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Service Woes?

Browsing this site, I've seen a lot of people post the things that they consider to be "bad service." I've waited tables in casual fine dining restaurants for years now as I've worked my way through college, and have to say that some of them confuse me. I get told regularly that I am providing excellent service, so I'm curious to better understand the reasoning behind some of the complaints I've seen posted (and I'd like to explain why I do things the way I do them). I've also added a couple of related questions about patterns I've noticed in customer behavior that I just don't "get."

Here are the particular gripes that I don't understand:

1) Expecting automatic refills on bread.

We generally provide 2 pieces per person, which seems to be the amount that most people will eat. Giving people more when they don't ask for it seems like it would generate needless waste. I don't understand what the harm is in asking for something you'd like, if it cuts down on the amount of food that goes into the garbage.

2) Not wanting dirty plates removed until everyone is finished eating.

I was trained to respond to any item left on the table that someone is no longer using by clearing it out of the way, so the customers don't have to look dirty dishes sitting before them, cluttering up the table. At every restaurant job I've had, the boss thinks you're being slack if you're not on top of clearing empties. I don't understand why people seem to think this means you're being rushed, rather than knowing that we are trying to make things more comfortable for you. By all means, linger at the table, but do you really want dirty dishes there with you? I don't really understand why people would want to falsely appear to be at a different stage of their meal (not finished with their plate) than they are.

As an aside, I also don't understand that one last person who is finished eating but will not, under any circumstances, let the server remove the food they're not going to eat. It's an odd pattern I've noticed.

3) There seem to be conflicting complaints on this forum that people a) want their drink refilled without someone asking or b) don't want drinks refilled because it changes the ratio of drink to milk/sweetener/whatever. I always refill automatically, unless it seems the table is about to leave soon, and then I'll ask. Is this just a no-win situation: interrupting the conversation or diluting the beverage?

4) I think there was one thread awhile back, where someone was complaining that a server said s/he was tired. I can imagine this being a complaint if the server just randomly volunteered the information, but if a table is being friendly with me and inquires how I'm doing (not uncommon), I tell the truth. Not in explicit detail, mind you, but I'll say anything on a continuum from "great" to "tired," figuring that if they didn't want to know, they wouldn't have asked. It's a tiny moment of human-to-human communication that reminds both involved that we're people, not just embodiments of the roles of server and customer. We get a lot of regular customers in the restaurant I've worked at for the past five years, and people seem to appreciate not getting a canned response to whatever questions they ask, even if it's a mildly personal one.

5) Lastly, why do some people want new flatware with the next course? It's pretty rare where I work that they ask for it, but there does seem to be a bit of huff on the boards about it. I don't get it -- if you are the only person who used it, doesn't it seem to be the environmentally friendly thing to do not to send it through the dishwasher? Needing a new set when it hasn't been on the floor or anything boggles me. Is it an old-school etiquette thing?

And speaking of huff, I'm rather shocked at the amount of vitriol some people have for a server making a small mistake. Sure, having flawless service is great, but some of the responses people have posted that they have said or thought when their server forgot something or didn't know something seem disproportionately acerbic. Sometimes I forget to look at the specials board before I get my first table if they come in really early and there's lots of set-up. Sometimes a request will slip my mind. Sometimes an ice cube gets caught in the pitcher in a funny way and I dribble water on the table. I don't make mistakes every day, but they do happen. It seems the reasonable reaction to an honest mistake is genuinely to cut a person some slack, no strings attached. It's what I try to do in my interactions with people every day. After all, everyone slips up at work from time to time, it's just that when servers do it, there's a table of people scrutinizing them.

Apr 27, 2009
atira in Not About Food