If I had a dollar for every time someone complained to me about the service they received at a restaurant I would be a rich woman. It does seem to be a rare occurrence to get great, attentive service at a dining establishment these days.
Here are some of the complaints I’ve heard.
Waiters, and this includes 90% of them, who don’t know what the server codes are. These are pictures of the codes.
The first one means “I’m still eating, don’t take my food.” The second one means “I’m finished. You may take my plate.” If you’re a waiter, I would encourage you to learn these. Whenever I teach this in my dining etiquette seminars the participants who know these codes complain that most wait staff do not know these codes.
Also along the lines of clueless waiters are those who don’t know the menu well. When I ask a basic question about the food the waiter should be able to answer my questions – is the salmon farm raised or wild? Where did the salmon come from – the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean? Is the item gluten free? These are the kinds of questions diners ask and the waiters need to know the answers to.
Walking In Front of the Speaker
This one also falls under oblivious wait staff. At a banquet where there was a panel of speakers, one of the waiters continually walked in front of the panel, keeping the audience from seeing them and blocking the video camera taping the presentation. He could have accessed the tables by walking in the back of the room. The server had to be told by an audience member to stop doing that. Waiters, never walk in front of the room when there is a speaker on stage unless there is no other way to reach the diners.
Are You Still Working On That?
When a waiter asks “Are you still working on that” it makes dining seem like a chore. Dining out should be pleasurable, not work. Waiters, if you don’t see the server codes above ask, “Are you still enjoying your meal?” Or, “May I take your plate?”
Clearing the Plates Before Everyone is Finished
I know some Americans like to have their plate removed right away when they are finished eating, but it makes those who are still enjoying their meal feel they have to rush. Just as food should be served at the same time, the plates should be removed at the same time – when everyone is finished.
Used Utensils on the Table
Another one that really annoys people is when wait staff remove a diner’s plate and put the used utensil(s) back on the table. There are a few reasons why this is very poor etiquette. As diners we should never put a used utensil back on the table. It keeps the table from getting dirty. So when a waiter picks up my used utensil and puts it on the table not only is he touching my used utensil but he is also getting the table germs on the utensil that I have to use again.
The reason this happens is the restaurant only sets the table with one set of utensils that you’re supposed to use throughout the meal – salad, entrée and dessert. They need to set the table with a salad fork and dinner fork and remove the salad fork with the salad, leaving me a clean fork to use with my entrée. Or they need to remove and replace the used utensils. If dessert is served, they need to either set the table with a dessert fork and spoon or bring them out before dessert is served.
No Salad Fork and Butter Knife
I don’t know if it’s to save money or be trendy, but more and more restaurants are not using salad forks and butter knives or even bread plates. The butter knife is placed on the bread plate and is meant to be used throughout the meal to butter one’s bread. When we have to use our dinner knife to butter our bread it often gets removed when the server clears the salad plate, unless we put it on the bread plate. And, it just looks weird on the bread plate – it’s too big. Or, as stated above, the server places the used knife on the table. If I’m given a butter knife, which is used only to butter my bread and it stays on the bread plate, we don’t have this problem.
I can live without the salad fork as long as the table is set with two forks. However, when I’m teaching dining etiquette, I want the kids and adults to see the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork. The salad fork was created to eat salad – shorter tines that don’t need to secure a piece of meat. I think it looks more elegant to have a salad fork and a dinner fork next to each other on the table rather than two forks of the same size.
Sitting Down and Chatting
One Clise Etiquette Facebook fan said she dislikes it when a waiter sits down at her table to take her order. I’m with her. I appreciate a friendly waiter, but not one that wants to be my best friend. There needs to be a separation of roles – I’m the diner, you’re the waiter. It keeps it more professional.
Talking with Other Wait Staff
Another fan dislikes it when the wait staff chat to each other around the diners. Waiters need to be almost invisible except when needed. They need to ensure the patrons are attended to in the most unobtrusive and efficient way possible. When I go out to dinner I do so to spend time with my friend(s) or spouse while enjoying a nice meal. I don’t want to be interrupted by wait staff bantering with each other or with me.
I’m going to stop there. I know waiting tables is hard work. I truly do as I did it for an afternoon and couldn’t hack it. But, if restaurants want happy, return customers they must think more about the dining experience for the diner, whether that’s how utensils and plates are set and cleared, or who they hire to wait tables. A great dining experience is all in the details. If restaurants and wait staff focus on those details, they’ll have much more success.
Readers, what are your restaurant and wait staff pet peeves? What do you wish they would stop or start doing? Conversely, have you had an amazing dining experience? If so, please share.