I have just completed a waitressing shift during which I had the honor of serving the most demanding and downright impolite customers, and I am physically and emotionally wrecked.
Restaurant etiquette should be introduced into school curriculums worldwide, and by etiquette I don’t just mean not chewing like a barbarian or knowing which spoon to use. I’m sure that anyone who has worked for a substantial period of time in the hospitality industry understands my pain and would be able to produce a lengthy list of (completely justified) grievances.
Before I discuss what I think restaurant etiquette entails, I would just like to put it out there that I have been waitressing on the side for 8 years, and I absolutely love it. I can confidently say that I have served at least 200,000 people, and that the human spectrum is, unfortunately, far more diverse than the more youthful me imagined it to be.
I strongly believe that people who don’t love to serve should never enter the hospitality industry. However, my love for interacting with and serving you doesn’t mean that I am okay with attending to your psychotic whims or that you have the right to order me around unkindly as you please.
You’re paid to serve me, so quit your whining.
The problem seems to lie in the nature of hospitality jobs. In interviews for jobs in other industries, I always know almost exactly what I’m signing up for. You’ll write press releases, drive audience engagement through Facebook and get me coffee every three hours. I know that even though they are paying me a salary, should I be asked to trim my manager’s toenails, that I have the right to refuse while assuming a politely regretful expression.
In my interviews for hospitality roles, however, the interviews usually go something like this: It’s easy, all you’ll have to do is take the customers’ orders, bring the food to them and clean up after. I mean, basically just be attentive to their needs. Remember, the customer’s always right.
There. Always right. Therein lies the problem. ‘Do whatever you can to please the customer’ is pretty much the job description in a nutshell. This robs us of the right to say no or to even feel indignant about rude/creepy/shocking/disgusting/impossible requests. It’s worse if you don’t work in fine dining, where customers are generally more polite and well-behaved. The rest of us are like the cheapest whores of the hospitality industry. For a few bucks we’re willing to bend over sideways and backwards to satisfy your every whim and fancy, all the while smiling as though we’re having the time of our lives.
I’m vegetarian and I only eat gluten-free and MSG-free foods. Could you also change the pork to chicken? I stopped eating pork when I bought my gorgeous teacup pig – it’s such a darling. And serve the carrots on the side – the color combination of orange and green offends my eyes.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have food preferences. We completely understand if you have allergies, or health issues that demand adherence to strict dietary guidelines. It is also okay if you are only able to eat your avocado if the chef hopped around on one leg, tearfully yelling ‘I am a horrible human being for stripping you!’ while peeling it.
However, it is not very okay if you can clearly see how extremely swamped we are, and yet be utterly unyielding in your requests. These customers are among the worst, especially when they rock up during the madness of lunch and dinner rushes. Very often, we make mistakes when we’re trying to serve a hundred people at once. We’re sincerely sorry if we forgot to serve your rice and meat separately, but surely you’re able to accept the empty bowl we offer you and separate them yourself?
If you know you’re planning to make numerous requests, and you notice that we’re so busy that we’re actually breaking into a jog instead of walking, then maybe, just maybe, you could spare us a thought just this once and accept the food as it comes? It’s like you walking into a bank and demanding that they give you a thousand dollars in coins. And you only feel comfortable if they placed ten coins in each envelope because your family has been doing that for generations. They’ll probably humor you if there’s no one else waiting to be served, but if they apologised for not being able to do so simply because they’re just too busy, you wouldn’t flip out and lodge a complaint, would you?
We all have preferences but they are just that – preferences. You’ll live if you made some concessions for one meal. Or learn to cook.
I have young kids so I’m entitled to leave the table and its surrounding area in a state of total devastation.
It’s always painful to clean up after a family with young children leaves. They always seem to have mistaken the restaurant for a paintball arena, throwing the food about instead of eating it as convention dictates. You can find jars of half-eaten baby food, mucus sticking to the cutlery, tissues covered in dubious substances, and, worst of all, vomit. It’s like a treasure hunt. On fear factor.
If you’ve never smelt it, baby puke is deadly. Countries should include it in their chemical warfare strategies. Many years ago, I was puked on by a baby and, losing control of my biological impulses, I puked right back at the baby. It resulted in an enthusiastic puke fest between the baby and I. Let’s just say the manager wasn’t too pleased.
I know it’s tough to discipline kids, especially when they’re able to be complete devils one minute, and the next turn those innocent eyes on you, compelling you to praise them instead of telling them off for making such a beautiful…is that a sandcastle, my talented child?…out of chicken fat and wet tissues. However, there are 2 things that you should probably keep in mind.
Firstly, leaving a ridiculous mess anywhere at all other than in your own home is extremely antisocial behavior. Secondly, and more importantly, you’re setting a bad example for your kids by not cleaning up. It’s likely that they’re going to grow up thinking it’s cool to make a mess and expect others to clean up after them.
Can I have a fork please? Can I have an extra napkin? Can I have some pepper in a small dish?
Some customers ask you for an assortment of things every few minutes throughout the entire duration of their meal. In my opinion, these are the absolute worst ones you can come across during a busy shift. Why can’t you think about it carefully and ask for everything at once? Do you go for haircuts every few days, requesting the hairdresser to cut only a small section of your hair each time because you haven’t thought about what you wanted exactly?
It’s not spicy enough. It’s lukewarm. I’d like it to be more crispy.
This bit is not me raging but merely offering some suggestions that might make your dining experience more pleasant.
Restaurant food isn’t always going to be great. There are various reasons for this. Maybe there’s a new chef who’s still learning the ropes. Maybe the grill is broken and they had to prepare the fish a different way. Maybe it’s just crazy busy. And if the food isn’t great, it definitely is the restaurant’s fault and you have every right to be upset or to feel cheated and betrayed. However, it really is in your best interest not to send your food back into the kitchen or to complain about it.
If you’re lucky, the chef might simply leave the food in the kitchen for a few minutes and send it back out without making any changes to it. Or he might burn your food slightly out of spite if you ask for it to be cooked for a longer time.
Then there are those who might spit in your food or rub your meat on the kitchen floor before giving it back to you.
And then there are those who have anger issues, or problems with taking criticism, or are just legit insane.
Offend these individuals at your peril.
Some of them will stick your food down their pants and season it with the essence of their genitals.
Some will take something OUT from their pants and season your food with a certain naturally-occurring, protein-rich, baby-making, STI-transmitting substance.
And if you’re one of those who frequently enjoys walking into restaurants at 9.55pm when the sign says ‘closes at 10pm’, then I sincerely hope you like eating food made by ingredients carefully selected just for you from the trash can, because the kitchen has already been cleaned and everything has been sealed and stored, and the chefs really aren’t that nice to take everything out and clean the kitchen all over again just to prepare one single dish for you.
Just some food for thought.