Discretionary spending is down, which means fewer restaurant meals for most of the U.S. population. It also means that meals out are considered more special, so more is expected of them.
Alas, too many restaurants trip up on many small matters of etiquette, says Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, an etiquette consulting firm in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Here are Smith’s top tips for providing an excellent restaurant experience:
- Make a good impression from the minute a guest walks into your restaurant. If you are with other customers, simply make eye contact and smile; otherwise greet them verbally.
- Be realistic about wait times. If you underestimate, diners will be more than annoyed. It’s better to tell them too long because then you might exceed their expectations.
- When guests are seated, an employee should come to the table almost immediately with water and a menu. Make sure you look at the menu from the patron’s point of view—if you are a dark restaurant, make sure your paper isn’t dark and your font not too tiny, for example.
- Sticky menus are incredibly off-putting. There’s no reason for a menu to be sticky or stained.
- If you can print out the specials, do so. It saves servers from having to remember them, makes it easy for guests to follow them, and also provides prices.
- When a patron asks a question about a dish, if a server doesn’t know the answer, he or she shouldn’t guess, since sometimes these concern medical issues. Guests are happy to wait while servers check with the kitchen.
- Never lie to the customer.
- If you don’t have something, offer something in return. Never just say no, say “Sorry, we don’t have that, but we do happen to have this.”
- Servers should know enough about the menu, even if they haven’t eaten everything on it. For example, “I haven’t tried the filet mignon, but our server John loves it.” Or “I haven’t eat the shepherd’s pie but it’s one of our best-selling dishes.”
- If you have a table of women, or a table of older people don’t call them “you guys”. This is permissible, however, with a group of younger people.
- “Never ask: Are you still working on that?” It should not be work to eat at a restaurant. If you have to say something, ask “Are you still enjoying that?” but this question really shouldn’t be asked at all. Servers should be able to tell by the placement of diners’ utensils whether they’re finished or not.
- Don’t ever put your thumb in customers’ food when carrying plates or on the rims of glasses when serving drinks.
- The sign of superb wait staff is knowing to whom to present the check. It’s usually the first person to speak and the person who helps orchestrate things at the table.
- Servers shouldn’t reach over diners when filling water glasses.
- Smart wait staff can ask women if they’d like the dressing on the side when they order a salad. It looks polished and is thoughtful.
- Servers can ask diners with children if the kids’ meals should come first, if they’re ready. It’s good to anticipate customers’ needs.
- Servers shouldn’t be at the tables too much but should be within eye contact distance so diners can reach them.
- Always thank diners before they leave.
By Amanda Baltazar