We all like to think that we know what we're doing when we dine out. Obviously, we've all done it before. We’re set to impress, socialise and have a great time, but we hardly ever think about the people on the other end who make our food, pour our drinks and take our orders.
Being a chef, bartender, host, server or manager isn’t easy, and we’re not just talking about the hours on end without sitting, not being able to take a toilet break, working in (mostly) very hot and cramped spaces, being at constant risk of injuring oneself or being starved out on shift. Believe it or not, the hardest part of any hospitality professional’s life is us, the diners. So, here’s our guide to dining out without making anyone else’s life a living hell.
Make a booking
You can’t just turn up and expect a table for you on a Friday or Saturday unless you’re specifically trying to dine somewhere that doesn’t take bookings. In which case, good luck.
Honour that booking
Booking times are not suggestions. Arriving early is fine as you can usually have a drink at the bar, but show up significantly later and you’re putting pressure on your server and the kitchen to get more food out at a required time than was planned. No-showing is not just rude, it can break a restaurant. In a time where margins are so small, you showing up or not could be the difference between the owner of that business being able to keep the doors open or not.
Wait for your host to take you to your table
Unless you’re in a restaurant that lets you seat yourself (where is this magical restaurant?), there are specific floor plans that have been designed for the evening. Don’t help yourself to that really roomy round table of 6 when you’re only booked in for a 2. You know it isn’t for you.
Wait for your server to finish their spiel and pay attention
No one likes to repeat themselves, but it is, unfortunately, a waitperson’s job to repeat themselves to guests every night. You may think that you don’t need to listen to what they have to say, but you will be familiarised with how the food works, notified of any dishes that have run out on the menu, be told specials, offered first drinks and your preference of water. This is also your opportunity to ask any questions you have right off the bat.
It’s okay to say you’re not ready
When a server asks you if you’re ready to order, that isn’t asking you to order. They’re genuinely wanting to know if you’re ready or if you have any questions. This is because they’ve either brought you your first drinks or have deliberately made a moment to touch your table because someone looks confused or you’ve all put your menus down. Don’t say yes and have them hover over you for minutes on end while you decide. You may not realise this because your waitperson is very good at their job, but on average, a person has about 25 people in their section that they need to tend to. Standing around waiting for you to um and err means they’re neglecting 24 others. Don’t be selfish.
Don’t snap your fingers
People are not circus animals. In fact, don’t use your hands in any way to signal anything, especially that you’ve had enough water or wine. Use your words. Or stop drinking water. Servers are taught that a glass can never be less than a third full. If you stop drinking, they’ll stop topping.
Say please and thank you
Servers, bartenders, managers and chefs are professionals, not servants. We’re guessing you like to be spoken to with respect at your job, do the same at someone else's. Don’t be an animal.
Order the dishes as they are unless you’re invited to change something
This is a restaurant and chefs are professionals who have put together a menu in a specific way because it reflects their passions, the ethos of a restaurant or it complements a wine program. When kitchens prep, they do it in a way where food is ready to finish off a la minute and generally don’t have raw ingredients sitting around like it’s a cooking show pantry. Kitchen crew are not your personal chefs. If you want a sad, steamed piece of fish with no butter, oil or seasoning with out of season greens, stay home.
Don’t stack your plates
More likely than not, plates are stacked incorrectly. It’s understood that you’re trying to be nice, but this usually ends in smashed plates, food on the floor, lost cutlery and dislocated fingers. Just let your waitperson stack and scrape the way they can manage.
Leave the tray alone
This is a matter of safety, people. Trays are helpful but flimsy and everyone has their own centre of balance. Your waitperson is likely carrying a range of different glasses filled with different liquids that weigh different amounts. Don’t worry, they know exactly where your drinks are going; they took the order, after all. If you mess with their tray, it could result in the contents of it being upturned on you, on them, or the floor. And no one wants that.
Don’t touch a waitperson, ever
Not for attention, not for affection, not for acknowledgement. Not ever. It is 2019, we shouldn’t have to explain this.
Ask for your bill
The general rule of dining is, if it has been table-service the whole meal, the bill is table-service too. Getting up and walking up to a bartender who hasn’t clapped eyes on you through your whole meal or bombarding another section waiter who just happens to be standing close to a till doesn’t mean they know which table you’ve come from. Your section waiter is also required to check your bill before they drop it to your table to make sure you don’t have another table’s drinks on your cheque. It’s not as simple as pressing print, everything done correctly takes time.
Tipping might not be part of the culture here in Australia because we are technically paid a living wage. Sorry to break it to you, but a lot of hospitality staff don’t get paid properly, and even when they say they love their jobs, their jobs kind of suck. We’re not asking you to fork out the 20% the rest of the world expects, but leave a few dollars here and there. Sometimes it makes the difference between a person making rent or not because some venues entice workers on a guaranteed minimum tip to subsidise their crappy wage.
Get off the table once you’ve paid
Let the restaurant turn the table and make some money so next time you want to dine there, the restaurant still exists. If it is the end of the night, go home. People might choose to work in restaurants, but they don’t choose to live in restaurants.