I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You This.

I shouldn’t have to tell you these things about eating out at a restaurant. Most of you are couth (Is that the opposite of uncouth?) members of society who know how to compose yourselves when dining out with the rest of us. This post should just serve as entertainment for you.

But as a former server at a fine dining restaurant in Chicago, I know that a particular few of you are unaware of the cultural niceties that should be observed when you chose to dine out. Oh sure, you dressed yourselves in the presentable guise of the masses and had enough sense to choose a good restaurant (mine) for dinner, but apparently in making these practical preparations you forgot to observe a little sense.

I shouldn’t have to tell you not to do these things, but I am going to.

Not a good accessory for riding around on mopeds
Source: Wikipedia

1. If you are going to bring in a bottle of sparking wine to enjoy with your meal, kindly don’t shake it up prior to me opening it. Contrary to what you may think, I don’t mind at all if you are bringing in a bottle from home instead of buying one from me. Even the most clueless of patrons know they should be tipping on the bottle, especially if no corkage fee is applied.

But I shouldn’t have to tell you NOT to shake up your bottle prior to me opening it up for you table side. I am telling you this, though, because it happens. Part of my job was to observe proper etiquette and decorum when opening bottles of all types, and it’s nearly impossible for me to do so when you took said bottle to Six Flags and rode around with it on the Batman ride all day prior to me opening it for you.

2. Don’t intentionally enter the kitchen. There are so many things wrong with this, it blows my mind. You know that general notion you have of restaurant kitchens being stressful places? Of chefs being loud and moody? Of it being hotter than the surface of the sun? Of personnel trying to maintain an admirable level of hygiene and cleanliness in their workspaces?

They’re all pretty freaking accurate. There is a lot more reality to Hell’s Kitchen than there probably is to America’s Next Top Model. Even if you have the noblest of intentions – for instance, to compliment the chef on an excellent meal – don’t you dare go in there. Not only might you actually get snapped in half but I will most certainly get ripped a new one because I couldn’t corral you to your own little table.

Don’t go in there. I shouldn’t have to tell you this.

3. You may be patrons, but please don’t patronize me. I’m not going to pretend that all servers in the world are great at their jobs and deserve an excellent tip*. I for one have had some really lackluster servers who detracted from what could have been a fantastic meal. But that doesn’t give me or anyone else a pass to treat my server like someone who has failed at life and is therefore relegated to a substandard profession. I already had my MA when I made the cognizant choice to enter into the service profession. The entire staff I worked with were just as educated (if not more) as most of our clientele, and the regulars who I developed a rapport with respected me because I was on their level and engaged with them there. The customers who would treat me like a wench and set me up with difficult questions they assumed I would never be able to answer about the wine list just made themselves look foolish when (Egad!) I was able to field their demands seamlessly.

*Although they ALWAYS deserve their 15%.

4. Don’t eat your entire meal and then “send it back” because it was unsatisfactory. I never got this one at all. In a purely logical sense, you can’t “send back” food that you have already consumed in its entirety and then complain of its supposed “inedibility”. If you are trying to scam me for a meal, do us all a favor and be a bit more creative about it.

People who would pull these kinds of shenanigans typically drew a lot of attention to themselves in other ways, primarily being really loud when complaining. Since our dining rooms were small, most of the other guests were well aware of what was going on with these loons and could see the level of jackassery they were attempting to pull. SO, not only did these people look ridiculous to us, but to everyone else around them.

Pretty common sense. Don’t do that.

5. The onus is on you if I can’t accommodate your requested reservation time. OK, so maybe I should actually have to tell you this because there is a small sliver of a chance that you don’t know.

But here’s the thing: Valentine’s Day Dinner? Mother’s Day Brunch? BIGGEST RESTAURANT DAYS OF THE YEAR. You had better make a reservation and make it early. I don’t mean “early” the day of, either. I mean weeks and possibly months ahead of time. Don’t you dare get snippy when I have nothing to offer you other than 4:30 and 10:30. Our books are configured to accommodate as many guests as we can humanly get through our restaurant on these busy days and if I had a table for you I’d gladly give it to you. So please don’t act like I’m hoarding the tables because I have a personal vendetta against you.

No, you WON'T be having 18 more of those.

6. One of the surest ways to convince me of your lunacy is to drink 20 shots of espresso in the span of two and a half hours. Again, see title of this post. I think the house is a bit divided over the humor that can be gleaned from drunk customers; some servers think it’s funny when a customer gets royally sloshed, whereas some others are extremely annoyed by it. But we all generally agree that the over consumption of coffee drinks into the late hours of the evening is bizarre and annoying. How does one “cut you off” of coffee? We are not Starbucks. We are a four star restaurant. And you are clearly interested in staying up for the next 36 hours.

7. Don’t leave me a tip in foreign currency. I shouldn’t have to tell you that in the US, business isn’t typically transacted in Canadian currency. But I am. I’m telling you. I’m on the record.

Our restaurant would regularly hold wine dinners that would highlight a specific wine region and pair those wines with special dishes, and the press typically came out for these events. As the press, they would generally not be charged for their meal, although they would be expected to leave a gratuity. On the night of an Argentinian wine dinner, two reps from a (American) wine publication came out to cover the dinner. They glowed at every course and every wine paring, complemented the attentive and warm service*, and concluded the meal exceptionally pleased.

Source: bookcliffvinyards.blogspot.com

*Which, incidentally, included me having to tell them a lot of pretty basic information about the wines which one would think that as reps from a wine publication they would already be extremely familiar with.

One would think.

But they left no tip. I alerted my manager, who graciously approached them and gently reminded them to compensate me for my work that evening. They had no cash, so they left me with $1.50 in Canadian currency, which they laughed off and explained away as “a great way to finally get rid of that cash we’ve been carrying around since our trip there last March.”

Thanks, bruh. And enjoy your time in that special corner of Purgatory reserved for clueless imbeciles who take advantage of service employees.

8. You are not “allergic” to raw vegetables and fruit as a whole. You may dislike them. They may not agree with your insanely difficult intestinal tract and bowels. You may be getting over a foodborne illness caused by a piece of contaminated produce. But “allergies” in the strict sense of the word to all uncooked produce don’t exist. So, NO, I will not request that the chef heat up the iceberg lettuce in your Cobb salad.

I shouldn’t have had to tell you this, but I just did. Be informed.

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33 comments

  1. Ok, which Chicago restaurant. Wanna make sure I wasn’t one of your “bad” customers. (I am couth, so it’s unlikely). And I can’t freaking believe you got tips in foreign currency. People are so stupid.

    1. Hehehe I’m sure you weren’t :) I will inbox you if you really want to know where it was that I worked. I don’t want anything I wrote to be interpreted poorly on the restaurant’s behalf.

  2. Also, if your child vomits into the fine linen, it is a good idea to alert the server. We know accidents happen, and it really is okay. We just don’t want to be two knuckles deep in your kid’s regurgitation without a good amount of warning.

    1. Luckily we didn’t have many kids in our restaurant because there really was nothing for them, but adults would constantly leave us little goodies inside the napkins. AMAZINGLY disgusting. I’d for sure rather clean the toilets.

      1. Ugh, we rarely had them, occasionally on holidays and things of that sort. I agree- toilets.

        1. Mother’s Day Brunch was the worst with kids. Apparently these were the only times these children were allowed out of the house.

  3. As an ex waitress and bartender, I both love this post and hate the reality that waiters have to live. So I would like to add – if u don’t leave 15 -20 percent for good svce I will hate u in my mind for the rest of ur existence and if you eat 16 baskets of the free bread and then order the smallest item on the menu, I will find u in the parking lot. Great writing, as always.

    1. The bread-mongers were BAD. Luckily at our restaurant we had bread service where you literally had to ask for bread which the backwaiter would then bring to you by the slice (our bread was really really good and purveyed to us by a nationally-acclaimed local bakery) so customers tended to get the message that since we weren’t bringing out baskets of baguettes, they shouldn’t fill up too much on it. But what they WOULD do that killed me is order loose leaf tea (which I don’t have to tell you was also very high-quality), finish it, and then cheap out on me and ask me to pour hot water over the spent leaves. So cheap.

  4. As an ex waitress and bartender, I both love this post and hate the reality that waiters have to live. So I would like to add – if u don’t leave 15 -20 percent for good svce I will hate u in my mind for the rest of ur existence and if you eat 16 baskets of the free bread and then order the smallest item on the menu, I will find u in the parking lot. Great writing, ems.

  5. I worked in a Sizzler once. I had a family of like 80 come in with screaming kids after church spilling drinks, complaining that their steak was tough (come on, it’s Sizzler, not Ruth’s Chris), and just all out rude. I think they tipped me like 53 cents which was probably just change that fell out of the guy’s pocket. That was my last day in the restuarant business.

    1. I think one has to have a very specific set of circumstances in line to actually enjoy their job as a server. I was lucky and worked at a great place, but I couldn’t have handled your situation by any stretch of the imagination. I would have quit too.

  6. My sons both work as servers, one at a fine dining establishment. I learned a lot when they started this kind of work that I didn’t know. None of which is contained above — lol! Common sense???? I do hear some great stories from my boys, however. The daughter works at a pizza place (all take out) and you would not believe some of the things that happen there too. Ah well, thanks for educating the world.

    1. No problem! It’s my pleasure! In all fairness to people in general, though, these are some crazy instances of what I went through. I could cite just as many instances of truly awesome, kind, wonderful people I had the pleasure of serving.

  7. I waited tables for quite some time.
    One of my favorites was a mom getting drunk and then breast feeding her child at the table.
    Ooh and I had someone draw a satanic picture on their napkin and leave it for me.

    1. Classy, classy. Was the Satanic cartoonist drunk too? That *might* make it a little less scary.

      1. I was 18 at the time and so innocent I dont think I knew what drunk looked like. Yes I was raised that baptist.

        1. Me too. We should team up and write a post about being recovering childhood baptists.

          1. Yes we should that would be so much fun !

  8. Excellent post! Yes, one would think….I never cease to be amazed at such antics on the part of the public. These must be the same people whose IQ drops when they get behind the wheel…and it evidently does not recover when they enter a fine restaurant. By & large, that is.

    1. Yes! I have also thought many times that the people who behave rudely/clueslessly in restaurants are the exact same people who behave that way behind the wheel! There’s something about the supposed anonymity. Little did our customers know that we literally kept notes on them. If they acted up (or exceedingly graciously) we recorded it and anticipated it when they to returned.

      1. Now that’s attention to detail! Very smart…

  9. Addendum – while in a fine dining restaurant, your cell phone is not considered a dinner guest. Kindly keep it in your purse or pocket. If you need to check in on the kids, do so quickly and quietly. Loud, one-sided arguments or excessive baby, cutesy talk are not appreciated by your server or fellow guests.
    Great post!

    1. Amen! It is so rude when people keep their phone on at the table when they are eating. Our patrons were generally really gracious, though, about this one and they typically left the table and took their calls in the foyer, but I still hated it when the phone was physically ON the table. A part of my job was to keep the table neat and uncluttered and the intrusion of these little devices always threw off the feng shui.

  10. Oh my god, I cannot STAND people who send things back they finished. I worked in a country club and this happened OFTEN. Cheap effers.
    In that same vein, I worked briefly at a Bath and Body Works, and you can basically return EMPTY. BOTTLES. to the store and get a store credit. Disgusting. The customer is NOT always right.

    1. That is utterly amazing. Why on Earth would BBW think that such an exchange policy would work to their advantage? They couldn’t possibly come out ahead financially.

      1. I really, really wish I knew. I guess it comes down to the fact they have it in place so that if people throw enough of a fit, the managers can do something to just get them out. Perhaps they know most people have enough shame to not take advantage? It’s mind boggling.

  11. So true, all of it. Both my parents did their time in the service industry, front and back of the house. My mum even went back to it recently as a stop-gap while the kids are still young, and (egad) got fired for not being a good fit (read: too old).
    It’s funny you wrote this (excellent) article today because we were talking about restaurant work this morning and saying it’s unquestionably the hardest work out there. It requires so much social skill to deal with patrons who don’t possess any. Horrible!
    How about those customers who decide to remake the menu? They choose an item and then specify that the veg be chopped/cooked/prepped differently and that some additional spices/ingredients be added and–oh yeah–sub here, sub there, and it doesn’t even resemble the menu item. Massive waste of everyone’s time, and those people are never happy with the finished product. ARRRRGHHHHHHHH!

    1. The remakers of the menu killed me. We once had a bibb and crab salad on the menu that was literally bibb lettuce, lump crab, and a little lemon aioli. This one woman requested we leave off the crab. I suggested that she simply order the artisan greens salad instead because it was our basic salad that was good but didn’t have really anything exciting going on. But she insisted on her bibb and lemon, and of course the instant she received it she complained that it was “too plain.” Well, NO KIDDING.

      And the people who suggested that we COOK their salads? Totally real. The chef was beyond infuriated.

  12. Crazy…miserable people making other people miserable. I think it’s a symptom of larger dissatisfaction with life, actually. Are we all so bored that we need to torment other people?
    Here’s another one:
    Always wished, when irritable people complained that the wait was too long and they were “starving,” that I had a picture of a TRULY FAMISHED HUMAN BEING to show them. That would have been a firing offense, but it would have scored a nice point.

    1. Agreed. People go out to eat rather than just go to therapy and work out their miserable selves. Once I waited on a known ambulance-chaser lawyer (of the “I’ll go after the insurance companies to get you all the money you’re not entitled to” type; hopefully they aren’t as plentiful in Canada) and he was the rudest, saddest, most genuinely miserable people I ever encountered in the restaurant. His female dining companion was just as bad, as if they were trying to top each other.

  13. Those parasitic types are the worst. We probably don’t have quite as many of those particular people, but Cdn restaurants have their own problems–tipping, for one thing, is terrible here. You have to do cartwheels to get 10%.

  14. Wow, #4, really!? Unbelievable. People crack me up. Great post!

  15. Well done! This should be paired with the “Travel Tips” I post on my own blog. Great work!

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