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Chef Laura: Treat 'em right

My food service peers and I all abide by a certain code of conduct. It’s our unspoken version of the Hippocratic Oath. We promise to “do no harm” to fellow servers, chefs and bartenders. As a result, we get fabulous service, and you can too, even if you’re not in the biz.

An occupational hazard chefs incur, is that we eat out more than we should. However, business meetings are usually easier to swallow when breaking bread. It doesn’t take long to determine if my dining companion has ever worked in the service industry. I don’t have to ask; they “tell” me with their actions.

Let’s take a recent business lunch with “Jason," a self-described “IT Geek” who spent his teen-age years playing The Sims rather than dressed in an unflattering uniform asking “would you like to super-size that?”

Quiz Time! Can you spot Jason’s faux pas in the following restaurant scenario?

  1.  The busboy approaches to fill the water glasses; Jason orders an iced tea.
  2. Our server greets us; Jason’s head is buried in the menu.
  3. Jason orders: “Gimmee a burger.”
  4. The server delivers our food and asks, “Can I get you anything else?” Jason replies “No.”
  5. The server leaves, Jason remembers he wants mayonnaise, so he summons a different server over with a loud, “Excuse me!”
  6. Our original server brings over the mayo, at which time, Jason asks for extra pickles.
  7. After lunch, Jason’s side of the table is an array of uncapped condiments, crumbs and Sweet ’n Low wrappers.
  8. Jason tosses his white linen napkin on his Heinz-smeared plate
  9. The check arrives; Jason refers to his Texas Instrument calculator wristwatch to determine his portion of the bill. He asks the server to put exactly $14.18 on his credit card.
  10. He calculates 12 percent for tip. “I had to wait for my pickles, ya know!”
  11. For the next 20 minutes, he launches into a soliloquy about the short-comings of the latest Star Trek movie

Clearly, Jason is unskilled in the decorum of dining out, but there’s hope. Consider me Professor Higgins to his Eliza:

  1. Busboys don’t take drink or food orders. They usually don’t have their own login for the POSitouch system, so ordering anything from them is futile.
  2. Acknowledge your server. Make eye contact. Smile.
  3. Instead of waiting for the obvious follow-up questions when ordering something like a burger, make it easier for your server. “I’d like the cheeseburger, medium, with Swiss, and fries, please. Can you also bring a side of mayo and extra pickles, too? Thank you.”
  4. When the food arrives, now is the opportunity to ask for extra condiments or another drink. Servers should do the industry-standard “two-minute check back” but don’t make them run laps around the restaurant for your every whim.
  5. No need to shout. Instead, use eye contact and subtle (yet polite!) gestures to get the server’s attention. Interact with your server, not just anyone wearing a black t-shirt
  6. See #4. And say “please” and “thank you” like your mama taught you. Gratitude costs nothing and is both the duct tape that binds us and the WD-40 that lubricates social niceties.
  7. Tidy up. You don’t have to bring your own Dustbuster, but leave your side of the table orderly. And parents, if lil Kaden has been dropping Goldfish crackers around his booster seat for the past hour, make an effort to pick up some fishies.
  8. Treat linens with respect. Laundering linen is a huge hidden cost for restaurants. Napkins aren’t hankies or lipstick blotters, either.
  9. Split checks evenly. It’s embarrassing to nickel and dime dining companions and a headache for the server. Whenever possible, pay with Presidents. Not an option? How about tipping with paper, not plastic?
  10. 20 percent is the accepted tip percentage. It used to be 15 percent back when MTV played music videos. Besides, the math is easier.
  11. This isn’t a KOA site – no camping allowed!

How did you do? If you got 100 percent, I’ll gladly dine out with you. Heck, I might even pay…with cash.

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Laura Cook Newman

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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