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How not to be a dick at a nice restaurant

With Christmas party season almost upon us, an anonymous waiter at an acclaimed Auckland restaurant explains how to avoid pissing off your serving staff, and shares some tips for getting the most out of any dining experience.

Going to a restaurant is one of the great joys of life: you don’t have to cook, there’s a person there whose job is literally to ensure that your needs are met, and you get to experience things that you simply don’t get from a home-cooked meal. It’s really awesome, and particularly in Auckland, where there are lots of properly world-class restaurants, and many that won’t cost an arm or leg to eat at either.

But because the high end restaurant industry is still small and fledgling in New Zealand, lots of Kiwis aren’t sure how to conduct themselves at restaurants. I know, because I’m a waiter at a Metro Top 50 restaurant, and every shift I work I see the same mistakes from diners who don’t know how to get the most out of their night (or day) out. People can be inconsiderate, or they can do things that they think are helpful but really aren’t. They don’t know how to go to a restaurant. And that’s OK, because it’s a learned skill in many ways, and not everyone can go out to nice places all the time. Because I’m sort of an expert in this area, here are some tips for being a better person to serve, because if you don’t annoy us, you’ll have a better time.

Wait to be seated

Being considerate to service staff begins right at the start of your time at the restaurant. The sitting down process is the time when people do the most annoying things. Because you’re not dining at a café, or a fast food joint, you’ll need to wait to be seated. Most of the time there’ll be a sign to say as much; please don’t ignore it. But even if there isn’t, assume that you have to be seated by a member of staff. Where I work there are actually two signs, and people still walk right by and sit themselves down.

The reason we ask that you to wait isn’t because we want you to be out in the cold. It’s because we have systems for seating customers that you might not know. The table you want might have someone coming for it, or we might be holding it in case we get a group of more than two. Most of the time, there’ll be someone whose entire job for the night is to stand at the door and sit people down at the right place. Please trust that person to do their job. They know the tables that everyone wants, the places that you’ll fit most comfortably, and which tables are spoken for. Of course, they’ll do their best to accommodate you if you want to move to a different table, but you have to trust that they know what they’re doing. Make sure you know how many people will be in your party, and we will do everything else.

This also applies, by the way, to sitting outside. Just because you don’t have to walk past the sign that says you have to wait to be seated it doesn’t mean that you can just grab any table you see. You’ll get served faster if we know you’re there, and that happens when you see a member of staff and get seated. The seating process can set the tone for the way that your servers feel about serving you, so being considerate and understanding goes a really long way.

Photo: Bounce/Getty Images

Don’t move yourself to a different table

If you want to move tables ask us and we can help you out, but please don’t do it yourself. Tables need to be cleared, reset, and got ready before we can move you over. Changing tables yourself creates a whole lot of unnecessary work for us, and can be solved by just asking and letting us move you when the table is ready.

Don’t EVER click at a waiter

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. Please don’t ever click at us – we’ll get frustrated and may not give you the top level of service. I’ll usually accept a wave, or a raised eyebrow; remember that we’re quite literally trained to know when people are ready to order.

Understand that when we’re busy, things can take a little longer

If you’re in a full restaurant, and there are eight people trying to serve everyone, take that into consideration. We aren’t deliberately not serving you, but we have a whole lot of things to do and people to see to, so a busy night may mean you get served a little slower. If you’re in a rush to get in and get out, let us know and we can serve you with that in mind.

Don’t stack your own plates

This sounds counter-intuitive. Stacking your plates in theory is a really helpful thing to do for your waiter. However, your waiter will have a system for effectively stacking all the plates at once, and your way of doing things may not be the same. Don’t be offend if we break down your stack. It’s just that we’re comfortable with one way of carrying all the plates, and that means we won’t drop anything and make a fool of ourselves.

Let us know if you have any dietary or other requirements

We can’t help with your requirements if you don’t tell us. If you’re gluten or dairy free, a vegetarian, or just need to be out of the restaurant by a certain time, let us know and we can help you out. This is important particularly when it comes to food, because some of the aspects of the food might not be listed on the menu. If you tell us that you can’t have some ingredient, we can change the dish up or let you know what a safer bet may be. We’ve eaten and seen everything on the menu, and it’s our job to make sure you get the food how you like it. Avoid the nasty surprise when the food comes out and just let us know first.

Alright, now for some positive tips. I’m a waiter but I also eat out a lot, and so I’ve got some expert tips on how to get the most out of a restaurant you’re at.

Let the waiter order for you

This is the best, particularly if you don’t have complicated dietary requirements. But even if you do, consider asking your waiter to order for you. This works great at restaurants like Depot or Cassia (I’ve done it at both), where the food is designed to be shared and eaten over multiple courses. You might not know the really good stuff on the menu, but the waiter definitely will. It takes the stress out of ordering, and it means you get the best food the restaurant has to offer. If you’re not prepared to give away all the control, at least ask your waiter what their favourite things are – you might find something you never would have thought of. Try this the next time you’re at a nice place. I promise you won’t regret it.

Cassia, Auckland (Photo supplied)

Make friends with the service staff

There’s very serious value in becoming a regular of your favourite establishment. You get to try a range of great food, and if you keep coming back as a good customer, you’ll get really great, friendly service from your regular staff. I love having a weird sort of friendship both with my regular customers and with staff at my own favourite spots. You get a better experience, and they get a great time out of it too. Everyone gets something out of a good chat, and you’ll have a better time if you’re out regularly. Don’t be the person who shows up every week at the same time but doesn’t ever talk to your server. They’ll recognise you, and it’s cool to acknowledge that.

Try foods you haven’t before

The whole point of restaurants for me is to try new things and get an experience that you can’t have at home. Of course, sometimes you can get a really good home-style experience at a restaurant (for a restaurant that feels like eating at a much nicer version of home, you can’t go past Coco’s Cantina), but it’s important too to try things that you don’t eat regularly. Don’t just have steak and chips; have something strange on the menu, challenge yourself. It’s almost always worth it. Buy into the restaurant’s gimmick: it isn’t the end of the world if they don’t serve flat whites or they pour your wine into a tumbler. Someone has spent a lot of time engineering the experience of going to their restaurant, and you’ll have a better time if you just trust that they knew what they were doing, instead of fighting it.

Summer is coming, Christmas parties are happening, enjoy the holiday time by going out to nice places, and follow those tips to make sure you have the best possible time. I’ll see you there.


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