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Ten Things I Have Learned About Dining with Restaurant Industry Folks

Buy the kitchen some beer. Photo via washingtoncitypaper.com

Dining out with people in the restaurant industry can teach you a lot about how to have a better dining experience (and also how to be a good customer, which in turn will make you a very welcomed customer). Here are a few pointers on how to act like a cool and conscientious diner–basically, like you know what the hell is up.

Is your party of three suddenly four? It’s probably okay, since you were most likely going to be seated at a four-top (but you should still call the restaurant and make sure). But what if your party of three is now two? Call the restaurant so they can release your four-top table and put you at a two-top. Is your party of four increasing to five? Again, call the restaurant ahead of time and see if they can make it work–don’t assume. (Just remember: Odd numbers are more challenging.)

Are you running late for your reservation? Call the restaurant. Even in those 10 minutes, they can seat another party and keep things moving. It’s a courteous move.

Did you order a drink at the bar before your meal? Don’t transfer your tab to the table–close it out and tip your bartender. Or transfer it, but still, leave a tip for your bartender. Mwah.

When the server approaches your table to take your order, try to be ready–even your wine or cocktail choice is groovy. We all know you want to catch up with your friend and dish about your ex, but it’s good to establish a smoooove dining flow early on. When those drinks arrive, have your food order ready, and now you can get back to talking smack over your drinks.

“What’s your favorite dish?” is not a good question, just a highly personal one (who knows what that person’s taste is like?). I tend to ask: “Is there anything I missed?” when putting together an order–it’s the perfect time for your server to chime in about a dish that the chef is really fired up about.

See your server hovering over there at the edge of your table? We know you are engrossed in conversation, but they need to take your order, so hold that thought and address your server for a moment. 

Need something, like some ketchup? Okay, be sure to consolidate that request with your need for an extra share plate, hot sauce, or whatever else it is you need, so your server isn’t running back and forth to your table numerous times.

See that skeezy beer on the menu (the PBR, the Budweiser)? That’s for the house (or fellow industry folks). Order a sixer for the kitchen if you really loved your meal, or just want to make their night.

Over-tip. Tipping is a dicey area for anyone in the industry who has friends in a restaurant–the kitchen sent out a couple complimentary dishes, maybe you got an extra glass of bubbles in the beginning or dessert at the end, and now you’re looking at the bill and stressing over what’s a good tip based on what you would have paid for it all. Or maybe you’re a regular customer and they styled you with some freebies. Be classy; tip on the entire assumed bill. Better over than under–although you’ll still probably stress over it. (Everyone does.) And in cash? Golden.

Call. To. Cancel. The number of no-shows in this town is unacceptable. People need to stop it. Being flaky hurts the restaurant’s bottom line, and robs other people of that primetime table at 7:30 pm you reserved. Besides, you get more of a black mark if you no-show than if you cancel. Call. To. Cancel.

Bonus tip:

Trying to land a reservation somewhere? Some people only use OpenTable, but you’re missing out on some reservations that way. Call the restaurant, see if there’s any way to sneak you in, or what their advice is for walk-ins. Be nice. You can stalk a place by finding out when they make their confirmation phone calls in the afternoon, and call around that time and see if a table has opened up. Ask if they’ll take your name down. Do they have a counter? Ask and see if they’d reserve a spot at the bar for you. You can always just show up, and sometimes the magic can happen, but be prepared to wait.

Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe and get more food news and gossip at tablehopper.com. Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper.