Ever since I enjoyed an amazing meal and impeccable service at Le Bernardin--the gold standard of service--I've been a lot more conscious not just of what servers do, but also of what they say.
Or, more to the point, what they shouldn't say.
That's what happens when you get to experience excellence; you realize just how great things can actually be.
That made me think of a few things I wish servers didn't say, along with input from some friends. (Feel free to add your own in the comments below.)
I'm not bashing on servers, though. It's a tough job. The goal is to talk about how sometimes what they say can have a negative affect on patrons--and maybe spark some thoughts on how we can all communicate more effectively in our jobs.
I realize sometimes servers are required to say certain things. If you own a restaurant, stop making your staff say things that irritate customers--what you possibly lose in up-sales you'll gain in loyal customers:
1. "Only one tonight?"
I travel a fair bit and often eat alone. That's not a bad thing, and certainly isn't something you should question or call attention to, especially after you've already asked for the number in my party and I've said, "Just me."
While I don't mind if you ask, plenty of people I know do.
2. "No problem."
When you ask a server if you could have your dressing on the side, does "no problem" make you feel delighted, or like you're kind of a pain but the server is gracious enough to overlook it?
Saying "no problem" implies that there actually is a problem, but should there be when you're making an understandable request?
Don't imply I'm a problem. Just say "absolutely" or "yes" or even "sure."
3. "Did you save room for dessert?"
I'm not five years old. I don't save room. And don't ask what I'd like for dessert. Don't assume I want any.
Just ask if I'd like to see a dessert menu.
4. "And yours will be out in just a minute."
I know it's hard to time everything perfectly, but when you deliver three dishes and one person has to wait, now we're all stuck. Do we go ahead and eat, as the person who has to wait will invariably tell us to do? Or do we try to be polite and wait?
Please bring everything out at the same time.
5. Ask "Would you like some warm bread?" when the bread is complimentary.
Just bring it. Don't make us ask for anything that comes with our meal.
If we don't want the bread, or the crackers, or the free appetizer, we'll tell you--and we'll still appreciate that you brought it by.
6. "Will this be on separate checks?"
To talk about payment before you have delivered service is rude.
I know it's harder if you have to split things up after the fact, but still. Don't make us feel responsible for making your job easier. When we go out, we hope to be served, not to serve.
7. Fail to say that the tip has already been added to the bill.
This is something servers don't say but should.
Pretend you go to a restaurant where the policy is to automatically add an 18% gratuity to the bill for parties of six or more. If that's the case, when the server drops off the bill, he or she should say, "Our policy is to add a gratuity to the bill for parties of six or more, and that has already included in your bill."
That way I don't double tip you. Trust that if I want to tip you in addition to the automatic amount, I will.
8. "Is this your mother?"
Maybe she's not. Maybe she's his wife.
Or maybe the person you assume is his daughter is actually his wife.
Don't draw conclusions about relationships, because you never know--and you never know when you'll make people feel awkward.
9. "Let me tell you about all of our specials."
I actually don't mind a quick tour of the specials, even though I rarely order one.
But if a recitation takes longer than 30 seconds or so, I start to get impatient, and then I'm left having to decide whether to be borderline rude and cut the server off, or sit and listen to the glories of an albacore sashimi with pea tendril salad, toasted hazelnuts, garlic chips, and scallions with a melon cilantro vinaigrette.
Either way, it's lose-lose.
10. "Are you still working on that?"
Hopefully, eating your food isn't work.
If it is, then I'm definitely not enjoying myself.
11. Asking "Would you like a refill?" when my glass is empty.
I actually prefer to not be asked at all. I think it's great when a server just keeps the (non-alcoholic) drinks coming, especially if there isn't a per-refill charge. Do that and I'll let you know when I don't need another.
Silent service is the best service.
12. Asking "Are you finished with that?" when I still have plenty of food on my plate.
Some people eat relatively slowly. Others stop eating for a few minutes when they get really engaged in a conversation.
I know you're supposed to pre-bus, but don't make me justify or explain the fact that I would like to eat everything on my plate.
After all, I paid for it.
13. "Have you dined with us before?"
One, if your restaurant is so complicated I need instructions, that's not a good sign. But let's say I do. That's fine.
But if I say yes, don't explain why you asked me that question. I already know.
And I definitely don't want to get a repeat of the rules.
14. "I'm sorry, we're out of that."
If you're out of an item, tell us before we order.
Not doing so leaves us disappointed, something you could have easily avoided.
15. "Will you need change?"
Sometimes, I do pay with cash. If I do, just bring the change, and then I'll leave a tip.
Otherwise, it's really awkward, because asking for change is like saying, "Remember to tip me," which is uncomfortable for me, if not for you.
Asking is especially awkward when the bill is $12 and I pay with a $50. I always try to tip well, but not triple-digit percent.
And don't say you only ask because that might save you a step. It's not my job to save you a step. (Although I often do by having my credit card ready so I can hand it to you when you bring the check so you don't have to swing back by.)
16. "Is everything amazing?"
"Amazing" is a pretty high bar. So is "delicious" and "incredible" and "perfect."
But asking if we're happy with our food is fine as long as you ask within a couple minutes after delivering our food.
After that, just make eye contact and I'll let you know if we need you. That way you won't interrupt any conversations at the table.
The best servers find ways to do their jobs well while letting customers stay focused on enjoying the people at the table.
17. "That's a great choice. The (insert menu item) is awesome."
I'm glad you approve of Bob's selection, but what about mine? His choice is better?
Opinions are always best when solicited. That holds true in every area of life.
18. "Let me get your server."
I'd prefer you didn't go get my server so I can re-explain a request. If you can't help me, that's cool.
Say "Absolutely" (please don't say "No problem"), and tell our server what we need so he or she can take care of it.
19. "But that's what I wrote down."
Maybe what you brought actually is what I ordered.
But don't argue. Your goal is to make your customers happy, not argue about who is right.