So I work at a corporate restaurant as a server and bartender. I’ve been there for 11+ years. They have Secret Shoppers, which basically means that once a month a private company would send in spies posing as customers to make sure that the employee hits all the proper steps of service. Did the server mention a specific cocktail, appetizer, entree, dessert, ask if they were a club member, etc…
Well, long story short: I got Secret Shopped. And I failed. It’s my fault for not hitting all the steps of service, but the Secret Shoppers are normally pretty obvious and these ones were not. I got a final written warning so I could get fired if I fail again. That’s all on me, that’s fine, I have another job. But my general manager also got a final written warning because our restaurant failed two months in a row. His job is in jeopardy because I didn’t do mine. I wrote him an email and apologized.
The Secret Shopper system is to blame. Yeah, it makes sense from a corporate standpoint but it’s a terrible way to run a restaurant. People go out to eat to enjoy themselves. They don’t want their server to harass them into buying souvenir glassware, to add guacamole to their nachos for an additional charge, to tell them to buy a shirt, to upgrade their fries to cheesy bacon fries, to save room for dessert, to sign up for our membership program, to round up your check for charity. I literally have to do all that stuff to pass the Secret Shopper. I have to bug 99% of my tables on the slight chance that one of them is a Secret Shopper.
Secret Shoppers aren’t professional spies. They are bored people who sign up for the program so they can eat at for free in exchange for writing a report. They can get people fired for this. I get that I deserve to. My boss doesn’t though. His livelihood is threatened because a random couple wanted free food. Hope those chicken tenders were worth it. Secret Shoppers suck.
I had some time to kill after work one day last week and I decided to explore the area. I came across a Taco Bell Cantina and decided to give it a shot. Taco Bell Cantina is like a fancy Taco Bell. They have the standard Taco Bell menu items, but they also have shareable meal baskets and alcohol. There’s no hard liquor but there’s beer, wine, and sangria. Alcohol is alcohol, and alcohol definitely makes Taco Bell better.
The layout of Taco Bell Cantinas are also a little different. They don’t have drive-through so you have to walk in to order. Flat screen TVs line the walls playing sports. There are big communal tables so you sometimes have to sit next to a stranger but it makes the restaurant feel more open and inviting. It definitely has a cooler vibe than your standard Taco Bell.
That being said, a Taco Bell Cantina is basically a Taco Bell that sells booze. That makes it better for me. The food isn’t any better. But I like beer and I like the fact that I can get a beer with my meal in lieu of Pepsi. Would I go back? Yeah, probably. But I’m not making it a priority.
I have a good idea for a restaurant. You remember that dinner scene with the Lost Boys in Hook? The one where Robin Williams as Peter Pan regains his imagination and an amazing feast appears before them, you remember that? My restaurant will recreate that wonder.
You start by approaching a large communal table. You’ll sit right next to strangers. It’s real friendly like. The servers will bring out a bunch of empty plates and dishes and put them on the table. There’s about five minutes of pretending to eat, then suddenly the empty plates and dishes are replaced with real food.
Of course the food is all inspired by the food that appears in the movie. All the different types of meat and fruit, the hunk of cheese with Thud’s face in it, the crazy colered pie things, cups of hot cocoa with heaping servings of whipped cream, it’s all there. Everyone eats their fill. The feast ends with a food fight. It’s a little wasteful but it’s worth it.
I have a great idea for a trendy new restaurant. It would be called The Menu and it would have an interesting shtick (because every trendy new restaurant should have an interesting shtick). It’s called The Menu because you can only order off the menu. No modifiers, no substitutions, no upsells. The menu is the menu. You can either order something or get the fuck out, it’s as simple as that. I might let you specify the burger or steak temperature, but only if I like you. Don’t even ask about gluten-free options. It’s all gluten. There would be a list of drinks, appetizers, entrées, sides, and desserts. If you don’t see it, you can’t get it. Of course the menu would change from time to time. It’s important to shake things up every once in a while and variety is the spice of life. So come to The Menu, where the menu is the menu.
The next time you go out to a bar or a restaurant and it’s a bit too busy, try using the phrase whenever you get a chance rather than saying please. It’s just as polite and far less stressful for them. Your server or bartender will be far more inclined to help you if you just show a little kindness. Saying whenever you get a chance shows that you are aware that they have other customers and that you know you aren’t the center of the universe. It shows that you have sympathy for the person who is running around trying to satisfy as many people as possible. It means that you’re more likely to tip. And generally speaking, people in the service industry like customers that tip. They are more motivated to help the ones that compensate them monetarily or who treat them with some mutual respect.
I work in a restaurant and I’m surprised at how many people try to bring in outside food. They will bring in hot dogs, chowder bowls, pretzels, ice cream cones, etc. Then they act shocked when you tell them that they can’t bring outside food inside. Some of them get mad about it. They will try to argue, they will try to justify it, and they will come up with some bullshit excuse as to why they should be allowed to bring it in. The bottom line is that you’re going to a restaurant to eat the food that it offers. That’s the whole point of going there. You don’t need to go to a restaurant if you already have food in your grubby little hand. So don’t go. Stay outside, enjoy your outside food, and you can come in once it’s finished to see what they have to offer inside. It’s as simple as that. You don’t go to the movies to watch Netflix on your phone. You don’t go to the bar with a beer in your hand. What makes you think it’s ok to go to a restaurant if you’re not going to eat their food? Oy, people suck.
I’ve been a server for over nine years now. It pays the bills, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a source for endless anecdotes. I’ve seen people from all over the world and I thought that I’ve seen it all, but I had a new one the other day. It was a busy Saturday lunch shift and the rush had just ended. I had four tables pay out and leave around the same time. I took the dirty plates and silverware off the table, ran them to the dishwasher, and came back to sweep under the tables. That’s when I discovered a pair of flip-flop sandals left underneath a booth. Someone actually forgot about their footware. He or she got up and walked out of the premises barefoot without noticing a thing. And they didn’t ever come back for them. They just left, said fuck it, and moved on with their day. I don’t know how that’s possible. We’re not talking about a credit card or a cellphone here. It’s very easy to forget those things. It’s damn near impossible to forget your shoes unless you’re Aborigine. You’d think that as soon as you’d walk outside you would realize that something’s wrong. There’s a lesson to be learned in all this: Leaving your sandals at a restaurant will result in a flabbergasted server blogging about it.
I’ve been a server for longer than I care to admit, and we have a bunch of expressions that I think are commonplace but have little meaning in the real world. I decided to list a few of them so you understand what I mean if I accidently use Server Speak around you.
Cut. This is one of the best words that you can hear on a shift. Cut means that you’re not taking any more tables. It means that your shift is almost over. All you have to do is wait for your current tables to finish up, do your side work, then you can do your paid out, then you can clock out.
Side Work. Side work is all the stuff you have to do when you’re not taking orders, running drinks/food, and handling payments. It’s stocking glasses, refilling the ice wells, changing the soda, emptying the dish pit. It’s all the bitch work that you don’t get tips for.
Paid Out. This is called different things in different places, but it’s all the same thing. It’s when you find out your total sales, add up all your credit card and cash payments, tip out the bussers, food runners, bartenders, and find out how much money you made during that shift.
Walk Out. This is the worst phrase that you want to hear. It’s when a table leaves without paying the bill. You might have to pay the bill out of pocket, you might get a write up, or you might get fired.
86. This is restaurant code for being out of something. If you run out of bread, it’s 86’ed until they make more. It’s a 68 when they bake more. You can also say 86 if someone dies or gets fired.
In the Weeds or Weeded. Whenever you’re so busy and flustered that you don’t know what to do next, you’re in the weeds or weeded. It happens when one table wants a side of ranch, another table wants another round of drinks, another table needs to order but needs you to explain every item on the menu, and then you get double-sat. You don’t know what to do first, but you know that it should have been done five minutes ago.
Double-Sat, Triple-Sat, Quadruple-Sat, Etc. If you get sat, that means you got one table. You’re double-sat if you get two tables at the same time. Triple-sat is when you get three tables at the same time. Quadruple sat is when you get four tables at the same time. It doesn’t seem like much to take drink orders, appetizer orders, entrée orders, but it gets complicated and stressful when people want to modify the menu, ask for separate checks, and are unsure if they want a regular Coke or a Diet Coke. Each table feels like they are the most important table and they don’t care if you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Corner. Servers move at a quick pace. Everything is fast tempo. So you shout out “Corner!” whenever you walk around a corner so you don’t smack into someone and break a bunch of plates. It’s a safety thing. And you get weird looks if you accidently blurt it out at the grocery store rounding the aisle.
Behind. Saying “Behind!” is like saying “Corner!” It means that you’re walking right behind somebody. That way they don’t bump into you and break more plates. Nobody wants to break plates.
Stiffed. Stiffed is another terrible term, up there with walk out. This is when the customer paid his bill but left you with little to no tip. All you can do is bite your lip until you can go to the break room and vent to your fellow servers about those motherfuckers.
Campers. Campers are people that stay at your table for way too long. They might pay their bill and linger for another hour before leaving. They might sit in a booth for thirty minutes without ordering because they are waiting for a friend. The worst is when they only order a coffee and ask for the Wi-Fi password while busting out their iPad. They don’t seem to realize that they are taking up real estate and costing you money. It’s all about the turn and burn.
Turn and Burn. Turning and burning tables is how a good server makes money. You want to greet a table and get their drink and food orders as fast as possible so that their drinks and food comes out as fast as possible so that they leaves as fast as possible so that you get a new table to make more money off of. You want to be fast and efficient without rushing your guests though. They won’t tip you if they feel like you don’t want them there.
Table Snatcher. A table snatcher is a fellow server that takes a table in your section and feigns ignorance. They stole your table, they stole your tip, they stole your money. They are scum, they are low, and they are worse than any customer ever could be because you have to work with them all the time. And you feel violated because you trusted them like they are family.
Family. Your coworkers are your family if you work in a restaurant. They are the people that you see 6 days a week. They see you at your best, they see you at your worst, but they love you and you love them. Not to mention the fact that you spend every practically every single weekend and major holiday together. They know your pain and they know how you feel after a double better than anyone else.
Dead. Dead is almost always a bad thing to hear, but it’s a godsend to a starving server. Dead food is something that’s unsellable but otherwise unharmed. It happens when a server rings in the wrong item or forgets to modify it, when a customer changes or cancels their order, or if a cook makes the wrong thing. I’m going to notice a delicious New York Strip that’s been left neglected under the heat lamp. And if it can’t go out to a table, it might as well go into my belly.
Those are just a few words and phrases of Server Speak. I’m sure that I’ll think of more or that you guys will point out ones that I missed, so stay tuned for a potential Server Speak Sequel.
Want to piss off your server? Tell him that you want split checks after he drops off your bill. I realize that split checks are sometimes necessary, but you should tell the server before he starts to take your order if you know that you’re going to need split checks. That saves him time and that saves you time. It’s not your server’s responsibility to ask if you’re going to want split checks. Most customers take offense to that. It implies that they are rude, cheap, or both. If you’re sitting together, that means that you’re one party. One party gets one check. Most restaurants can split payments, and that’s a lot easier than splitting checks. You should bring cash or a card, keep track of what you ordered, and pay accordingly if you’re going to eat with a group. Give the right amount of cash to whoever is handing the bill. If you have a card, tell the server how much to run it for. Be simple and make it easy as possible for your server. Don’t be a difficult guest. And don’t forget to tip.
So it’s your birthday. Congratulations. Let me guess, you’re going to celebrate by going out to dinner with friends and family. And one of them will slyly mention that it’s your birthday to your server in hopes that the server will do a birthday shout out and bring out a free dessert. Birthday shout outs are embarrassing. They embarrass the server, they embarrass the birthday boy, and it’s embarrassing for the human race. I’ve experienced both sides of the birthday shout out. I’m a server at a corporate restaurant and I’ve yelled out birthday announcements for thousands of people. And I’ve hated it every single time. Servers hate birthday shout outs for a lot of reasons. One, they are annoying to do. Two, it’s hard to hear what someone is ordering when the whole restaurant is yelling. Three, it opens up Pandora’s box and suddenly every fucking table is celebrating a birthday too. I don’t mind doing a birthday shout out for a kid or for somebody’s 21st birthday, but I gotta draw the line somewhere. Sorry grandma, I’m not going to sing for you.
If you are a server/waiter, table snatchers should be one of your biggest pet peeves. A table snatcher is a coworker who steals one of the tables in your section. You’ll notice that you got sat, you’ll go over and greet the table, and they’ll tell you that somebody already took their order. You’ll be confused for a minute, wondering if this is really your table or if one of the managers took their order. Then you see your sleazy coworker bringing drinks out to the table, the same coworker who always tries to steal your tables. You call her out on it and she plays dumb, pretending like she didn’t know which tables were in her section. You know that she knows and she knows that you know that she knows, but she still acts like it was an innocent mistake and she offers you a shitty table in her section as compensation. Don’t take the table. It’s better to be mad. Table snatchers are dirty, rotten thieves that try to steal your customers and your tips while feigning ignorance. Fuck that, and fuck them. Don’t fuck around with my money.
I think it’s time that we sit together as a society and rethink our tipping procedure. There are a lot of douchebags that take advantage of the current tipping procedure. They will complain about drinks and food in an attempt to get free things. They will change their order ten minutes after the server rang it in. They will rack up a three hundred dollar bill and stiff the server on the tip. The server shouldn’t have to deal with that. I think that we should tip before we eat. It makes perfect sense. Your server/bartender should know if you’re a cheap asshole before they go out of their way to help you. If you tip well, then you would get better service. If you don’t tip well, then you get the service that you deserve. You get what you pay for in a perfect world. I don’t care how nice a table is, they don’t deserve good service if they don’t tip well. I don’t care how miserable a table is, they don’t deserve bad service if they tip well. The problem is that servers don’t know who is cheap and who is a decent human being until the table settles the bill or runs away. You should tip before you eat and get the service that you deserve. If you pledge 18% to your server beforehand, he/she will be more willing to help you out. And if food comes out wrong or your server fucks up, the bill will be discounted, but the server would still make 18%. Everyone wins.
One of the best ways to piss off your server is to spend fifteen minutes to look over the menu, finally order something, wait until the server rings it in, and then flag someone down to tell them that you changed your mind. You are what is known in the industry as a “difficult guest”. I will never understand how anyone can order something and instantly change their mind. It’s perfectly acceptable if you want to change your fries for a salad, but you can’t change your order entirely. You either want a burger or you don’t. You either want fajitas or you don’t. How fucking indecisive are you? If you ordered the wrong thing, suck it up and accept your failure. There’s no need to stress out your server and undertip because you’re an idiot. Ordering something and instantly changing your mind will bring you bad karma. I can only hope that a bird shits on you when you leave the restaurant.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you always have to haze the new guy. Servers are no different. You send the rookie out to accomplish an impossible task. Different restaurants do different things, but draining the hot water is one of the best and most traditional ways to haze somebody new. The premise is simple: you ask them to drain the hot water from the coffee machine. Most industrial coffee machines have a hose keeps it constantly supplied with water, but the newbie doesn’t know that. They will stand there and fill pitcher after pitcher until they eventually give up out of frustration or have somebody take pity on them and tell them it’s a prank. Either way the victim feels stupid and everyone else laughs at him. But it’s not an insult; it’s a form of initiation. If you ever find yourself draining hot water, the only way to redeem yourself is to wait a few months until they rehire and then get the new guy. It’s the circle of life.
It takes a special kind of scum to practice not tipping. You should always tip your server 15%-20%, even if the kitchen fucked up on your burger. It’s not the server’s fault that the kitchen fucked up. The server has to tip out the bartenders, bussers, the food runner, and sometimes the hosts and expo depending on the restaurant. The server can actually lose money if you don’t tip. Don’t go to a fucking sit-down restaurant if you don’t want to tip, it’s as simple as that. Go to McDonald’s if you want to be cheap. Serving is a hard job. It’s something that everybody should try at least once so you can experience how much bullshit a server has to deal with on a shift. Some customers come in with a chip on their shoulder and run you ragged. They suck their soda down faster than you can refill it. They order water and then specify they didn’t want ice when you bring it to the table. They customize an entrée and make it a whole new dish that takes fifteen minutes to ring in and explain to the cooks. They flag you down when you’re helping another table. They’ll ask for ranch then ask for mayo when you drop off the ranch and ask for more hot sauce when you drop off the mayo. And they end their evening by leaving exact change and no tip. Miserable people like to spread their misery to other people. It’s the only thing that makes them feel alive. There’s an old adage that goes something like, “If you want to see a person’s true character, see how they treat the waiter.” Most people are decent, hardworking, polite, respectful… but holy shit, there are some fucking assholes out there. They are the ones who don’t tip and never call their mothers.
You’re hungry and in the mood for some rice and decide to try out that new Chinese place down the street. You get a table, sit down, pour some tea, and glance at the menu. At one point you notice that there isn’t any silverware on the table, just a few pairs of chopsticks. That’s ok because you know how to use chopsticks and want to show off your skills. Your waitress doesn’t think you have what it takes and she brings you a fork. Getting a fork at an Asian restaurant is an insult. It’s insulting for them to bring you one without you asking for one. That means they think you suck and aren’t cultured. It’s also insulting if you ask for a fork. I know that eating with sticks is hard, but you should eat Asian food the Asian way.
It’s the middle of the day and it’s time for lunch. You decide that you want to go to a real restaurant because three consecutive lunches at McDonald’s is too much. You invite a few friends or coworkers, but everyone is busy or can’t make it in time. It’s time to swallow your pride and tell the hostess that you only need a table for one. She looks at you like you’re a loser and you feel like one. But your stomach tells you to shut up, sit down, and order something. There’s nothing wrong with dining alone, but you feel awkward and overhearing other people socializing, talking and having fun isn’t helping your self-esteem any. Oh well, at least your fries taste good.