Do’s, Don’ts, and Oddities of the Restaurant Biz

by: Alyssa Ruffolo

While working as a server is a very physically and mentally taxing job, I truly have enjoyed my experience with it so far. I serve at Longhorn steakhouse, where I have worked for about two and a half years now. I worked as a host for about two years and then recently moved into serving. At first I was extremely nervous about messing up peoples’ orders, dropping things, or just generally being bad at the job. I used to get such anxiety before going into a serving shift. As I started to get the hang of it, though, I was able to relax a bit and genuinely just enjoy the job. I love people. Having the chance to listen to other peoples’ experiences and hear about their lives interests me and brings me joy.

Upon my own observations at work and through my own experiences as a guest at other restaurants, I have come up with five main things that guests do which completely throw off their server. These things actually make the server’s job harder, even though most of the time the guests are trying to be helpful. First, handing your server a plate, cup, bowl, etc. can actually cause some serious issues. First of all, if she is trying to place your meal on the table, and you are simultaneously handing her things to take off of the table, this can cause her to become overwhelmed or unbalanced and increases her chances of dropping something. Also, if she has nothing in her hands – and was probably just about to grab that full plate of cheese fries out of your way – and you hand it to her awkwardly, she is likely to drop it and spill cheese fries all over the floor (and possibly you). I know as a server I have a certain way of handling the different types/shaped plates so that I can balance them and carry more. When a guest hands me something awkwardly and I don’t have time to adjust, I often end up dropping things and looking quite ridiculous even though I do indeed know how to carry multiple plates at the same time. Secondly, NEVER take a drink off of a server’s tray even if you are trying to help. When I am carrying several bar drinks on my tray, the tray is often very light if it consists of anything from cocktails, to martinis or wine glasses. So, if the guest decides to grab one off of my tray, the tray can easily become unbalanced and I will spill all of the drinks I am carrying. The same issue goes with if I am carrying heavy drinks, but often they are slightly easier to balance than the light-weight, fragile wine glasses.

A third issue that comes about is when I approach a table to take their drink/appetizer order and they tell me they want to order their whole dinner as well while I am there. While this may seem helpful because then I don’t have to come back and ask, I usually have many other tables also waiting on me to greet them/take their drink order, and so if I stand at my first table for ten minutes to take down everyone’s drink, appetizer, and dinner order, my other tables become frustrated and impatient because they have yet to see me at all. It is always better to let your server lead the way; if she does not ask for your dinner order, chances are that she needs to take a few other orders, drop off your drinks, and then come back to take down your dinner order. We know you are hungry, but each server is handling multiple families/groups at one time and there is only so much one person can do. The fourth issue that goes along with this is when guests say they are ready to order, but then have not actually looked at the menu at all. Often times people will order their main entrée, and then when I go to ask about sides, salads, add-ons, etc. they ask, “what sides do you have?,” “does that come with a salad?”. Then once I list the sides, they still need a few minutes to decide what they want. This can really put your server behind. Of course, questions about the menu are always welcome. But I always appreciate when the guest has at least glanced at their options and has some idea of what sides he/she wants before I get to the table. Lastly, -at least at my job- the server has a particular way he/she is supposed to take down the guests orders. My back must always be facing the kitchen, meaning I am facing the front door, when I take orders. Then, I must move from left to right around the table, and enter the orders according to this order into the computer. It is a done a certain way because the food-runner must be able to read the screen and know which guest ordered which meal without having to come find/ask me. This standardized system helps everything move smoothly on a busy night.

Some interesting tendencies I have started to notice and pick up on include tables (usually consisting of older guests) getting offended when I do not start with the women at the table when taking their orders. This is a generation difference, because I never even think to start with the woman – I have been raised in an era where “chivalry is dead” and woman are equals. Also, I often see parents ordering for their kids even though the “kids” may be as old as teenagers and clearly capable of ordering for themselves. In addition, I have noticed some men ordering for their wives, which deeply bothers me because I am a feminist and do not believe in that. For instance, one day I went up to my table (older couple) and asked if they would like any dessert. The woman started to talk and he talked over her and said, “I will have the turtle cheesecake. She doesn’t need any dessert,” and laughed. Situations like these definitely exercise my self-restraint. Besides that, there are also instances of people ordering bizarre bar drinks that even the bartender has never heard of, and people getting mad about the timing of the food. I find it odd that many people become appalled and angry when their dinner is brought out too soon after their salads. I never went out to eat with my family growing up, so I guess that is why I don’t understand. If I was in that situation, I believe I would just continue to eat my salad while also eating my dinner, and would be completely unbothered by it. However, I guess I don’t have enough experience to say. Lastly, I find it funny that guests often ask me what I like on the menu or what my favorite is. What if we don’t like the same foods? If there was something on the menu that was so bad and unpopular that no one ordered it, the company would get rid of it and replace it with something else. So, knowing that everything on the menu is quality food, why leave it up to a random server who you’ve never met to tell you what will taste good to you? I never understood that, but I always recommend my favorites nonetheless, even if they do only consist of side dishes seeing as I am a vegetarian and do not eat any of our main meals.

Working in a restaurant has taught me a lot about my co-workers, the people I serve, and just life in general. People have very interesting tendencies and I love that I get to experience and observe this at my job. Next time you go out to eat, maybe you will be more aware of your actions and behaviors having these do’s and don’ts in mind.

originally posted: 3/26

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