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Tips for the Savvy
and Sophisticated Diner

If you are nice to your waitress, she'll be nice to you

By Ami Chen Mills

  • Be sympathetic on a busy night. Depending on circumstances, service will be slow. Even if a small smattering of tables has been seated all at once, your waitress will be busy. Slow food is most often a problem of the kitchen, not your waitress. If the food is very late, or you suffer a serious dining mishap, your waitress should bring an appetizer or a dessert on the house.

  • If you can, ask for a few things at once, rather than one at a time. This will save your waitress trips.

  • Don't try to engage your waitress in banter when other customers are staring sullenly at her or banging their forks on their tables for food.

  • Use common courtesy. Say please and thank you. You'd be surprised at how many customers missed this in kindergarten.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for things. You can ask for almost anything, nicely, and your waitress will be happy to accommodate.

  • Unless you are in the middle of a marriage proposal, try to wrap up your conversation within seven seconds after your waitperson has arrived at your table. This sounds like a short period of time, but if you count it out--and if you're a server--it's not. Ignoring a waitress conveys that your time is more valuable than hers, and you slow service to other tables. If you're not ready to order, tell her immediately so she can attend to someone else.

  • Do not boss your waitress around. Treating a waitress poorly is an indication of poor character and is embarrassing for dining companions. Also, she might write an article about you.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for pronunciations.

  • Rather than ask "What's good here?" be more specific. Ask, "What is your favorite pasta? Do you have a light salad? Is there anything you're famous for?" Indicate your tastes--say you like an intense and smoky cabernet.

  • Do not ask if the fish is fresh. At a good restaurant the fish is always fresh. Also, there is a period of rigor mortis for fish that makes extremely fresh fish inadvisable. Ask where the fish is from instead, or which fish dish is good.

  • You do not need to comment on the wine unless it was recommended by your waitress or unless your waitress is interested. If the wine will do, simply give the waitress permission to leave. The primary purpose of the tasting is to reroute a wine that's gone bad. An oxidized or spoiled wine is rare and obvious. If you don't like the bottle of wine you chose, you're stuck. If you don't like a wine your waitress recommended, tell her. Restaurant policies vary here. If the wine is bad, it should be replaced immediately.

  • Communicate with your waitress. If you're in a rush, let her know. If you want some privacy, say something like, "We'll be okay for a while, thank you."

  • Always leave a tip. Leave a low tip only if your waitress was hostile or rude. An indifferent waitress might be having a bad day. If you get your food without incident, in good time or--if not, with compensation--15 percent is de rigueur. (If you are bad at math, just double the sales tax.) Visiting foreigners, take note!

  • Leave a 20 percent tip. Generosity is attractive. Impress your date. As Theo says, "The difference between a 15 and a 20 percent tip is really not very much. You can make somebody's night and it'll only cost you two or three bucks." To a waitress, a tip is both a compliment and cash. Also, good tippers who are regulars tend to get better service.

  • Smile at your waitress. Write a kind note or constructive criticism on your check. Thank your waitress as you leave.

  • Be nice. Your waitress will love you for it, and you'll feel better, too.

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From the Mar. 14-20, 1996 issue of Metro

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