Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to be a bad customer

via Tips Comics

With all the attention paid to chefs and bartenders in the media lately, and the explosion of quality restaurants using lovingly prepared, high-end ingredients, it comes as no surprise that the level of culinary knowledge among the average diner is at an all-time high. And yet for some reason, that sophistication doesn't apply to dining manners, particularly when it comes to our interactions with the help. (If you've ever called them "the help," then you're way ahead of the game and probably don't even need to read this list).

The Yelp-ification of America has turned us all into entitled, whiny babies, and the level of self-awareness among customers is worse than ever. As a restaurant and bar writer, and someone who's spent over a decade in the industry trenches off and on, I've got experience from both sides of the battle lines. Here's some expert advice in case you want to jump on this hot new trend of being an insufferable prick at a restaurant.

Big-time the host
She is clearly trying to screw with you, dude. It has nothing to do with the fact that another table is taking their sweet time worrying over the last two drips in a wine glass they won't let their server clear off the table. Perhaps you're someone important? Let her know. That should grease the wheels and get you seated in no time. If all else fails, just stroll right in and seat yourself wherever you want like you own the joint. Restaurants love that and definitely won't ignore you until you go through the proper red tape to get your official seat license.

Live-blog your meal
You've heard the expression "Everyone's a critic," right? That isn't just an empty slogan; it's a set of instructions on how to live a fulfilled existence. That means if you didn't have a good experience at a restaurant, it's your sworn duty as an officer of the internet to get the word out. No slightly-less-than-stupendous dining experience should ever go unpunished. It's the same idea behind holding your camera phone in the air the entire time you're at a concert. If you don't broadcast it to your social network, did it ever really happen?

Keep it impersonal
Over the course of a meal, there are dozens of interactions with the server, some quick and some lengthy. The best way to be an awful customer is by making these as impersonal as possible, thereby ensuring that the low born know that they're working at your beck and call. If you make eye contact, they might get the mistaken impression that you recognize their humanity, so be sure to never glance up from the menu or your phone when they approach. Continuing your conversation for an extra minute or two while a busy server stands there trying to say hello works as well. If you absolutely must express an idea, sign language is another good way to set up a barrier of indifference. Wave across the room frantically like you're drowning in a sea of hunger and you need a ramekin of ketchup for a life raft. Making a check sign with your hands when you're ready to pay also limits the necessity of talking. If that fails, try reaching out and grabbing the server on her way by, particularly if she's talking to the table next to yours. This will ensure that everyone else around you knows who's top dog. Using your words is for kindergarteners.

On the other hand, getting to know the server personally is always welcome, too. Ask what his or her name is, but do not offer yours. This is a one-way street, and having someone's name who doesn't know yours is how to express your superiority.

Monopolize the server's time
It's not just out of pettiness that servers don't like it when you monopolize their time (because it's fun for them to be standing there making friends and playing grab-ass all night). But the three extra minutes here with you means four extra minutes they have to wait to get to the computer to put in the last table's order, maybe more if they get pulled aside again on the way. Next thing you know, the server is putting in three orders at once, which throws the kitchen off a step. Sounds small, but all of it is compounded over the course of a service. Think of a restaurant like a giant Rube Goldberg device, where, ideally, the outcome is a plate of food shooting out of a catapult into your face.

Never mind, though, because caring about any of that is for losers. Breeze through every meal like you've got amnesia, it's your first time eating out ever and you have no idea how a restaurant works. For example, if one person asks for a drink and yours is almost done, just wait until the server comes back to ask for yours. Who could've guessed you were gonna need another one when there are still two whole sips left in the glass? 

Talk about the tip
The server knows it and you know it. This is a business transaction. Don't bring it up, ever. That is of course unless you want to totally own the situation like a boss. Imagine if you were visiting a hooker and every step of the way she reminded you that you were paying her for the service. Hot, right? That's what a server is: A pro who you're paying to be nice. Bringing it up spoils the fantasy a little but also keeps servers on their toes, and knees, metaphorically speaking, which is where they belong.

Speaking of which, mistaking a server's hospitality for an invitation for physical contact later on is so hot right now. Here's how you can tell if the server or bartender likes you: Did she smile at you at least once over the course of the interaction? Game on, bro. You're spending, like, $25 on this salmon after all -- to the victor go the spoils. When in doubt, ask yourself what a pillaging Viking with an internet-porn addiction would do, and then do that.

Try a taste of everything
Servers do actually want you to try new things. In fact, a good server is excited about sharing the cool stuff they have on the menu with people. Asking for a taste or two of a wine or beer is for rookies, though. Asking to try seven different kinds of beers, then fretting over a decision like you're buying a new car just means you care more. Do this before everything you order, and people will recognize the sensitivity of your advanced palate. 

Forget how time and space work
Being hungry does weird things to a person's sense of physics. The best worst customers treat the entrance to a restaurant like they're crawling into a worm hole that leads to a different dimension where space and time have no rational definition. Sure, I'll be right back with the bread in a moment -- by the way, if a restaurant brings bread, they're going to bring bread -- let me just attend to this table right next to yours which you can clearly see me at. Probably no need to wave me down on my way back from four feet away and ask where the bread is, though. But keeping your presence fresh in the server's mind can't hurt, right?

Rewrite the menu
Real power diners know that the menu is just a set of gentle suggestions. It's considered a pro move when you don't even bother looking at it and start calling out the names of dishes you've had elsewhere. If you don't like balance of flavors the chef has spent a career trying to perfect, then just do the polite thing and tell him or her that the food bores you. All restaurants have all the same ingredients as all the other ones on hand at all times anyway, just in case you show up. Suggesting that you have an allergy to a certain ingredient (even though you don't) also lets everyone know that you're a unique snowflake who isn't afraid to be the center of attention. That's just called confidence.

Assume the server hates the job
"So what else do you do?" Servers always love to hear this question, because it makes them feel great about their life choices. Being a professional lifelong server is a noble calling, and if it weren't for the people who take their jobs very seriously, then where would you eat? Either way, be sure to put them on guard by assuming that they are working this "menial" job just because they have no other options, despite the fact that you'll probably find way more advanced degree students paying their way through grad school at whatever decent restaurant you go to than in the average population. They probably just didn't pull themselves up by their bootstraps like you did.

Forget everything I just said
To be honest, servers are going to bitch and moan about customers no matter what you do, so you can't really win in this game. The server's primary function, besides polishing silverware, is pretty much to complain nonstop. The good ones do actually take pleasure in showing guests a great time and sharing their appreciation of food and drink with others. But that's only true of the people who seem like they're actually there to have a good time and not to look for more reasons to be miserable about their miserable lives and take it out on someone who has no choice but to grin and bear it.

A good server is going to do everything you ask of them with a professional smile, because there is an art to doing what they do well. There's an art to enjoying a meal as well, though. This is a complicated dance, with many different steps. And like any other dance, it only works out when both parties are invested in pulling it off.

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