Dining Out Demystified
by Cezanne Colvin
Is it rude to send food back? Why can’t we have separate checks? What’s up with the wait time for a table? Most of the time, going out to eat is a highly anticipated—and rewarding—epicurean experience that results in full bellies, camaraderie, and glowing Yelp reviews. But even when everything goes according to plan, there’s still some uncertainty in the air surrounding restaurant policies. We’ve demystified some of the confusion so that all you have to worry about when you’re dining out is whether you have room for dessert.
I’m ready to order, so why does it seem like my server is ignoring me?
If your menu is still open, it signals that you’re still looking over your options. After a certain amount of time, your server will check to see if you’re ready, but the best way to let your server know that you’ve made up your mind is to have everyone at the table close their menus.
I can see open tables, but the host told me that I have to wait for a table. What gives?
When a restaurant is not operating during peak hours, there are fewer servers on duty than there would be, say, at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. While there might appear to be available tables, the servers and chefs are already taking care of as many customers as they can handle and still provide timely service. It’s better to wait and receive good service than sit down and have an overwhelmed staff give delayed service to everyone in the restaurant.
If I placed our order before the table next to me, why are they getting their food first?
The most likely culprit is that the other table’s order required less time to prepare—consider a salad compared to a medium-well steak.
What should I do if my order isn’t right?
Do not grit your teeth and choke it down, do not pass go—tell your server right away so that it can be fixed! Your server and the chef want you to be happy with your meal and come back. And fear not: after speaking with around 50 different restaurant employees, we couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen or heard of a co-worker spitting in or otherwise tampering with anyone’s food.
What’s the big deal about separate checks?
Splitting a check two ways and letting your server know in the beginning that you’d like to do so is usually fine. Trying to split a check six ways, however, especially without notice, can be a confusing and time-consuming process that takes away from the server’s ability to take care of other guests. If the server has to manually go back on the touch screen and re-assign drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts to several different people and process several different payments, it can take a few minutes per person, often resulting in a server absent from the dining room for up to 20 minutes! Would you want to go 20 minutes without a refill? And speaking of refills…
What’s the best way to get my server’s attention for a refill?
Servers try hard to stay on top of refills, but the best way to indicate that you’re parched is to move your empty or near-empty glass to the edge of the table so it can be quickly spotted.
Should I be stacking plates when everyone has finished eating?
You are never under any obligation to stack your plates or bus your table, and if you’re in a fine dining restaurant, your server should be attentive enough that the option never comes up. In more casual restaurants, a busy server will always appreciate the help, but it’s not your responsibility.
If the sign says seat yourself and there are two of us, is it okay to sit at a bigger table?
If you’re visiting a restaurant during off hours or it’s a slow night, you can generally sit where you’d like. Otherwise, it’s courteous to your fellow diners to sit at a table intended for a party of your size so that groups that actually require a larger table don’t have to wait.
When servers drop off the check and say that there’s no rush, do they really mean it?
Most of the time, yes. Sometimes, though, especially at the end of the night and in between lunch and dinner shift changes, your paying the bill might be the only thing the server is waiting on to be able to clock out and go home.
Is there a limit to how long I can hang out after the bill has been paid?
Restaurants want you to feel comfortable and continue to have a good time for as long as you’d like, however, if there’s a long wait at the door for a table, it’s polite practice to relinquish your table to hungry diners. Consider moving your conversation to the bar or lounge area if you’re not quite ready to leave.