From the inside looking out. Jon Roth’s simple tips to keep your server from hating you.
I have been waiting tables for five summers, four of them in Cape May. It’s one of the most lucrative legal jobs in the service industry – the restaurants here are always busy, and the management needs summer employees the same way they do summer customers. I used to complain that I was ill-suited to wait tables (I’m not that outgoing and have a low stress threshold), but after a few years I’ve leveled out pretty well. Hungry people mostly just want food – I can bring them that.
Still, serving isn’t easy: you need a good memory (to recite specials), great balance (to deliver a tray full of martinis), and unshakeable poise (to take charge when a party of 14 sits down and immediately demands appetizers they haven’t yet ordered). Most importantly, you need the interpersonal finesse to charm upwards of five tables at once. This can be difficult when you’re also responsible for getting food to all those tables. The line between friendliness and efficiency is best toed carefully, but you always want your customer to have the best dining experience possible. Sometimes, though, patrons can be better served by their server if they know a few things. Here are two tips to make the process as smooth as possible for your waiter, and transitively for you.
Unless you suffer from a health condition or allergy, please don’t change every other ingredient in the dish you order. The chefs have spent a lot of time putting together the menu, and you should hear the things they say when an order hits the kitchen with four or five emendations – it’s unprintable. We all bemoan the loss of the Broad Street Wawa – that doesn’t give you carte blanche to dictate a meal to your waiter like he’s a build-your-own hoagie touch-screen.
If you’re talking on your cell, your server won’t approach to introduce himself and explain the specials – we’re being polite, not slow. Once you’ve finished your ‘important business call’ (this is your vacation, right?) try not to text while your server is taking your order. I’d also recommend you take your iPhone off the table before your meal arrives, or at least keep it off-sides. Our hands are full, the plates are hot, and no matter how eager you are for the next text, you won’t get it if your cell is smashed under a heaping plate of clams linguine.
A friend of mine who works in Stone Harbor tells me that restaurant patrons in Cape May are routinely more considerate than their counterparts up north. “Up there,” she says, “sometimes they treat you like you’re their servant.” I’m happy to agree – my customers in town are almost always friendly and understanding. When you dine out, your server should be your best friend – he’s your liaison with the kitchen, the management, the whole establishment. And, in a town as small as Cape May, you might see him at the bar later that night. If he did his job well and you did yours, your tip could be paying for his drink. After a long day at work, he probably needs it.