First Impressions

The first interaction with your server can set the tone for the entire experience. Many servers can develop prejudices about you based on your behavior at the outset that will portend negative consequences for service throughout your meal. Try to set a collaborative tone—a friendly vibe requires minimal effort and will pay you back in spades with more attentive service.

Here is an example of a common interaction at the beginning of the meal that can be problematic and how best to fix it:

Server: “Good evening. May I start you with a cocktail from the bar or do you have any questions about the wine list?”

Guest: “We haven’t really had a chance to look.”

Though it may be delivered with the most innocent intentions, “We haven’t even looked” translates to your waiter as “We’re on our own schedule, so don’t waste your time.” Even if you consciously intend to delay the proceedings, dismissing your server in this way could unintentionally send the message that you devalue his services or cast him as the enemy of your good time. Establishing an adversarial relationship will likely lead the server to disengage from your table even more. If the server feels like he is wasting his time because you repeatedly brush him off, he will act accordingly. If someone made you feel unwanted, would you keep trying to please them? Don’t make the mistake of sending out the message to the server that the best way to please you is by leaving you alone. At some critical point, you will need something and it will be too late.

Try one of these approaches instead–they should still communicate unpreparedness but with more optimism that you will cooperate soon:

Server: “Good evening. May I start you with a cocktail from the bar or do you have any questions about the wine list?”

Guest: “I think we’ll probably need your help. But would you mind giving us a few minutes to look over the menus?”

-or-

Guest: “This drink list looks great. I think we’re going to need more time to study it. We should be ready soon.”

You don’t need to patronize your server, but taking a more cooperative tone helps establish solidarity. Be yourself, but make them feel like you’re in it together. A little extra sensitivity will go a long way toward improving your first impression. Remember: your server carries a lot of baggage from coping with unruly guests every night and you carry a lot of baggage to the table from dealing with incompetent waiters all the time. But can’t we all just get along?

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