What not to do at a restaurant

restaurant-etiquette

Hey Foodies,

Howdy?

I’m dreaming cafes and restaurants. Don’t we just like the idea of food diversification and a smiling face serving those luscious varieties to us? You see, it’s never the food alone but the whole experience that counts. While we get an experience at an eatery, we also give an experience to the serving staff and management. Some staff members, whose names you remember, would go out of their way to delight you because of their experience with you; rings a bell?

My first job in Human Resources was at a Destination Spa cum Resort, extremely particular about Guest Feedback. Along with HR roles, I also took care of corporate communication and guest correspondence. Reading appreciation, analysing matters, and investigating complaints from guests gave me a good understanding of behavioural patterns of both guests and staff. Putting that to use in our family business of restaurants gave an even deeper insight on practicalities of what I thought I had learnt. So let’s talk about them with the perspective of the servers and managers, shall we?

Get acquainted:

When you enter an eatery, take a minute to look around. This observation may help you in finding the tables available, assess the busy-ness of the place (if you’re dying of starvation and have no patience to wait), find signages for restrooms/wash area, displayed menus, self service for drinking water etc. These are things we can help ourselves without having to ask the serving staff. Senior citizens. tired/sick customers and kids can always enjoy certain privileges. 🙂

In case the staff does not guide you to a table, please select one that has seats closest to the number of people you’re with. If a smaller table is available, kindly don’t occupy an 8 seater for a couple. If you are a big group, make sure you occupy maximum seats available at a table instead of unnecessarily trying to occupy more tables. It will not only make the waiter’s job easier but also your service experience better. I have sometimes observed groups of 4-5 people occupying 2 adjacent tables of different capacity when they can be seated on one. I know if it gets crowded later you can always shift, but why create a hassle? Eating should be a peaceful experience right? Unless its a cafe with couches, recliners or mattresses, it’s sensible to not expect ‘living room’ comfort at a restaurant, its a public place!

If all the tables are occupied and you are inside the restaurant, waiting or people to leave, kindly don’t keep staring at them while they are eating. You would hate it if that happens with you.

It’s polite to not put your bags in walking area or in front of you at the table. You can hang smaller handbags on your chair’s backrest/armrest, place them on a vacant seat or at the table in a corner.

Placing the order:

The staff is always helpful in suggesting the required portion sizes for your number and appetite of pax. Feel free to ask in order to avoid wastage or ordering too less.

If you have a fasting person along, you can always describe to the staff what all you can eat and listen to the options available accordingly. But please don’t pester them to make it in a fresh, separate vessel without unwanted ingredients touching it. The waiter may nod, but its practically impossible in a restaurant kitchen. I respect the purity of food as well as fasting, which is why I am being brutally honest! (I have a super religious mother who fasts at least once a week) Trust me I know and understand!

It is always better to communicate whether you want your beverage before or after the meal. It may sometimes effect the appetite and portion size too!

Do not make unreasonable demands regarding ingredients or preparations irrelevant to other menu items. For example, at our restaurant in Uttarakhand, many Gujarati customers insist on using groundnut oil for cooking their food, despite us mentioning its unavailability and no demand in that region.  Some young, first time visitors in Badrinath (a hilly, holy town), ask if they can get Sushi or Singapore Noodles. I mean, seriously??

If you are allergic to or dislike certain ingredients, please make sure to mention it.

In case of a big group spread across tables, please please please don’t scream to discuss the order. Either let the waiter do the job or go to the other table and ask.

If you’re having an Indian meal, ensure to order at least the minimum number of breads according to the number of pax. If you’re a group of 12, do not order 2 rotis first and then repeat the same number in 6 different orders. Bread counter/ tandoor is the craziest counter of any kitchen (including home right?), so please be sensitive towards the number of people eating and the patience of people cooking and serving.

Take time to order, but unless really reasonable, please try not to change or cancel it. It may lead to wastage and a further temperature rise in the kitchen; and the poor waiter may have to bear the brunt.

Once the order has been placed, please keep in mind that 10-15 minutes is a a very reasonable time to wait for food. Do not pester the waiter to get it sooner, until its been unreasonably long. He is not the one cooking your order.

Many customers make the same order with multiple people. They tell 2 waiters as well as scream at the receptionist for the same thing. This may lead to double order resulting in wastage. Even if you are in a hurry, place your order only with one person.

While eating:

In case you need to call the team member serving you, you can always make an eye contact and gesture. Most likely, he himself will ask you about your additional needs in between. But if neither of that happens, please don’t yell-out for him. It’s extremely impolite. I am not trying to sound preachy, its logical. They also know if they go out of their way to delight you, they may receive a tip. They are smart!

You can ask the staff to clear empty dishes to keep the table clutter free in case of several dishes and people. This will help you to avoid spillage and staining of your clothes.

If you have kids along: (Extremely important section and the main purpose behind writing this post.)

When you enter, seat your 1+ kids on chairs. Irrespective of the age, no kid should sit on the table, more so with shoes on. Most Indian kids fidget with the cutlery, salt n pepper, spill water, squeeze tomato ketchup and waste paper napkins insanely. Trust me it’s  extremely annoying!

Try to ask the kid/kids what they want to eat out of the available options. While most not-so-crowded restaurants would be happy to customise their preparations for their little guests, some busy ones may not be able to do so.

When at the reception, do not make your kids sit on the cash counter. It is rude and it disturbs the functioning of people behind it.

At restaurants, it’s appropriate to leave within 15 minutes after finishing your meal, specially if you see it’s busy. At cafes though, relaxing and killing time is more acceptable.

While paying:

If you want to pay for the entire group, it’s better to tell the waiter in advance.

In group travels, I have observed mostly everyone wants to pay for their own meal. Its advisable to not give big denomination notes in such a case for every customer. If many people don’t have change, one can pay for others and get reimbursed later. At our restaurant, many times we have groups having an Idli or Dosa each for breakfast, while their bus is waiting to leave them and flee (apparently). I am talking about a place without internet, so there can’t be digital transactions. When they finish their meal and want to pay, 10-15 of them give out Rs. 500 or Rs. 1,000 notes and want change in no time. Its not just frustrating but also selfish.

If there are other customers already at the counter, let them finish their conversation first or pay the bill. Sometimes multiple customers talk simultaneously with a single manager and it can create chaos and unwanted confusions regarding bill payments. (Considering India is not going to be fully digital and cashless for decades at least)

It’s ok to stand in or maintain a queue, you need not go horizontal at the counter together.

If you are leaving a tip, please keep the number of customers, number of waiters, and the bill amount in mind. Groups on multiple tables may have more than one waiting staff, and a decent amount of bill. So hypothetically, for a bill amounting to INR 3200 between 5 people and served by 2 people (who will equally share the tip), its not just inappropriate but also humiliating to leave a tip of Rs. 10. If you don’t want to give more, it’s better not to give anything at all. They are not beggars!

If you are not satisfied with something, certainly mention it. Feedback usually encourages improvement. But if you are delighted, please do mention that as well. Food business can be very stressful. When most people relax on weekends, F&B people slog their asses. A compliment and a ‘thank you’ with a smile can be relieving beyond your imagination! 🙂

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