restaurant pictureAmericans as a culture eat out a lot! As a long-time worker in the restaurant industry, it still often amazes me how even in slow or poor economic time such as these, there are still hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people who dine out in my restaurant every night. I see and talk to all kinds of people in my line of work, but some things remain consistent during my on-going study of humanity and how it eats.

One thing that people often complain about is that the standard of service that they get when they dine out has declined, and that they are not getting taken care of when they eat out. Although I do agree that bad service happens, (unfortunately too often), I also think that if people knew a bit more about how a restaurant worked, they would find that they were more on the inside of the action in a restaurant, and perhaps even receive better service for their knowledge.

The following are suggestions are guidelines for the general masses when dining out. Every situation is different in every restaurant you go to, but I assure you that most restaurants are basically the same, insofar as that they are designed to serve food and drink to you and your guests or family. Read on to discover some of the ways that I have received better service over the years, and even consider going out to eat a fun experience now! (I am a tough judge, to be sure…)

· Start off you experience on a positive note right away by being nice to the host or hostess seating you. People often overlook the very difficult job of hosting in a restaurant. If you are told that there is a wait for your table, be patient. Staring a host down WILL NOT get you a table faster, and you may end up with the worst seat (or server) in the house. If you have a special request for a table, tell the host in advance, so as not to be seated in an undesirable location. Remember that a host is often responsible for seating hundreds of people in a limited space, and they usually have a plan of some kind, so special requests may take more time.

· Start off your relationship with your server on a positive note. This is the person who will be responsible for your food, so a friendly smile at the first meeting can really get your meal going in a positive direction. It is difficult from a server's standpoint to be polite to you the guest if they feel instantly attacked.

· Be respectful of your server's time. This is a challenge sometimes, because all servers are not created equal. When your server arrives at the table, listen to the specials if they are offered and then order if you are ready. Let him or her know about any special requests. Chatting is fun and encouraged at this part of the dining experience, but your server does not really need to know your life story, and the reverse is true as well. Waiters are usually busy people, and while I love to chat with some of my tables, it is frustrating to approach a table and have to stay and talk while other things need to get done.

· Special requests are common in a restaurant, but this is often where things can go horribly wrong with your dining experience. You may indeed have special dietary needs, and restaurants usually try to accommodate special requests if they can. Try to keep in mind when making special requests that a restaurant kitchen is designed to put out a great deal of food from a small place in a short amount of time. Special requests stop the cook or chef from their usually routine, and can slow down a kitchen's productivity. If you are concerned about whether a restaurant will be able to meet your special requests, it might be a good idea to go out to eat of a slower night, or call the restaurant in advance for very special issues.

· If you do have a problem with your food and you have to send it back, do so as politely as possible. I do not intend to offer any actual stories of things that I have seen go on in some kitchens. I will say that some of the rumors that you have heard are true, but if you have an honest problem with a dish and you are polite to your server or the manager taking care of your problem, you have a good shot at the kitchen taking care of your issue and not doing something nasty to your food.

· Tipping is expected in most restaurants. The average tip for good service should be 18-20% of your total check, including food, liquor and tax. If you believe that your service was truly awful, or if you food was really so bad that you could not eat it, then do whatever your heart tells you to do as far as tipping goes. I myself have received horrible service at times in my life, and I take that into perspective when I tip in those situations. Please remember though as you are rationalizing what tip to leave your server that he or she most likely makes the server minimum wage ($2.83 per hour in PA). In addition, your server most likely has several other people to tip out like a bus person, host or bartender. Stiffing someone is never cool; it really hurts the person waiting on you. If you do not have the money to tip appropriately, you should perhaps think about dining where a tip is not required.

· When you are done dining, do not stay at your table for a long period of time. Very often a server only has a limited amount of table to make money on, and even if you leave a nice gratuity, if you overstay your welcome, you will start to receive dirty looks. If you are in a restaurant at the end of an evening, it is more acceptable to stay and chat if the table will not be needed again.

I will conclude by saying that if you are polite and respectful in a restaurant, you have a much better chance at receiving better service. By treating the people serving with respect, you may even find that going out to eat in even some of the casual dining restaurants can be a great experience for you and your friends and family!