Can I Have That On The Side Please?
Having worked in the hospitality industry for several years now, I have seen more than my fair share of articles published on the topic. Usually we read articles posted from the viewpoint of the customer, and much too frequently they are slanted against the industry. When working in the industry you learn the motto “The customer is always right!” and you live your life by it. As a result of the never ending chant of this mantra, hospitality professionals rarely speak out concerning the wealth of stories we have about our beloved customers. Yep, you guessed it. Here I go. Here are some of my favorite observations made while working as a professional chef.
You get all kinds of people walking into your establishment once you open the doors of a restaurant. All professions’, income levels, backgrounds, nationalities and the list goes on. By the same token, this diverse group of people experience some of the most important moments of their life in a restaurant. Chances are you proposed to your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, or life partner, or you were proposed to in a restaurant either over or directly after a meal. Sad to say many break ups happen over or after a meal as well. Where do you go to seal that big business deal? Out to eat of course. Good news, bad news it all seems to go down better over the poached salmon with hollandaise or the tortellini with bread sticks and several glasses of wine.
The thing our loving customers seem to forget when they come through our doors is that they are being waited on and served by human beings. Because they have never met their waiter or waitress before in their lives and really do not expect that they ever will again, diners will talk about the most bizarre things, in front of them as if they were not there. Well to be honest if the waiter or waitress is good at his or her job it is as if they are not there. If you have felt comfortable enough with your wait staff to broach these sensitive topics at their assigned table for god’s sake leave a good tip. When the waiter or waitress got up this morning, showered and shaved, splashed on cologne or perfume and a clean uniform and headed off to work they had no idea that later today they would be privy to the details of:
A guests prostate surgery.
The oozing sore on their back, buttocks, or toe.
The hot girl they slept with last night.
The hot guy they slept with last night.
A customer trying to convince their wife/husband that a threesome would be good for the relationship and them.
How that B@!#$@ from work told Mary what they had said to her in private so now Mary hates their guts, OH NO SHE DIDN’T!
Honestly what are the chances they would discuss these things anywhere else or in front of anyone else?
When was the last time anyone sent their wife to the mechanics to hold a bay for them because they wouldn’t be able to get their car there until thirty minutes after the shop closed? Have they slapped their doctor on the rear? How often do people show up to the offices of their CPA at five minutes before his closing hours and ask him to go over their taxes, their IRA, their child’s college/savings fund, etc…? Do you think anyone has ever gotten their car fixed and then tipped the mechanic with a coupon for five dollars off on oil?
These are all things that happen almost daily in the hospitality/restaurant industry. I actually overheard a table commenting to each other one night that they waited till closing time to come in to the restaurant so that they could have the place to themselves. Yes right at closing time. I can guarantee you nine times out of ten that customers who consistently enter a restaurant at closing time are also the most demanding and obnoxious guests. Although most people would not think of smacking their Docs bottom (no matter how cute he/she is), at least not without paying off a major sexual harassment suit, ask your next waiter/waitress how often it happens to them (Tell them I told you to. Go on.) And yes if you were wondering just this past week I saw a guest pay for their bill and then tip the waitress with a gift card for five dollars to the very restaurant she was serving in.
I know some chefs get a little upset if they receive special requests. After all you go through a lot of trouble to come up with new dishes. You have to test and tweak the ingredients until it is just right. Sometimes to the delight and sometimes the chagrin of the kitchen staff used as guinea pigs tasting and re-tasting each dish until it pops. Then a customer comes along and wants a dish that is not even on the menu or even (gasp) worse they don’t want your spectacular dish the way you intended it to be served. They want it:
Pan seared rather than grilled.
Poached rather than baked.
Dry rather than with your sauce you have spent 6 months perfecting.
Or perhaps the sauce on the side.
The same dish but with chicken rather than swordfish.
(Cover your chef’s eyes for this one) They want it with ketchup or steak sauce rather than the award winning balsamic reduction.
I personally do not mind getting special requests (if they are within reason). What is within reason? Well I recall a few years ago a sweet elderly couple came in and made a special request to the waitress, bacon wrapped prawns. Bacon wrapped prawns were not and had never been on my menu. However I did have bacon and I did offer prawns, therefore it was no big stretch to honor their request. (For which they tipped their waitress very well.) It just happened to be their fiftieth wedding anniversary and I was able to give them a special and memorable night. On the flip side of the coin, I have had customers request dishes that themselves do not, nor do their components appear on the menu or in the larder. If you do not see Ahi tuna on the menu you can be pretty sure that I cannot substitute it for the Halibut.
At last we come to tipping. What is the importance of tipping? Why do we tip? How much should we tip? Tipping is very important to your wait staff because the tip most often accounts for up to seventy percent of your waiter/waitress’s pay. To keep the cost of your meal as low as possible and still pay the bills, and turn a profit the owner usually pays per hour about thirty percent of what a good waiter or waitress is expected to be able to make with tips per hour. While tipping is there to insure good service it also pays the bills of your server and keeps the cost of your meal down. Bad tipping practices have led many establishments today to automatically add the tip (usually 10 t0 20 percent) to the customer’s bill. Especially with large groups, (who are notorious for not tipping well or at all). These large groups often asked to have their bill split up. Trust me this is a lot of extra work for your server, who is more than happy to oblige, but hopes that you will be mindful of this fact and tip accordingly.
Society has set a formula for determining how much customers should tip. The standard wisdom says that you should tip anywhere from 10 to 18% or more depending on the level of the eating establishment you may find yourself in. This formula infers that if you are eating in a roadside café you should tip 10%, and 18+% if you are dining in a five star restaurant or hotel. I have a new formula to propose. I almost always tip 18% no matter where I am, but I think we can come up with a fair formula for everyone here. Let us start at 10%. If you receive very good service then add 5%. If you arrived within 20 minutes of closing time add 5%. If you know that you are a picky customer (you have asked for more than two special conditions on your particular meal), or obnoxious (your kids ran all over the dining room screaming, throwing scrambled eggs or spilled more than one drink all over the floor, or you are forty five and just asked a 17 year old waitress for her number), then add another 5%. If you exposed your server to WAY too much information (the details of your love life, medical history, etc…) add another 2-4% depending on the amount of sleep hearing this information will cause them to lose. Then if you have been especially loose with the amount of sensitive details you have let spill over that last 3 glasses of wine you should perhaps offer your sever 10% of the settlement it will cost you in the divorce decree should your wife ever find out.
Last but by no means least. It never hurts to tip the Chef!
Keep laughing my friends.