When we go out to eat, we like to pretend that it's all about us. We want the right music, the right temperature and the server better be the best we've ever had. We like to feel like we're the King or Queen of the castle. As a former server, bartender, and cook I can tell you that our goal was to make you feel special, but things aren't always as they seem. Here is a list of white lies that servers often tell customers to make your experience more enjoyable.
Servers almost NEVER change the temperature for you
I know how shocking this will be for some people but sorry, it usually doesn't happen. There are exceptions, like if it's an elderly couple and the restaurant is slow, but rarely will a restaurant change the temperature for 1 customer. But when a server is asked to change the temperature, the answer you will hear is always a cheerful YES!
In one of the places I used to work we had a thermostat on the wall in the dining room. When some of the servers were asked to change the temperature they would immediately walk over to it in view of the customers, put it up 2 degrees then immediately put it down 2 degrees leaving the temperature the same as before, but it appeared as though they were changing it. They would then return to the table and let the customers know they changed it and told them they would check back in a bit to see if it's better. About 10 or 15 minutes later, they would check back and 10 times out of 10 the temperature would be "perfect." It's funny how the power of placebo can take over when you think you're getting special treatment.
If it's late you might be getting decaf instead of regular
Servers make their living from tips. And the best way to make more money is to turn your tables over at a reasonable pace. You don't want people to feel rushed, but you certainly don't want one table to sit there for twice as long as the average table. Because most servers have an assigned section, when customers sit long, they make less money. Side note: If the restaurant is slammed and you do sit for a long time at a table, longer than 1 hour, you should consider "paying rent" or tipping more. A good rule of thumb is to multiply your normal tip by the number of hours you sat at the table beyond the first hour. I know that seems extreme, but you're causing the server to earn less wages so you can chit chat. Imagine if someone came into your work and decided to sit in the lobby and talk and because of that, you had a smaller paycheck. Doesn't seem fair, does it?
Because of this issue, when a server sees a group of people who just finished their meal and they look like they're settling in for a long talk, they will often serve decaf instead of regular coffee. The last thing a server wants is a group of "campers." Typically, this looks like 2 or 3 middle aged couples who haven't seen each other for a long time, or a couple of girlfriends talking about a recent breakup. We want you to have a great time, but even a 25% tip won't make up for the fact that I lost 2 tables while you were talking. If you want to sit for a while and chat, take the party to a coffee shop after your meal, they're more suited for that intimate conversation you're looking for. Besides that, there are people in the lobby waiting to sit down, it's only polite to leave once you're done eating.
Servers may tell you that they're out a dish when they really aren't
Some servers think there are multiple reasons for lying to customers and they think that sometimes it's justified. The most frustrating part of being a server is not having any control over the food. I was fortunate to work in a place with great food, but even the best chefs have off-days. If we are running a special and it's not any good, we know it. Rather than trying to convince customers, some servers think it's just easier to tell them that they've ran out.
There are also instances where the dish in question is a huge pain to prepare or takes a long time. For example, if the restaurant is busy and you are in a large party (like 8 people or more) and order a dish that takes 25 minutes to prepare, your server may tell you that we're out. Because if the restaurant is busy it's going to take at least 20 minutes before we can even start cooking your order. If it takes 25 minutes to cook your food, the whole table is going to start to complain at the 30-minute mark and wonder where the food is at (rightfully so). Rather than field complaints from a table of angry customers all night, it's easier to direct you to something quicker and mildly disappoint only one customer. A common misconception is that a server should be there to do everything you want, but really a server should be there to make sure you and your guests have the most enjoyable evening possible. If one person at the table is going to ruin the night for everyone it's the server's job to mitigate the damage for the party.
Always remember, your servers have a tough job and it doesn't pay a whole lot. The next time someone screws up your order, let it slide.
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Photo by Jay Wennington