An Open Address to My Customers
kitten   August 27, 2001

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this standard-issue popculture restaurant. My name is kitten, and I'll be your server tonight. Before we begin, I'd like to go over a few things with you that will facilitate a smooth and pleasant dining experience.

In a moment, as a matter of formality, I will inquire of your condition, and I will probably phrase it along the lines of "How are you tonight?"

When I ask, I expect you to respond with a brief word or two. You know as well as I that we are complete strangers to each other, and in all honesty, I do not care how you are feeling any more than you care about me, but each of us must uphold our end of the social pleasantries.

I have not asked you what you would like to drink yet, so do not provide me with this information.

"How are you tonight?"
"Fine, thank you." (bonus: "..and yourself?")

"How are you tonight?"
"Miller Lite."

After we go through this, I will ask you what you would like to drink. A comphrensive list of every beverage we serve is listed on each menu, barring alcoholic drinks, which you will find in the convenient, colorful, easy-on-the-eyes booklet we have thoughtfully placed on your table. The menu - along with this booklet - will provide you with the information you seek, so it is not necessary to interrogate me.

When I ask you what you wish to drink, tell me what you wish to drink; do not question me about appetizers or entrees. I assure you that you will have the opportunity to address these issues in a moment, but now is not the time.

If you desire a beverage containing alcohol and your age is not obvious, I am required by law to ask for your identification. If you cannot produce a valid form of age verification, I will not serve you alcohol. Do not beg, plead, threaten, cajole, bargain, or try to bribe me. My job security is more important to me than letting you have a beer.

After you have given me your drink order, you may place an order for appetizers if you wish, or you may wait until I have brought the drinks to your table.

It is now time to place your order. It seems that this is quite a monumental task for some of you, so I have taken the liberty of preparing a few suggestions to make this process go as quickly and painlessly as possible:

1. Be concise and to the point.

It serves no purpose to provide me with lengthy explanations on why you are ordering a particular item, or what you had last time you were here, or who else you know that has also had this item. Just tell me what you want.
2. Speak clearly. Do not mumble.

3. Use words, not gestures.

Humans are gifted with a wonderful device known as "language"; please take full advantage of it and refrain from grunting and pointing at the menu like a Cro-Magnon. I do not require a visual aid.
4. Do not ask me what comes with an entree.
The menu which you hold in your hands contains this infromation.
5. Do not ask me how much an item costs.
Again, the menu will provide you with this information.
6. We wil be more than happy to substitute certain items for you, but there are limits to this.
Please understand that while we strive to provide you with the meal you desire, we also have our costs to be aware of. (This means that you cannot substitute a steak instead of french fries, so don't ask.)

7. Refer to the item by the name on the menu; do not invent your own terminology.
If you attempt to make up your own names for things, I will have no idea what you're talking about.
8. Do not order items that are not on the menu (or elsewhere in the restaurant).

As a customer, you are not required to be polite, but as a human, you should strive to be. Some key phrases that you should keep in your linguistic arsenal include "may I," "could I," "please," and "thank you". "Give me," "I'll take," "I need," and "I'll have" are poor choices:

"Could I please get the chicken sandwich?"

"Give me the chicken sandwich."

Most unfortunately, there will be times when we run out of a certain item. If you request an item and I tell you that we do not have it at this time, you have my full apologies, but my statement is final. Telling me that this item is the only reason you came here, or that you really, really, really wanted this item, or how far you drove just for this one item, is not going to change the simple fact that we DO NOT HAVE THAT ITEM at this time. Do not argue with me on this; I merely report the facts. I am not making this stuff up. Do not ask me to "check and make sure".. believe me, I know what I'm talking about.

Most restaurants have a list of the soups du jour posted in friendly lettering in a highly visible location. Please make note of this.

If you do not see this list, feel free to ask me what soups we have tonight, and select from the options available. Do not request a soup that we do not have.

After you place your order, you may have full confidence that I have conveyed your order to the kitchen in a timely manner. At times, the kitchen may be busy or understaffed; when this happens, your food may take just a few more minutes than you expected. You have my assurances that they are working as fast as they can, so please do not harrass me to "check on your order". There is absolutely nothing I can do to speed the process. I will bring your food to you the moment it is ready - not before.

When I bring your food to you, you may require additional condiments. It would be nice if you had let me know in advance, but I understand that this is asking too much of some of you, so feel free to dispel this information to me now.

Please ask for all additional condiments or utensils at this time, so that I do not have to come back to your table seventeen times. This is for your benefit more than mine.

"May I please have some ranch dressing, a knife, some napkins, and another Coke?"
"Right away, sir."

"I want ranch dressing."
"Yes sir."
(thirty seconds later)
"I need a knife."
"No problem."
(thirty seconds later)
"Could I have more napkins?"
(thirty seconds later)
"I need more Coke."

During the course of your meal, you may require my assistance for various reasons, be it a beverage refill, another order, or a simple inquiry. Whatever it is, my job is to provide these services for you, so don't hestitate to ask.

For the record, there is a right way and a wrong way to get my attention. Calling my name - which I told you already - is a good way. You may also refer to me "sir" (if you have a female waitress, "ma'am"), and I will even respond to "excuse me". Raising your arm in a conservative manner works as well, but do not flail your arms about like a seizure victim (trust me, I see you). Do not yell "Hey you" or "Yo". Do not throw things at me. Do not reach out and grab my arm as I pass by.

It is to our mutual benefit that you time your requests in a considerate manner. The mark of a good server is the ability to multitask, but even we have our limits.

To promote clarity on this point, please consult this helpful index:

When I ask if I can get anything for you.
When I'm within earshot, but not busy.

When I'm with another customer. You are not more important than anyone else.
When my hands are full of dirty plates.
When I'm carrying a tray laden with food.
When I'm being yelled at by my boss.

I hope that your food will be prepared the way you wanted it, but from time to time, something may be wrong with it. Perhaps you misspoke, or I made a mistake with the ticket, or the cook failed to notice a notation on the ticket.
Whatever the reason, I will be glad to do whatever I can to rectify the situation, but laying blame is not going to help you, especially when the fault is your own. Do not try to tell me that you said something when we both know you didn't.

As it happens, there are a few situations which you can take care of without my assistance. For your convenience, I have illustrated this with several examples, including but not limited to:

You didn't want tomatoes on your sandwich, but it came with them anyway.

Take the tomatoes off.

You didn't want french fries, but there are fries on your plate.

Don't eat them.

Your three-year-old has difficulty eating a burger unless it is cut into tiny pieces.
Cut the burger into tiny pieces.

You drink your coffee black, and do not require the cream I have brought with the coffee.
Don't put the cream in the coffee.

Part of the joy of dining out is that you do not have to clean up after yourself. While I do not expect you to stack your dishes neatly and wipe off your table - that's my job - please try to conduct yourself with a reasonable degree of social grace. As you are out in public, it does not become you to spread your mess across the hemispheres of creation, smear mustard on the table, empty sugar packets onto the floor for no reason, etc.

At the end of your meal, I will present you with the check. This seems to be an area of particular difficulty for some customers; if you number among them, please consult the following:

1. Do not argue with me over the cost of items you have ordered. You knew the cost in advance (or should have, anyway), and furthermore, I do not set the prices.

2. I can split the bill for you if members of your party wish to pay seperately, but it is very difficult for me to remember who got what, even with a small party, and with large numbers of people, the situation is hopeless. It will be much more efficient if the paying members of your party estimate their contribution to the total and pool their finances.

"Let's see.. Joe, yours was like six dollars, and Steve, yours was ten. Kathy, yours was about seven bucks. And mine was like eight or so."

"Can you split our check four ways and remember exactly who got what and who is paying for whom?"

Please keep in mind that I am paid well below minimum wage by the company, and rely almost exclusively on tips for my financial support. I do not ask that you transfer your bank account to my name, but let's not be cheap, either: it looks bad for you, and if you become known as a poor tipper - we DO remember faces - your next server is going to be less inclined to be helpful.
A general rule of thumb - unless the service was inexcusably bad - is to tip a minimum of 15% of your bill's total. Fifteen percent is the minimum, not the rule. There are a variety of other things which you should factor into your consideration when tipping:

1. Did I do a good job? Did I do a better-than-average job?

2. If there was a problem, was it my fault?

A problem with the kitchen, for example, is out of my hands, and should not adversely affect my tip, especially if I did everything I could to take care of the problem.

3. Did you require extra work from me?
If you didn't ask much extra from me, 15% is probably fine. On the other hand, if you sent me on errands every thirty seconds, this means I performed a lot more work for your benefit, so please keep this in mind.

Now that we've discussed a few of the intricacies of dining out, we're ready to begin.

How are you tonight?