Top Five Ways to Guarantee Great Service

Categories: Lists

pink waitress.jpg
OK, we're thinking she gets a big tip.
Despite all my big, jaded talk Monday, I really do try to be a good server. I want to give good service. I want to justify my guests' decision to spend money at my restaurant. I hope my guests feel relaxed, satisfied and nurtured, as though I am the momma bird and they are my chirping babies.

More than anything, I want to make my guests happy. Happy guests leave tips, and tips mean I get to stay in my apartment another month. I may even get to buy some groceries.
The thing is, my restaurant usually runs a shift with four or five servers on the floor. If we get too busy, I have to decide which tables are worth more of my attention. There's a difference between serving and serving well.

The tables I just serve get a warm greeting and a rushed recitation of the specials. Their drinks arrive promptly. I don't roll my eyes when they ask if "starter" is synonymous with "appetizer." I check back a few times and thank them warmly for coming in. For my efforts, that table will leave a 13 percent tip, just as I predicted. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Probably not; some tables just have that "10-13 percent look" about them.

But I'll give excellent service if it seems like the table will appreciate it. I learn my guests' names and lead them confidently through the specials menu, abusing adjectives such as "luxurious," "lavish," "exceedingly fresh." and, of course, "scrumptious." ("Exceedingly fresh" doesn't make a lot of sense, and it makes the ingredients sound unripe. But when describing food, I find it's best to talk like a sad high schooler's overwrought poem.) You want some soup? Let me get you a free sample of soup. Just wait and sip on this drink I convinced the bartender to make special for you. Because you are the most special person in the restaurant and probably on the planet.

In between, I carefully scrutinize drink levels and whisk away dirty plates. I tell that hilarious story about how I met the Prince of Wales when he stopped in for a bite last weekend, and how we're going to play beach volley ball as soon as I get off. These tables are top priority.

Usually, I'm handsomely rewarded for this level of service. Restaurants, being the loaded-with-humans industry that it is, really is a two-way street. Show me decency, and I'll trip over myself bringing you those extra napkins. Here are the top five ways to ensure your server will give you excellent service.

Enthusiasm or friendliness
If you seem at all happy to be in the restaurant, your server will be happy to have you. I don't want to tarnish anyone's mood. I especially don't want to upset the people who looked up from their menu and said hello and waited patiently for me to ask for the drink order. I have an easier time imagining friendly people as real people who exist outside the restaurant, and I feel bad if I let them down.

Contrary to everything I've said, I can usually forgive a lukewarm tip if the table was gracious. If serving the table is a pleasure, I'm unlikely to snub them on their next visit (this is not to say that just because you don't act like an asshole, you get to tip like one.) I mean, think about it: if I'm in the weeds, should I check on the table who smiled at me when I walked up, or the guy who warned me my ass was his?

Order a lot
Remember when I said servers are mathematicians? Servers get bigger tips on higher tabs. A $20 ticket will get a $4 tip, but a $150 ticket will get a $30 tip. I give the most attention to the highest bidder. That's just science.

Tip well habitually. Or leave an unreasonably high tip, just once.
The former: Duh.
The latter: A few years ago, I had a man in a bright yellow sport coat sit in my section. Another server pulled me aside and told me, "That dude right there? He tips like crazy. He'll leave you, like, 100 percent." I gave him service normally reserved for royalty and the second coming of Christ. My world stopped for this man. He left me $5 on $30. Good, but way less than I expected.

Although I still believe that he will eventually leave me the mythical 80 percent tip, most of my coworkers have demoted him back to "just serve" status. To avoid that, see: Tip well habitually.

Become a regular
People who come in regularly become Real People to servers. As we get to know and like them, we're more likely to pay attention. The manager will be inclined to comp something, eventually, off the bill, as a friendly gesture. I mean, we're going to have to see you next week, anyway. Might as well be friends.

Come in with a notepad and ask pointed questions
If you discreetly take notes and ask specific questions about the menu, servers will suspect you're a secret shopper. Nothing makes servers wipe their sweaty palms on their grubby aprons more than a secret shopper.

If a secret shopper writes a bad review, suddenly corporate is aware that I spill drinks and how often I say, "Uh, I don't know, let me find out." A blasé attitude is shameful. I probably treat secret shoppers better than I treat my mother. At least my mother can't get me fired because I couldn't list all the cheeses in the queso.

Follow City of Ate on Twitter: @cityofate.


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16 comments
Adam Ben
Adam Ben

First time visit your post. I totally appreciate you'll give excellent service if it seems like the table.

Did you have anything else with the green beans?

someone who knows how to tip
someone who knows how to tip

It seems to me more and more that people tend to forget why they eat out. You eat out for the convenience of having someone make you a drink, bring stuff to you, Having someone else prepare your food, and having someone else clean up after you. With all of that, comes the gratuity. I'm grateful that you are going to do what I did not want to do for myself. And I'm going to compensate you for it. There is a sliding scale for tipping of course, if you give me sub par service I'm not going to tip the standard 20%. However, if you give me exceptional service, I will of course show my appreciation by leaving you a larger percentage. Simple as that.

Mike3647
Mike3647

You really think you are God's gift to customers don't you.

"I tell that hilarious story about how I met the Prince of Wales when he stopped in for a bite last weekend, and how we're going to play beach volley ball as soon as I get off. "

I don't care. Take my friggin order, keep my drinks full and bring the check. That's all I want and will tip 25%.

Was a Server Now a Customer
Was a Server Now a Customer

Again - this goes both ways. You should write an article on how a server can get a good tip.As in: 1) Meet the customers soon after they are seated, to ask for drink orders or at least so the customers know who their server is supposed to be. Not 10 minutes later or not when a customer has to get up and ask for some service. 2) The server should NOT act like the server is bothered or doing the customer a big favor by serving them - it's your job - do it. 3) Actually be in the dining room in case your customers need something - hanging out in the kitchen or the locker room to talk on the cell phone or socializing with the kitchen people isn't good customer service. 4) The server needs to keep watch so drinks can be filled, dishes cleared, checks delivered, or anything else as required - the server is not there to just socialize with the other servers. Don't disappear. 5) Appreciate the customers so that the customers feels like they were welcomed and are invited to come back. No customers mean no money and the restaurant closing. Don't act like customers are a nuisance because now the server has to do some work. 6) Don't just "dump off" the food like the server has a cab with a running meter was parked outside. Ask if the customers need anything else and check back to see if everything is ok. Your cell phone or socializing with the other employees can wait. 7) If a main course and some other side dishes have been ordered, deliver them together. Not one dish and then another after the 1st had been eaten. The server is the customer's advocate in the kitchen so "encourage" the kitchen to help.

Sometimes the customer can be a jerk or sometimes the service or food was bad. If the server did any (or all) of the above - the server just might not be "the world's greatest server" like they think they are. Can anyone else add to my list?

Sigh
Sigh

Tired of being told how to be a customer. I do not tell my clients how to get good service out of me...I deal with their crap and they pay their bill...the end...

Championofzero
Championofzero

All this "tipping talk" makes me ill...

More time than not, the server who takes the order doesnt even bring the food. I am tired of having to feel undo pressure to leave this person 15-20% when in actuality, all he did was punch my order into a POS system.

angiechin
angiechin

I love collective buying!!! Want to get food at the lowest prices? Then the place is called "Printapons" find them online

reader
reader

I should have mentioned that I frequent the same restaurant about 2 times a week and do know the wait staff and they do know me by name. They know I leave a fair tip. Usually on a $35 food and drink tab, I'll leave $8.00 for the wait person as well as a $3-4 tip in the bartenders tip jar. I have had the server mention that someone took the tip off of the table I had left and pocketed it. Now that's cheap!

reader
reader

I would ask the hostess not to seat me in your section if that is your idea of how to treat paying customers. Sometimes I don't have a lot of cash left after paying a bill and I prefer to leave a cash tip because there are some places that do not give the servers their tips if it is added to the tab when paying. I make it up on the next visit so don't form an impression of me as a cheap tipper because of one visit. Yes, I can use my credit/debit card to pay but I prefer not to since having an unauthorized charge made for over $400. It took over 30 days to get that straightened out. Easier to pay with cash.

Beda
Beda

I agree. I find these last two columns written by a waitperson offensive. In fact, I would like to know where she works and when her shifts are in order to avoid her.

Waitperson of the year for me was last Sunday, when I ate by myself at The Original Pancake House, where the wait time was 35 minutes. I was seated at a big booth that could have held five, and I apologized to my waiter for taking up such a large space. He gave me a friendly smile, said No problem at all, what can I get you to drink? Great waiter. Zero attitude.

stupidisasstupiddoes
stupidisasstupiddoes

What exactly is "undo pressure"? Perhaps you should stick to the "drive thru" lane at Burger Street.

Jonathan
Jonathan

Go to a fast food restaurant if you don't want to tip.

Downtown Resident
Downtown Resident

"Sometimes I don't have a lot of cash left after paying a bill and I prefer to leave a cash tip because there are some places that do not give the servers their tips if it is added to the tab when paying. I make it up on the next visit so don't form an impression of me as a cheap tipper because of one visit."

Sounds like somebody is rationalizing being a cheap tipper. Make it up on the next visit? Who are you kidding? I'm sure you're really worried about tip pooling, obviously not tipping much this time really is for the best, ha! Cheapskate.

There's nothing wrong with the writer's honesty. Servers are working in a (mostly) professional capacity, there's no need to pretend your happiness is compensation enough for them.

Become a regular, treat servers like human beings and tip well and you'll almost always have a great night out.

sigh
sigh

A lot of what I do for them is free..so if I averaged it out, maybe...

stupidisasstupiddoes
stupidisasstupiddoes

Then the matrie'd was a moron. Yay for you but this is the exact kind of shit that people complain about- non organization skills from the front-of-the-house.

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