if they were ready to order the girl who was in charge immediately said they were ready to order and she would go first.

I walked to her end of the table and when I got there she told me that we had changed our menu since she had been in. I told her that we had changed our menu, but that it had been about two years ago, but we did take a few things off. I also told her that there were still somethings that we could make even though they weren't on the menu. There are some things we can't make because we no longer carry the ingredients, but some things that we can make because we still carry the ingredients in house. She told me that we used to have a burrito that was filled with things and topped with some salsa that we took off the menu. I told her we had never had that but that we had a quesadilla that came with a black bean salsa. She told me I was wrong that we did have a burrito and that now she didn't know what to get.

Two things, one, I hate it when people tell me that I don't know my menu. I've worked in that restauarant for over three years and believe me, I KNOW my shit. Two, I don't like it when people tell me that I'm wrong. Again, I've worked there for over three years. I know my shit. Moving on though, then she asked me what I would recommend. I asked her what she was in the mood for because we do have a pretty big menu. After a lot of himming and hawing she finally said she liked spicy things and I began listing things on the menu she might like. This whole interaction had taken roughly five minutes and she told me to come back because she wasn't ready. She who had told me to start with her wasn't ready. So I moved to the gentleman beside her and got his order and as I was in the middle of the gentleman beside him, she started to try to flag me down and tell me she was ready. Again, while I was in the middle of taking the gentlemen's order. I went back to her and got her order after that and continued on with the rest of the order.

I finally got everyone's order and got it into the computer. By this point, it was almost 9:00. As I was prepping everything and setting out things for their meals they began to play games. As I was setting out things and trying to make sure that they had everything for when their meals arrived, the girl in charge asked me to take a picture of everyone. I'm used to this since during the summer we're such a huge tourist attraction, but regardless, to stop what I'm doing and take photos is sort of annoying. They were sitting in a weird way, so getting them all in was hard, but I took the picture and sort of moved on.

A few minutes later the food began to arrive and I began to deliver it. As I was dropping off all the food, the girls on the end asked what time we closed. I told them that we closed at 10:00. The girls on the end were very polite and said thanks, but the girl who was in charge interrupted me. She told me, again, that I was wrong and said that the kitchen closed at 10:00 but that we stay open until later. I then, while grinding my teeth, let her know that the restaurant closes at 10:00, but that the bar stays open until later. She huffed and puffed and clearly was not happy with my answer. I asked if there was anything else I could grab for anyone and as I was getting the few things they needed, the gentleman who had ordered our Memphis King Burger told me that his sandwich was missing a top. Now, our menu clearly states that that burger is an open faced sandwich, and I let him know that. Instead of saying ok and diving in, he demanded that I go get him a top.

So, down all the stairs I went again to get a top for him. When I brought it back and checked again to make sure everything was ok, I got a few "we're fine" until one girl piped up. She told me that the girl on the end wasn't happy with her food. So, I went to the end of the table to the girl she pointed out and asked her if she wanted something else or wanted to see a menu. She wanted to see a menu and since I didn't have one upstairs, went back down to get one for her. As I came back up and handed her the menu, she told me she had tried the food of the girl in charge and that she wanted what she was having. So, I put the food in and told the kitchen to fly it. A few minutes later, the food arrived. By this time, the table had begun to play games again, and the girl was upset because I was interrupting her game. There was nowhere to set her food because of the cameras, purses etc on the table and she was upset with me because she had to move something to allow me to set it down.

After a few minutes I began to clear the plates while they played their game. A few people asked for boxes and I was more than happy to do that for them. As I was clearing I remembered that they had a cake that they had brought with them as well. I went downstairs and got a knife from the kitchen and also grabbed the cake and plates and brought it up. I let it set there and continued to clear plates. The girl in charge saw it and came over and handed me a taper. She asked me to put it in the cake before cutting it. Now, mind you, a taper is not a birthday candle. It's the thing you see on tables during romantic dinners. She the also asked me to bring it to the table so that the gentleman who arrived first could cut the cake. Typically in a restaurant if you're going to cut the cake, then you're going to serve it. So, I trekked back to the first floor again to find matches and then lit the candle. I placed the cake, the plates, and the knife in front of the gentleman and began to clear a few more plates. As they were cutting the cake, the gentleman with the topless sandwich handed me his plate. He didn't say anything just passed it to me and turned back around.

I threw the remainder of the sandwich out, and started to head downstairs. The girl stopped me and told me I could should serve the cake now. WTF? So I took all the plates, the knife and the cake back. As I was walking away she told me that the cake was messy and said good luck getting it into pieces. Again, WTF? If you knew that it was going to be incredibly hard to cut, why did you order it? Or better yet, why did you ask someone else to cut it? Regardless, I took it, cut it as best I could since the gentleman who "cut" the cake wasn't exactly dead on with it, and served it. I continued to clear as much as I could, but with their games going on, that was challenging. So, I walked away.

Now, mind you, by this point, it was after 10:00. I had a restaurant to close and responsibilities to each floor that I was responsible for. I was not pleased about this. So I did what I could do downstairs, and then went back upstairs to handle the party. As I came back up to clear plates again, the girl in charge asked for the check. So I printed it out and placed it on the table. She looked at me and said, "Is is separated?". I grabbed the check, almost rudely, off the table and walked away before I said anything. I was angry by this point. They had never mentioned separate checks. They had been sharing bottles of wine etc, and now I had to separate all the checks. What a freakin' pain that was going to be. It took me nearly twenty minutes to separate all their things and make sure they were correct.

Now, because of how they had acted towards me all night, I had added the gratuity permitted by our menu, which clearly states 18% is added to parties of six or more. That's totally at our discretion, and this time, I used it. So, I started to pass out all the checks. I wasn't even done handing them all out when people started waving cards in my face. Again, they were asking me to do something while I was still in the middle of doing something else. This party was really good at that. As I handed the check to the gentleman with the burger, he asked where his leftover food was. I apologized but told him I had thrown it out because he hadn't asked me to put it in a box. He got angry and asked why I would do that since he barely ate it, and then the gentleman who was part of the couple, you know the guy with the problem with the size of his wine glass, began commenting on how stupid I was to throw that away. Portion size in our restaurant is HUGE, and it's not uncommon for people to throw away food that looks barely touched. I suppose, I could have double checked to make sure he didn't want a box, and for that I will take my share of the responsibility, but he didn't ask me to box it. So I got my manager, and by now it was pushing 11:00. The kitchen was clean and the cooks long gone, so there was no chance to make another one.

The gentleman then told my manager to take the burger off his check since he barely ate it. He accepted no part of his responsibility to ask me to do something for him. Regardless though, we did it, and they began to pay. Now, at this point, the two gentleman also began to talk about me in another language, which I certainly didn't appreciate. I'm not smart enough to figure out what they were saying, but I'm smart enough to know that it wasn't polite. After taking the cards and getting change for the cash, I was finally finished with the table. As I was cleaning up wrapping paper, the girl in charge came over again and again asked me to take photos of their group. The gentleman who had just finished insulting me with his friend, thrust his camera across the table and said, "Mine too" and turned and walked away. As he walked away he shot over his shoulder, "Please". I took the photos and then grabbed a few more things, incredibly frustrated by the party, before heading downstairs to finish cleaning up.

To be fair in this story, the three girls on the end who had earlier had the wine snafu were very polite. They even added extra gratuity to, I suspect, make up for their friends. They also stayed after everyone finally left to put glasses etc together and begin to clean up the table a bit. All in all, the table finally left around 11:20, only an hour and twenty minutes after closing.

Here ends my tale of the evening. I finally left work that night close to midnight, which is almost two hours later than I'm supposed to leave. I tell this story, not for sympathy, but so people can learn from it. I think it is far easier to see misbehavior in others than it is to see it in ourselves. If you read this story and saw things that you thought perhaps were not appropriate, I'm glad. Hopefully you'll keep that in mind the next time you are out in a restaurant. If you happen to catch your friends doing these things, please let them know as well. However, if you read this and saw nothing wrong with anything that happened, please read the tips below. Here are some of things my party of twelve should have considered.....

Helpful Tips from Your Friendly Neighborhood Server

1.) Unless you're ordering appetizers, wait until everyone has a drink before you order. It's rude to try to order food while others still don't have a drink.

2.) Order together as one table. It's rude to eat in front of other people who don't have food, unless it's an appetizer. It's also much easier on the kitchen if a large order comes down on one ticket. Then they can see everything that your table needs in one swoop. They don't have to look at six or eight different tickets. Also, having eight separate tickets for your table clogs the window with tickets unnecessarily and is not efficient for the kitchen. So please, wait for your friends and order together.

3.) Ask me! If you have questions about the menu, shoot! Any decent server should be able to answer any typical questions you have about their menu. If you have a more specific question and they don't know they answer, they should be able to find the answer for you. We want you to have a great dining experience and we certainly don't want you to be surprised or disappointed when your food comes. If you have a question, ask. We'd love to help you out. If you have a question and you don't ask, you have no right to be disappointed about your food when it comes.

4.) Know what you're ordering. This ties into the tip above. If you aren't sure what it is you're ordering, and you don't ask your server to clarify, you have no right to be upset later when you're food arrives.

5.) Speak up! If your food comes and something isn't right, tell us! As servers, we've gotten really good at reading basic facial expressions/body movements, but we can't always tell what you're thinking. Sometimes our crystal balls do fail. So if something isn't right, or you're not pleased with what we brought, please tell us. We're more than happy to fix it, but we can't fix something if we don't know that it's wrong. We want your return business, and we're not going to get it if you leave unhappy with our food. Please use common sense though as there are limitations to this. We have no problem remaking something once, or even twice, but three or four times, come on. We're going to recommend that you try something else. Or, if you decide after eating 3/4 of your meal that you don't like it, we're probably going to look at you a little funny and give you the old, REALLY?

6.) Express your displeasure in an adult manner. We know that sometimes things happen and get mixed up. We're human and we do make mistakes. We want you to tell us if something is wrong, however, you need to express your unhappiness in an adult way. Calling your server, the management, or the kitchen staff names is NOT an adult way of dealing with things.

7.) Be polite and respectful. Servers get called a variety of things, some of them not always so pleasant. Using their name and saying please and thank you can go a long way. If your server forgot to tell you their name, ask. If you can't remember, miss or ma'am usually gets our attention, but snapping, waving, or yelling "hey" or "you" are NOT respectful and NOT appropriate.

8.) Tip appropriately. Let's sort this out right now, tips are not "extra". Servers' income depends solely on their tips. Servers in VA get paid $2.18 an hour. The tips we earn are the money we take home. We don't get paychecks. When you are tipping please consider the following. Standard tipping is 15-20% However, here's my general suggestion. If your server is just ok, tip 15%. If your server has clearly gone beyond just being "average" or "ok", tip the 18-20%. An average server would be someone who gets the job done, but doesn't bring any extra enthusiasm to the job. Someone who clearly deserves the extra is someone who smiles, talks to you, asks you questions, makes sure everything is ok, brings things ahead of time or anticipates your needs, or if you're a regular, has memorized your order/drink. If you have a server who is truly terrible, please feel free to leave them less than 15%. However, consider this. A truly horrible server is one who messes up your food but does not correct it, fogets to bring you things despite repeated reminders, doesn't smile, doesn't check on you, or doesn't refill drinks. Forgetting your butter one time is not a quality of a bad server. Be reasonable.

9.) Servers prefer one check. It is far easier on us to have one check open for a table than twelve. We can take multiple forms of payment on one check, and that for us is much easier than wading through twelve checks. We are also far more likely to make a mistake when we are trying to deal with twelve checks as opposed to one. So please consider this, and unless it is necessary, please do not ask for separate checks. If it is necessary, for work purposes etc., let your server know IN ADVANCE that you need separate checks. In my story, it took me nearly twenty minutes to sort out their checks because not only was I separating the checks, but they had shared items (the wine) that had to be separated into four parts and then placed on the individual checks. Sound confusing? It is. So please let your server know in advance so that they can separate things in a timely manner. It's also helpful when alcohol is involved to know up front. This lets us know to keep track of an individual tally as opposed to simply a group tally. Please be considerate and keep this in mind.

10.) Wait until your server does not have full hands or is not already occupied before you ask them to do something else. If we are already in the middle of something or have full hands as we walk by and you ask us to do something, we are far more likely to forget what it is you asked us to do than if you had simply asked us when we were not already busy. So please, try to wait until an opportune moment. There is an exception to this rule however. If your food is cold or incorrect, or you need to leave immediately, by all means, stop us in a polite manner. But if it can wait, then WAIT. We'll take care of you as soon as we can.

All of these tips are given with the assumption that you have a server who is generally capable at their job. If you have a server who is not, please either ask to see a manager or email the restaurant at another time. We honestly want you to have a great time and we want your return business. If something isn't right, you need to let us know. Please don't treat tipping as a way of giving us appropriate feedback on how our servers are doing. There are some people out there who receive excellent service but don't tip accordingly either because they're cheap, or because they don't understand the concept. Tips are not an accurate reflection of what is going on in a restaurant or with a server. So please take these tips to heart, but also please do your part in giving feedback when necessary. I hope your next restaurant visit is great!


Jill said...

What an excellent rant! I don't know how you continue to work at a restaurant for over 3 years and haven't hit one single person over the head with their order yet. Good lessons for everyone are in this post :-)

Katie said...

Thanks Jill! I'm not sure how I've managed either because believe me, there have been times where I've wanted to clobber people instead of wait on them. I was so frustrated after this shift on Wednesday that I just needed to get it out! Thanks for reading my rant! :)

Ashley Schultz said...


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Great rant and as a (former) server for 8 years, I agree with everything you said, however, I feel like there are things you could have done to prevent some of these issues, or at least make life easier for yourself, for example:

1. If it's more than 4 i always ask up front if it's seperate checks, especially if it's a big party of say, 12 or something. 9 times out of 10 in my experience it will be seperate checks and they usually won't tell you until you already bring the bill (as it happened in your story)

2. if they hardly touch their food but don't tell you to box it up, box it up anyway and bring it back and play it off that you thought they wanted it boxed, that way it forces tem to say either "thank you, but no i don't want it" or "yes i did want it boxed" either way it's another way for you to maintain control of the table and forces the customer to make a decision,without damaging rapport. it's like the whole sperate checks thing. confront it head on so it's not an issue later . also, (and you didn't mention this) sometimes customers who didn't like their food or maybe weren't hungry will pull that " i wanted it boxed" shit so that they can get out of paying for food. I've seen it happen more times than i can count. by being proactive you can avoid that.

3. I never, ever forgo the automatic 18% tip on big parties (i think you were smart to add in here). I've been burned before on that, bad. Even if they had the best damn time of their life, it's easy for a server to get ripped off on tips because the customer will assume someone elsein the party will leave a fair amount so they can leave less. that or they (like me) suck in math. screw that, i say. big tables are demnding and can monopolize a servers time, making it harder for them to take other tables, so the money you make from say, a 12 top can essentially make or break your night. with that in mind, I personally don't want to leave it to chance.

4. i too hate it when a customer claims there was something on the menu before that you know damn was never there. May i sugest a way of dealing with that from a personal dialog i had with a customer back when i worked in a german restuarant that i worked at for about 5 years, it went like this:

customer: I see you must have changed the menu, i don't see prime rib on here anymore.

Me: No sir, we didn't have prime rib on the menu

customer: yes, you did

Me: well, sir, we haven't had it on the menu since i've worked here

Customer: when did you start working here?

Me: when they first opened

customer: are getting smart with me? let me see your manager this....

"me kicking customer in the throat"

the end

thats how you deal with that. hope this advice was helpful.

Katie said...

Anonymous, I wish you would have left your name so I could call you that but regardless, thanks for the tips. I did acknolwedge, amongst my ranting, that I probably should have checked with burger guy just to be sure. Normally, my usual perky self does, but by the time we got to that point of the evening, I was really annoyed with that table, and didn't do my job 100% correctly. While acknowledge my lack of responsibility, he never even acknolwedged that, no he didn't ask me to do that. Just ranted.

I can honestly say, I've never had anybody pull the box it and take it off my bill move, but that is something to think about for the future.

With the gratuity, if I think the people will be reasonable, I will forgo the 18%. It actually usually works to my favor, but a few times has bitten me on the behind. Being in such a metro area, most people are pretty hip with the tipping, but when we get into tourist season is when I need to watch my butt. Tourists from the midwest (no joke) tend to be the worst for tipping. 10-15% according to them means you did a good job.

And Anon, I like your way of dealing with people telling you you're wrong... I know DAMN well that burrito was never there... ;)

Justa said...

Sheesh. I come all the way down from NY and this is the thanks I get? ;)

The world really is full of idiots, isn't it?