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Five Guidelines to Dining Out

Dining out can, on occasion, prove to be frustrating. Where does one find a terrific culinary fit on one’s desired budget in such a fragile economy? Why do restaurants insist on creating a wait list when diners can clearly spot open tables awaiting warm bodies? Why does food, or better yet, why do drinks take so long to get to my table? All of these are valid questions that restaurant-goers, experienced or amateur, should be asking. What many overlook, however, is that consumers themselves can aid in smoothing the process and making every experience more enjoyable.

One basic factor to always remember is that every restaurant wants patrons at their tables. They want full reservations and the servers want to be busy. Everyone in the house is there to make money, and they know the best way to do that is to give their customers the best service possible. It is a tricky, delicate feat of course. Not all patrons will leave completely satisfied, especially on a busy Saturday night. Never assume your imperfect experience is based on incompetence or apathy; sometimes things just go awry. Worthy advice is to steer clear of dining reservations after 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights, but when this is neither possible nor desired there are simple ways in which to proactively guide the process along smoothly:

1. Make a reservation. Always do this if the dinner is significant in some way, and always on the busier weekend evenings. Furthermore, show up five-to-ten minutes early. This is especially beneficial if your reservation is set during the busy rush. Know that the restaurant is doing everything they can to accommodate you. All aspects of the house are working together to speed things along in a timely manner, but in the end neither server nor host nor manager has control of how long a table decides to sit and stay.

2. Listen to and be respectful of hosts and servers. Restaurants work on a rotation for seating, in order to make sure every server has an equal opportunity to make money. If you don’t like where a host has sat your party and there are clearly other tables available, alert the server or host in a polite fashion. They will accommodate you, and more than likely that server will be sat right away and no harm will be done. The front of house staff is also in tune to how busy the servers are. You may see an open table and wonder why you’re not being sat there sooner. This may be because the hosts know the server in that section is busy, and seating you there right now would bode negatively for both customer and server. Great work can suffer when a server is rushed and frustrated, in which case, better to wait an extra five minutes than be sat immediately only to receive a sub-par standard of service.

3. Once in your desired dining location, offer your full attention to your server. If you’re chatting with another guest or talking on a cell phone you might miss pertinent information the server has offered you, such as the daily specials and/or their personal recommendations. Note: Yes, your server is there to make money. However, they know that the best way to do this is to educate their customers on what their options are and to steer them towards the best (which are not always the most expensive!) dishes. Questions, inquiries and playful banter are all perfectly fine and part of what makes dining out so much fun; but keep in mind your server has other customers to attend to. If you pay attention and follow your server’s lead, your meal has a better chance of running smoothly. Hogging the server’s attention to an unnecessary degree is unfair, and will in the end hurt your own experience by slowing down the process. Be respectful of your server’s rhythm and style. If you are, they will do anything in their power to make sure you leave happy and full.

4. Order everything at once. Or, at the very least, order halfway through your appetizers. Many patrons who wish to have a relaxed experience are nervous about handing over control to their servers. What many don’t take into consideration is that the server has all the knowledge in the world of what is going on in the restaurant. It is preferential and smarter, in the end, to garnish your server with full control. Most restaurants are run with POS computer systems where servers can enter all of a party’s order information and then fire it whenever it is most punctual to do so. If you’re worried about dinner arriving too fast and refuse to order until your entrees are finished, depending on what the order consists of it could potentially be a long wait! On a Saturday night it will probably take 30 minutes for your dinner to arrive after being ordered via the server through the POS system. Depending on the size of the party, what the orders are and how swamped the kitchen is, it could take longer! Patrons think they want to have control of when their food arrives, until they realize they’re starving and begin to get antsy their entrees are taking too long. But there is no way for the customer to know how fast the kitchen is moving. The server does. Trust the server. The meal’s timing has a much better chance of being what you want it to be if you order in a timely fashion and then inform your server what you’d like your experience to entail. Want twenty minutes between appetizer and entrée to enjoy another round of drinks? Fabulous! Communicate that to your server. Every patron’s chance of leaving their dining experience satisfied is increased tenfold if they openly and honestly communicate with their server. Servers are not psychic in any way. If you tell them you like something when you really don’t, they’ll believe you. If they don’t believe you, they may or may-not inquire further depending on your body language. Let them know! It’s fine to “complain” if the complaint is heartfelt. Mistakes can only be fixed if the server, bartender or manager know about it.

5. Let your server know ahead of time if you will be needing separate checks. Your server should be prepared for this anyway, but some computer systems operate in a way that requires prior knowledge of split checks. But if you let your server know beforehand there should be no issues and your check will arrive promptly when you desire it. Another bill note worth mentioning is the use of gift cards or special promotions comps. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a moment for your credit card to get back to you in this instance, most times servers have to seek out manager’s approval for such things.

When dining out, it’s perfectly fine to allow yourself to suspend in reality for an hour or two. That’s what the experience was invented for: entertainment an relaxation. It is both perfectly fine and more than preferable to stay calm and respectful in this environment, as well as to not always assume the worst. If the worst, from your perception, is happening: Let your server know. They should be sympathetic to you and do whatever they can to ensure you leave with a full belly and a smile on your face. If not, they’re not doing their job – but as long as restaurants and the good people who work in them want to make money the majority of them will. Remember these simple keys and your experience shall more than likely end up quite satisfactory.

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