Dine: How to be a good restaurant customer. (Hint: Don't be a jerk.)

One in an occasional series on service


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Diners have certain expectations when patronizing a restaurant: Meals should be flavorful and resonant. Price should reflect the quality of the food. Service should be efficient and the place should be clean.

Likewise, restaurateurs have expectations of their patrons: Diners should be on time for reservations. They should be respectful and polite. They should pay their bills and they should exhibit appropriate behavior.

In a Twitter poll and interviews, I asked restaurant workers for pet peeves and other complaints about customers and their behavior. They had a mouthful to report.

While Bill Fuller, corporate chef for the local Big Burrito restaurant chain since 1997, said he's met "some really awesome people" who frequent his restaurants, he's also seen "some horrible things that have happened and met some horrible people."

His observations were echoed by others. Here's a list of bad behaviors that service folks from around the region said remain part of their job.

Entitlement

Customers with a sense of entitlement were among their top frustrations.

There's a difference between the customer is always right and the customer expecting the restaurant to cater to every whim, noted Mr. Fuller. He recalled an incident in which customers impatiently hovered over a coveted table as another group tried to finish their meal.

"You can't decide a table is yours and tell people to get up and move to another table," he said.

Brandon Baltzley, chef at Bar Marco in the Strip District, said he has customers "once or twice a week" who return dishes in a manner that suggests they know more than the chef.

"They say, 'We have sophisticated palates. We are foodies and know what we're talking about. And this is the worst meal we have had here.' "

A more effective exchange, he said, would begin: "This is not what I was expecting," or "I did not like this."

Staff also expressed dismay over customers hogging a table once they have finished a meal and not leaving, especially when there are people waiting.

Don't degrade the staff

Cursing at managers, grabbing a server's arm -- or worse -- can be part of a day's work.

"Please don't call my staff names," said Mr. Fuller, who listed "idiot" as the least profane insult he's heard irate customers call his staff. "These people are someone's sister, mom, cousin or boyfriend," he said, citing name calling as "a pretty constant problem."

"Don't grab a server's arm or pat a server -- anywhere," he said. "Servers get freaked out. It's upsetting."

Other offensive behavior includes denigrating the job of the server. "I can't tell you how often diners ask servers what their 'real job' is," he said.

A lot of servers at Big Burrito restaurants make above average income for this area, he said, citing one employee who helps support his family and three kids with his restaurant salary.

"These kinds of observations are really insulting."

Be gracious

Whether it's listening to servers when they're at the table or saying thank you, many servers bristle at the lack of acknowledgment from customers when they do their job well.

Also among annoyances: "Please don't argue over who is paying the bill," said Maggie Meskey, bartender at Salt of the Earth in Garfield. "Be gracious when someone is trying to treat you."

Talk it out

A friend who used to own a restaurant has a brilliant way of dealing with negligent service. Rather than browbeating a server at a table, he discreetly leaves to find the server or a manager and says something like this: "I know we've gotten off to a bad start. We had to wait 20 minutes for our wine and we were served the wrong appetizers. Why don't we just forget the earlier incidents and start over?"

The server is usually grateful for a diner's sensitivity. It also allows management to step in to ensure the remainder of dinner goes smoothly.

Mr. Fuller said there's no need to become angry if a dish arrives that isn't to a customer's liking.

Whipping out the iPhone to post a negative review on Yelp doesn't allow for the restaurant to rectify a problem. Talking things out with a manager at the time of the service goes beyond making the diner feel better.

"If you're hitting a manager with an awful experience, chances are you're going to get comped most or all of your meal," he said. "This is standard practice at our restaurants.

"Why keep quiet and leave miserable?"

Poor service isn't the only thing to call out.

"Please let us know if you have any aversions or allergies before placing an order," said Ms. Meskey. "I have a lot of friends with intolerances and allergies. I have to remind them often when eating out that, just because it's not listed as an ingredient, the server and the chef needs to be aware."

Not in public

Surprisingly, several restaurants reported patrons engaging in behavior better left in the bedroom.

"Please do not have sex in my restaurants," Mr. Fuller said, citing incidents of diners trysting in bathrooms or a restaurant's closed sections. And some play more than footsies under the table.

Inappropriate displays of affection topped servers' list of rude behaviors at Salt of the Earth when Ms. Meskey asked fellow workers earlier this week for their biggest complaints.

Public drunkenness is also a problem, particularly at BYOB establishments. One chef recently recalled having to escort a drunken, belligerent customer from the dining room halfway through his meal, which resulted in quite a scene.

Above all, Mr. Fuller said, he wants patrons to have a good time at his restaurants. "We want you to leave happy."

Of course, there are limits.

dining

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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