Leaving the restaurant industry a little more than two years ago was not a decision that I made easily or painlessly. I spent from ages 16 to 33 working “in the industry” in some capacity or another; it was part of my identity. You meet some of the most hard-working, down to earth, cultured people in the restaurant industry, as well as some of most wildly insane and eccentric. But, for myriad reasons, I gracefully bowed out, and now most of my exposure to restaurants is by way of eating at them and perusing online menus.
It took me a while to get used to dining out at restaurants as a lay person (versus as a server). As a server, when dining out at any restaurant, you are continually watching the room, feeling anxious as you see the table next to you checking the clock on their overdue food, another table desperately trying to command the attention of an employee for something they need, watching the order tickets overflowing at the bar or the kitchen. You quell the urge to jump up and start helping. If you are dining at your own restaurant, the urge cannot be quelled and you jump up from your table and your company and start helping.
Luckily I have a child who commands the majority of my attention nowadays, so the transition was aided by this little cherub. I have always enjoyed eating out and that has not changed since becoming a mother. However, some of the restaurants we frequent certainly has. I pride myself on my son’s daring and adventurous eating habits, his willingness to try literally anything I put in front of him, and I occasionally bemoan his expensive taste as a result, but that is not to say I don’t find myself eating such kid friendly fare as pizza, wings, and burgers.
But having eaten at a vast array of restaurants as JUST a diner, both with and without my son, I have learned many lessons:
1. Dining out should be an occasion. Whether you are stopping in for a quick lunch or a fancy meal, it is a meal you are not eating at home, and that in itself is special, in my book. When I was a child we hardly ever ate out and it was a big deal when we did. Eating out has become so commonplace today that I think a lot of people see it as a chore. I strive to ditch my phone in favor of conversation or a good book, take time to read the menu in its entirety (even keeping it after I’ve ordered if necessary), and basically enjoy the moment of reprieve from the day’s busy-ness.
2. A distracted diner is a happy diner. I find that when I am in the presence of good company and good conversation rarely do I notice minor annoyances such as a long wait time, a forgotten or delayed salad course, a mistaken modification to the food. This goes back to treating it as an occasion.
3. MOST servers want to please their customers. There are, of course, exceptions, but most servers are happy to answer questions, make small talk if you desire, and actually appreciate giving suggestions. I am one of the most indecisive people on the planet, and frequently ask the server for his/her suggestion, and am gracious for the input.
4. Be a conscientious diner. If you can’t put your phone away for the entire meal, put it down when you are speaking to waitstaff. If your child makes a mess on the floor or tears the crayon wrapper into a million sticky little pieces, collect them into a pile and at least make an attempt to leave the area as you found it. Say please and thank you when you are brought food and drink.
5.If there is a problem with your order, tell somebody. Restaurant staff truly wants you to be happy with your meal, service, and experience, and are typically eager to remedy any situation. If something or somebody goes above and beyond, share that information as well.
And of course there are exceptions to all of these. There is downright awful service, deplorable food, and miserable servers, but I think those instances are the exception rather than the norm.