You've heard the basics: don't order fish on a Monday; if the restrooms are a mess, reconsider your choice; and don't arrive for food ten minutes before the kitchen is closing or as a group of six without a booking. However, this ‘restaurant insider’ advice is already so mainstream that you can count it as general knowledge.
Like many aspiring writers, I've had my share of jobs in the food industry, including working in a restaurant, an award-wining spot where the duties of sommelier, barista, waitress, host and occasionally deli chef were blended into the catch-all title of Front of House Staff.
Half a year of split shifts, hectic lunch times and dinner services that carried on into the wee hours left me with a renewed respect for the trade and also, with a few pieces of advice for other restaurant lovers out there.
1. The customer might be right, but he's not in control
As a restaurant diner, you might think that you are in control of the situation. After all, you call the waiters, you order the food and you ask for the bill, but think again: apart from this choreography, the way in which the staff guide you through the specials or suggest a certain wine is just the beginning of their subtle rule and control.
A good front of the house team will be able to get a customer to move tables, keep an older couple happy with small talk while their table is being prepared and maintain a pleasant atmosphere even in the middle of chaos.
2. We appreciate being asked our opinion
If you are in a nice place, chances are the staff is into the food and have had the chance to taste some or all of the menu items. By asking your waitress what her favorite dish is, you're not only stopping her from small talk (which, after running up and down with hot dishes will feel like an mini break for her), but you're letting her know that you value her opinion.
Good staff really dislike being treated like machines that are just there to deliver items, so dare to go beyond “please” and “thank you” (it goes without saying that this is the bare minimum of civility).
3. We judge customers harshly by their food choices
You love your skinny, decaf, extra hot latte with a hazelnut shot, don't you? If this is the case, I can assure you, the barista rolled his eyes at you while on the machine.
We are surrounded by good food all day, and we hate seeing a top-quality steak as it gets destroyed for your well-done request. We also loathe seeing a salad plate being sent back with all those expensive superfood seeds untouched at the bottom.
4. Our social life changes
A drink on Friday night? Forget it. Sunday brunches, Saturday nightclubbing, lunch with a friend on a weekday…. These will all be replaced by 2:00 am glasses of wine with the staff, Sunday afternoon beers and the odd Tuesday off get-together in the middle of the afternoon with all your food business friends.
If your BFF has an office job, you better take a good look at her face next time you see her because it won't happen often. While this chaotic lifestyle might not pair well with a mortgage and a white picket fence, you'll remember those drunken ‘wine tastings’ after closing time as some of the funniest nights of your life.
5. Sometimes the customer's help makes things worse
We get that you are being polite and piling all the dishes on top of each other so that we can pick them all up in one go, but your good intentions mean that now they are all dirty on top and the bottom, and our poor dishwasher (the person, not the appliance) will take twice as long to clean them.
Don't get us wrong: we really appreciate that you try, but please don't don't stack the glasses, don't leave the menu on a menu pile (you might be mixing lunch and dinner menus and then get us into trouble in the evening); basically, don’t move our things around. If you are kind and don't get in the way when we are doing our job, that's the best help you can offer—although you can help us reach dishes at a long table or an awkward corner one.
6. Be smart by becoming a regular
You don't need to be a celebrity or a famous blogger to get VIP treatment if you become a regular at a place. You also don't need to show up and spend a lot each week to become one (although that's the classic way).
Go at times when it's not so busy (Wednesday lunch, for example), book in advance and always sit in the same area if possible. All of these are ways to be remembered by the staff.
Once you're recognized as a regular, we'll go the extra mile for you. In the place I used to work at, we even left one or two tables empty on busy days just in case one of our regular guests showed up for lunch, which they always did. Last but not least, the best way to get yourself an express ticket to the front of house staff’s hearts is to leave good tips.
7. The food service team is extremely diverse and interesting
It's not all work and running around with steaming hot meals. When you mix together a team of struggling artists, world travelers, college students and other interesting people, the conversations are some of the best you'll have. And this goes with a note for customers: don't patronize your server or assume that they’re uneducated worker who is there because of poor life choices. Not only does it hurt, but it will ensure that no one wants to go to your table.
Keeping these tips and insider information in mind is sure to guarantee that you’ll not only get great service every time, but that every one will be happier for it, too!