Dining out is one of the smallest pleasures that, for many people, can bring the biggest joy. Here in New Brunswick, we have every kind of food at our fingertips — Middle Eastern, Thai, Japanese, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Mexican, Indian and even American soul food. This town provides endless food fodder for first dates and birthday celebrations. As fun as eating out can be, however, there are many ways the evening can go wrong. When electing to be a restaurant patron you are agreeing, whether you realize or not, to a laundry list of socially defined courtesies. The staff of the restaurant agrees to an additional set of rules to follow, and if both actors always played their roles perfectly, this column would not exist.
So in the name of the upcoming season of giving, I will give a few seasoned points of advice for both parties. Choose which to follow, ignore, laugh at or hate, but keep in mind that waiters, waitresses, bartenders and diners are all people and should be respected. So here are gentle reminders, which we all forget sometimes, of some of the ways to ensure an evening out is a pleasant one for all parties involved.
For 99 percent of you, do not worry — you are in the clear. It only takes one disgruntled diner to ruin a server's day, and it is likely this diner does not even realize their actions are affecting other people, so here are some commonly breeched social codes of the restaurant biz —
Respect the rules of the restaurant, and respect the host or hostess. If there are tables in a certain place, arrangement or room, it is for a particular reason. Tables are arranged in a certain way for different waiter's stations and may be reserved for other parties, so moving tables around by your own accord is not looked well upon. Just because a table is empty does not mean you can sit there. There may not be a server for that section, or it may be reserved for a large party. It is your right to request a certain section from the hostess, but it is their right to deny your request. Please respect the hostess!
Respect the server, and know that he or she is a person, and not just faceless employee. This includes a range of actions to get her attention, including shouting out a name, calling her "sweetheart," waving your arms at him/her or any of the above while he/she is attending to another table. For the sake of sanity, if one person at the table orders a drink or side dish, order yours at the same time. You certainly do not want to make the server run back and forth retrieving small bits and pieces for you, especially when busy.
Respect the cook, food and the menu. If something is very wrong and not what you asked for, or if you receive a rare steak when you ordered veggie burger, by all means send it back. But if you are allergic or have an aversion to onions, make sure to ready the menu carefully. We are in America, and it is likely that bacon may be added to many items, so if you are vegetarian, watch out!
Those are a few friendly reminders for dining out. But servers make mistakes, too, and regardless of how fancy a restaurant may be, there are certain faux pas they should avoid. Out of courtesy and class, you can expect —
No matter how many hours he/she has been working, how many rude customers he/she has had or how bad his/her day has been, a server should not be rude to the customer from the start. Being friendly — no matter what — is a part of the service industry and those who cannot follow that rule should not be there. However, if you break a cardinal-dining rule, then a server's human side may come out, so beware. But every patron should be treated with respect when he or she enters the building, and that includes the welcoming greeting in the beginning all the way to the friendly "goodbye" at the end. If you catch your server making a comment to a coworker or rolling his eyes, that severely hurts the restaurant's reputation.
If at any time you feel rushed to leave, the staff is not properly doing their job. A diner should be able to sit and enjoy their meal, drink, coffee and dessert without feeling they are being pressured to leave. That being said, there is a courteous limit to how long one party can sit without having any food or drink in front of them. Making a table your afternoon study session does tie up a server's source of income — sometimes one table can be a quarter of his/her income. But visible frustration on the part of staff is unprofessional. For large parties many restaurants do have a time limit that groups should adhere to.
These points are all made with much experience as a server, hostess and diner. Some of us are not lucky enough to be on all ends of the spectrum, so there is a need to be reminded of common courtesies lest we ruin someone else's day, which is never a nice thing. Oh, and tipping is not an option.
Joanna Cirillo is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column "So Fresh So Green" runs on alternate Fridays.