Five Ways to Have a Better Relationship With Your Waiter

waiter relationships

I always find it amusing when guests ask my name the moment I greet the table. I also hate it. In their eyes, knowing waiters’ names is humanizing and their way of acknowledging that they see waiters as more than just servants. That’s all well and good, but asking personal questions can put the waiter in the uncomfortable position of having to divulge personal information before you’ve established any relationship. It’s a lot like dating. Coming on too strong can be a real turn off.

Of course, these guests’ hearts are usually in the right place, but the strategy often backfires. It can feel intrusive when friendly guests feel entitled to know more about their servers (Where are you from? How long have you worked here?). Asking unwanted questions may cause waiters to avoid your table. If you insist on knowing your server’s name, always introduce yourself first. It’s less threatening and reinforces that you see them as equals. 

Remember that good service is impossible without your participation. Take ownership of your role in building quality relationships with the people serving you, and you’ll see an immediate impact on the hospitality you receive. Big tips aren’t the only way to show your waiter you care. Here are a few good habits that will help you succeed:

Ask your server how his day is going? – It’s remarkably disarming when guests ask servers about their day. It breaks up the typical scripted dialogue and disrupts the phony pleasantries that define the usual introduction. Since most restaurant guests show little to no interest in their server’s role beyond providing them food, this is an opportunity to distinguish yourself. Asking about their day also shows concern without expecting intimacy. It’s a much more effective question for building solidarity than asking the server his name. 

Listen attentively to the specials – Today’s diners are so distracted by technology it can be difficult for waiters to keep their attention. You’d be surprised how rude restaurant guests can be when their waiters are trying to convey information about the menu. Interrupting a server’s presentation—even if it’s unintentional—sends a message that you devalue their participation in your experience. Set a positive tone. Put away your cellphone, listen to their spiel and ask thoughtful questions about how the new dishes are prepared.

waiter

Acknowledge when you enjoyed a dish they recommended – Recognition is rare when you wait tables. No one who works in restaurants is in the business for the appreciation. It’s a thankless job. But once in awhile when a guests says, “I really loved the dish you suggested,” it feels good. Next time the waiter comes back to the table to check on you, give credit where credit is due.

Offer to pour your server a taste of your bottle of wine – Waiters are rarely given the opportunity to taste high-end wines from the bottled list. If you order a nice bottle, ask your server if she’s ever tried it before. If she hasn’t, tell her to bring a glass! Pour the wine yourself so she doesn’t feel apprehensive about how far your generosity goes. Make a toast to great service!!

Ask your waiter to order for you – This is the ultimate gangster move. It takes a lot of trust to go to this extreme, but taking the leap of faith can pay dividends. Trusting blindly sends a message to servers that you feel comfortable in their hands. The worst service experiences are the ones where guests cannot give up control. Handing the waiter the steering wheel is empowering and will help fortify your relationship the rest of the meal. If you’re disappointed with the choices, share the blame. You had the same chance of being unhappy with your food if you ordered on your own. Ride or die together. 

Why You Should Never Order White Truffles in Restaurants

On the surface, people who sell white truffles to restaurants aren’t quite the merchants of luxury one might expect. No Rolex watches, no Cartier jewelry. They fly under the radar like undercover cops or the neighborhood weed dealer. It isn’t unusual to see them dressed down, in sports caps and hoodies, nonchalantly wheeling around their nuggets of buried treasure in carry-on luggage like doe-eyed tourists who fly Spirit Airlines.

Their contraband is meticulously sealed in airtight containers to ensure no truffle aromas might seep out and blow their cover. When you’re shlepping around tens of thousands of dollars of rare earth candy, it’s unwise to make a spectacle of yourself. Unlike most business deals between chefs and their purveyors, the anonymous exchange of truffles for money is shady af.

Oddly, it’s difficult to authenticate the provenance of truffles, which adds to their mystique. Even though you’d expect that chefs would insist on buying the genuine article, the truffle industry lacks a proper ombudsman in the way that consortiums govern Italian wine production with A.O.C designations or Italian cheeses are assigned to a specific D.O.P. Truffles trade on trust.

This means there is always a chance that you’re being sold truffles advertised as from Alba that are actually from Slovenia or Istria, among the very few other places in the world that have soils conducive to unearthing these wild little tubers. White truffles cannot be cultivated. Nature decides for herself where they randomly spore, and she doesn’t make them easy to find.

Provenance aside, the most important reason you shouldn’t order them in a restaurant is freshness. Assuming you aren’t sitting over a bowl of fresh tagliatelle in a restaurant in Piedmont, the truffle you’re eating is likely well past its prime. While the importation of white truffles has become more efficient through the years, they’re still among the most highly perishable agricultural products. Even the most fastidiously preserved white truffle will have lost most of its potency within just a few days.

White Truffles

Chefs in upscale restaurant must front thousands of dollars to put truffles on their menus and sales can be very erratic and inconsistent. Unlike other products chefs would dispose of when spoilage is an issue, they’ll do anything possible to usurp old inventory of truffles before serving the freshest ones. They’ll never admit they do it, but they do. Chefs love serving truffles because they’re a profit machine that requires little effort. Buy them, shave them and overcharge.

Sommeliers in high-end restaurants face a similar predicament when opening expensive trophy bottles. If they perceive that certain wines may be slightly off or borderline, they may try to serve them anyway hoping that the guest will not object. Wholesale cost on an $800 bottle that was purchased by auction five years ago cannot be recouped.

All of this means that the truffles on your hundred dollar pasta dish are likely not the freshest ones the chef has in the kitchen. If the aroma is flat or newspapery, you’ve been suckered. Of course, all chefs aren’t guilty of compromising their standards. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know which kitchens are trustworthy and which aren’t.

The best way to avoid being served inferior truffles is to dine at restaurants that do more volume. The more they cycle through product, the fresher they’ll be. But it’s never guaranteed. Chefs prefer to buy larger quantities of truffles to get better pricing. That can lead to an unwanted surplus when sales lag behind expectations.

Beware the bait and switch. You might see sexy “show truffles” on display, filling the dining room with their musky smell but those will often not be the same ones the chef is shaving over your dish. Ask your servers if the truffle will be shaved table-side. If they say no, insist they do. Politely ask to smell the truffle beforehand. If its aroma is not potent when you smell it, its flavor wont be when they shave it over your food. Remember, generously covering a dish with shavings of an old truffle will only make it taste more like an old truffle.

Ordering Side Dishes as Appetizers is Lame

side dishes

Waiters are accustomed to dealing with people’s dietary peculiarities when they order. Some guests find joy in manipulating the menu to suit their needs or their budget. It comes with the territory, so servers learn to live with guests who dedicate themselves to finding loopholes to exploit. We understand that a menu is a template for success not a rule book, but of course—like everything in hospitality—some guests take more liberties than others.

There will be guests who request to have their salad served after their entrees because they think it makes them seem more cosmopolitan. It doesn’t. Others will order appetizers as their entrees because they prefer to eat light. It’s not ideal, but it’s forgivable. Occasionally, you have a table that cobbles together small plates into a meal or asks you to course their food in an unorthodox way. It’s pointless to resist. Just give ‘em what they want.

But one menu hack that most servers find intolerable is when a guest orders a side dish as an appetizer. Although there are exceptions, the decision to order a side dish as a first course is often a veiled attempt to game the menu for a cheaper alternative to the appetizer choices. Even the most well-intentioned guests come across completely obnoxious when they do it.

Naysayers will bristle and scorn at the elitism of presuming that menu items should only be served at the times of the meal that they are intended to be. They’ll say if people want a small dish as their appetizer, it’s their prerogative. Why should you ostracize those people, even if the decision is a financial one? These are all valid points. But just because you can do something in a restaurant doesn’t necessarily make it right. You shouldn’t order a sandwich, ask for more bread and then make a second sandwich by redistributing what’s inside the first one. Yet some people do.

Implicit in these choices is a disregard for the experience that a restaurant is trying to craft for its guests. You have no obligation to honor that framework, but if you don’t you may be perceived as someone who abuses privilege.

So follow the template that’s given to you, if you can. It’s better to have the side dish come alongside your main course (as it was intended to be) instead of having it come beforehand even if it means you’ll end up waiting longer or feeling out of place while your tablemates enjoy their appetizers. After all, it wouldn’t be called a side dish if it was meant to be the center of attention. Accepting that will make you a better diner.