Article by Andrea Payme

Most people eat at restaurants because they want to have a pleasant and relaxing meal with friends, family, or colleagues. And let’s admit it — who doesn’t enjoy eating a tasty dish (that you didn’t have to cook) prepared in a kitchen (that you won’t have to clean) served on plates (that you don’t have to wash)? The only things restaurant-goers have to do is show up and get a table, order a meal, eat the food, pay the bill, leave a tip, and go home to relax. It’s so easy; it’s almost embarrassing.

But while we’re enjoying the meal and having a grand ole’ time, restaurant and management staff are dealing with the challenges of high-pressure, often thankless jobs. Today’s food service industry is highly competitive and fast-paced, and customers with bad attitudes, inconsiderate behavior, and plain old thoughtlessness add to the list of stresses restaurant workers have to deal with every day.

Don’t want to be part of the problem? Here’s how to be the type of customer any restaurant staff would be happy to “meet and seat.”

Showing Up and Getting a Table

If you’re eating at a place that takes reservations, make sure to arrive on time. If you’re running late, call to let them know – if you don’t, you could get stuck waiting for a table, or even worse, you could lose your seating altogether! By calling in, the host might be able to switch your reservation with someone else who has arrived a bit early.

Most people have preferences about their table location: facing a window, back to the wall, far away from the bathroom, not too close to the kitchen…the list goes on and on. While you’re certainly within your rights as a paying customer to request a specific table, try not to go overboard. It’s only a seat, after all! Also, never hover over other patrons, making them feel rushed—or even worse, asking them to move because you want their table. Big no-no!

Order a Meal

Yay, it’s time to order! Give your server a few minutes to come over, and whatever you do, don’t make “psst” sounds or whistle to get his attention. When he does arrive, make sure to catch his name and take a moment for some friendly chit-chat.

As you place your order, give your server a sense of your preferred meal pace. Are you in a rush to get to a movie, or is this a leisurely meal with a friend you haven’t seen in ages? Let your server know and be sure to order an appropriate amount of food and drink for the length of time you plan to be occupying the table.

To ensure the best service possible, be clear with your requests. If you tend to be a picky eater, it’s okay to ask as many questions as you want — but make sure to do so before you place your order. If you have any dietary preferences or requirements, discuss them with your server so she can let the kitchen know.

We interrupt this blog post to bring you an important message about food allergies:

Never claim to have food allergies if what you actually have is a food preference or a restricted diet. Restaurants are becoming more aware of the dangers facing people with life-threatening conditions like peanut allergies. In fact, many restaurant kitchens will treat allergy notifications as just that: “life-threatening.” When a server informs the kitchen staff that they’ve seated a patron with food allergies, it sets off a series of behind the scenes precautions. Cooks and food handlers must put on new gloves and aprons; utensils, dishes, pots, pans, and cutting boards are run through a sanitizer; and recipes are reviewed to ensure no hidden allergens are lurking in the ingredients. If restaurant staff members become overwhelmed by fictitious requests from people “fibbing” about food allergies just to avoid eating foods they don’t like, they could eventually become careless in their food preparation procedures. And that puts the people who do have severe allergies in danger.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post:

Eat the Food

Your meal has arrived, it looks delicious, and you’re ready to dig in! But if your food didn’t show up quite the way you ordered it, keep your cool. Try to avoid sending food back just because you don’t like it or because it wasn’t what you expected. Most dining establishments must adhere to strict health department regulations; that burrito you sent back because there was a dollop of unwanted sour-cream on top will likely end up thrown in the trash! Try to be flexible with your expectations.

If you do have a significant problem with your meal, keep in mind that mistakes are often not your server’s fault. Don’t immediately take out your frustration on them. Quietly let them know what the problem is, and if the server can’t resolve it, politely ask to speak with a shift manager. It’s much better for everyone when a dissatisfied customer speaks up and lets the restaurant know about a problem, instead of remaining silent and then posting a negative Yelp review after the fact. Give the restaurant a chance to make it right.

While you’re eating, don’t get annoyed if your server comes around periodically to find out how you are doing. If those interruptions are bothersome, then nicely explain that you’ll let her know if you need anything. On the flip side, understand that your server is usually busy with other tables, so don’t run her ragged with tons of annoying requests!

When you’re finished eating, inform your server that you’re ready for the check, and place your dirty plates within his easy reach. If you want a to-go bag, ask your server for a container and offer to pack it yourself.

Pay the Bill

When your check arrives, review it to ensure everything is okay and then offer your payment. Most servers appreciate getting their tip in cash even if you’re paying with a card. Make sure to tip the correct amount, keeping in mind that percentages vary according to state. Also, always leave a “normal” tip even if the restaurant is buffet-style or you’re using a discount coupon or a gift card. In case you were wondering – there are hardly ever circumstances so terrible that they should prevent you from tipping your server. Be fair and appropriate.

Just like your parents taught you when you were a child, don’t forget to say “thank you” whenever you are pleased with some aspect of the food or service. Dining out should be a fun and pleasant experience. Why not try to do your part in making it a nice occasion for the restaurant staff too?