Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Things Restaurant Staffers Should Always Do

During my workout a couple of weeks ago, I was listening to NPR when I heard a piece on a post in the You're the Boss blog by a fellow named Bruce Buschel called 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 1).  I wondered whether he'd cover any of my particular pet peeves in Part 2, but I just took a gander at 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part 2) and it seems not.  So I hereby append the following to Mr. Buschel's list.

Here are three things restaurant staffers, in particular wait-folk, should always do when the party has one or more small children in it.  There's a theme here:  the sooner you start bringing things to the table, the more money you are likely to make, and the sooner you'll get rid of the noisy, melt-down-having children (who will be noisier and more likely to melt down if you don't start bringing things to the table as soon as humanly possible).

One:  Don't Wait to Bring the Kids' Food Until the Adults' Food is Ready

Experienced waiters or those who are parents frequently do this without prompting, but it should be written in the rule book.   If there are kids under, oh say, seven or eight at the table, you should offer to take their orders first and get their food started, then come back for the adults' orders if they're undecided.  You should then offer to bring the kids' orders to the table as soon as they are ready, and you should be sure that they are ready a reasonable time after the order is placed.  There's no excuse for chicken nuggets not being ready before pretty much anything an adult could order except maybe the soup du jour.

Here's the rationale.  Generally, parents have to do some helping with kids this age, which can range from cutting pieces of meat for older kids to spoonfeeding toddlers. If all the food comes at the same time, the adults don't get to eat theirs before it gets cold.  It also gets in the way while the adult is playing the helping role, and it can't be enjoyed until the kids are set up and chowing down in any case.  Also, in my experience, kids who are young enough to have a hard time sitting still anywhere aren't going to be better at it at restaurants no matter how many crayons or toys they have with them.  Once the sights and smells of food are passing by them to other tables, they're ready to eat and feeding them is the best hope there is of keeping them occupied for any length of time.

Two:  Be Attentive To The Status of the Mom's Wine Glass

When I waited tables in college, the conventional wisdom was that alcoholic beverages were the key to bigger tips.  Get people ordering refills of these high margin products and the bill went up quickly and by multipliers that just couldn't be replicated through food orders.  Bigger bills meant bigger tips.  Bigger tips were good.

And yet, somehow that wisdom has been lost or deemed inapplicable to mothers of preschoolers.  I can't tell you how many times I've only had one drink with dinner though I was entirely willing to have two, or, once in a great while, maybe even three.  Typically it goes like this:  it takes forever to bring the first glass of wine, then after the wine has been consumed the glass sits empty with no waiter in sight until it is too late to drink another one because the kids are melting down and we have to leave.  That waiter just lost somewhere between $8 and $33 added to the bill which could have meant up to $7 or so in additional tip (or more if others at the table are in the same boat), and I just lost one of the temporarily mellowing benefits of the increasingly seldom times we eat out.  We've actually requested that we not be seated in certain waiters' sections at our local haunts for this very reason.

Three:  Be Quick and Efficient, or Be Poor

This is the logical extension of two and three above.  Kids under eight can't be expected to sit still for two or more hours at a time in a restaurant.  They have about 40 minutes of good behavior in them and another half hour of acceptable behavior.  If it takes 20 minutes to take the table's order, or 30 minutes to bring the kids' food, it's unlikely there will be time for dessert.  Not just for the kids, but for the adults too.  Or for dessert wine.  So there's another $30 or more that isn't going to get spent, and upwards of another $6 in tip that won't be left because the behavior will have deteriorated to the point where the only choice is to leave.

It's astonishing to me how many times waiters have left money on the table because our party, quite literally, hasn't left on the table all we'd have been willing to leave.  Instead, we had to high-tail it out of there without ordering additional drinks or dessert.  More food also typically means more mess, and I know a lot of parents who will bump up tips if a kid's place at the table (or the floor underneath) is a mess at the end of a meal even though it probably doesn't take that much additional time to clean up if you're wiping down a table or changing a table cloth anyway.

So let this be a lesson in enlightened self-interest.  We parents like it when you engage with our kids, or at least don't spurn them when they ask you a question -- but we're unlikely to give a bigger tip for that alone.  We'd much rather you be as attentive to our table as you are to the one with the quiet, young, low maintenance couple that is occasionally throwing us amused looks from across the aisle.


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