Like many others, I enjoyed reading the recent New York Times blogs on "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do," especially since I’m usually on the receiving end of service.
Part one presented such dictums as "Never serve anything that looks creepy or runny or wrong" and "Never touch a customer." Part two had these admonitions: "If someone complains about the music, do something about it" and "Do not disappear."
The list is based on requisites for servers at a seafood restaurant that the writer, Bruce Buschel, is building in New York. His wait staff is going to have a lot to live up to.
I agreed with many of his "rules," though some seemed like a stretch, like this one: "If a guest goes gaga over a particular dish, get the recipe for him or her." That’s a nice thought, but have you ever seen a chef’s recipe? They make humongous amounts, not what a home cook would want anyway.
But what do I know? I asked two of our magazine interns, Johanna Anderson and Hilary Thomas, who are servers at local restaurants, what they thought about the NYT list. The women had strong opinions about the rules. Essentially, they felt that diners should remember, "Servers are people, too."
Here’s a synopsis of what they had to say:
From Johanna, who works at a bistro in Annapolis:
She agreed that many of Buschel’s comments involve common-sense practices. But she said that his list also involves elements of service that are measured subjectively or are difficult to quantify.
For instance, diners may feel their servers are "racing around the dining room as if there is a fire" (No. 71) when a waitress is simply walking quickly to the kitchen to pick up food and serve it while it is still hot.
She also said she is "irked by rules like, "Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason." She’s been on the receiving end when she hasn’t taken an order. "If you want to talk without pausing for the first 15 minutes of your time in a restaurant, don’t snap at the server if you don’t have a martini in front of you when you take a breath."
I thought Johanna really hit home with this remark, "Don’t become a houseplant." Evidently, houseplants are guests who stay long after the check has been settled. She doesn’t mind that they linger, but she does mind when they stay after the restaurant has closed. She has to remain until her table is gone.
She also reminds us that the rules work both ways. One rule says, "Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness." She asks that diners do the same: "No making sexual innuendos. No—to men—asking me to sit on their lap, especially when your wife is sitting beside you."
From Hilary, who works at a casual restaurant in White Marsh:
She pointed out that a lot of a server’s duties are dependent on their boss or manager. For example, one of Buschel’s mandates states, "Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course."
But she points out that "pre-bussing, as it is usually called, is mandated by most restaurant managers. So in some ways, a server does not really have a choice in the matter."
She also thought the rule about asking people if they had allergies was too inquisitive. "Aren’t medical problems personal." It may be embarrassing if a person has to announce the allergy to the rest of the table, though they could alert the staff beforehand.
She also wants diners to realize that she can’t always tell them if the restaurant is out of an item (Buschel’s rule: "Let the guests know the restaurant is out of something before the guests read the menu"). "It’s only possible if the kitchen lets everyone know," she pointed out.
She also had some advice for diners:
Do not order a big-price meal and then not compensate the server if the service was good. (She told me that she’s seeing more skimping in this economy. She said she gets paid a pittance per hour and has to share her tip with numerous people from runners to busboys.)
Do not complain to get a free meal or after you’ve eaten 75 percent of your meal.
Do not allow your child to make a mess and leave it there for "the help" to clean up.
But I think she summed it up best when she said:
"Do treat your server the way you want to be treated by them."