This month, I’d planned to tackle something a lot of people complain about: check-splitting policies. I’ll get to that, but first I want to explain something—a lot of things, actually.
After my last column was published, many readers rightly pointed out that it seemed overly concerned with tipping. That’s a good point. It did have a lot to do with tipping. Having been a server, I will write from a server’s perspective (even though I’ve also been a dishwasher and a short-order cook). Servers are, after all, the people who interact with guests. They’re the face of your dining experience. And the main purpose of this column is to shed light on why restaurants adopt policies that might confuse well-meaning guests who’ve never worked in a restaurant before.
Open-minded readers will say, “So that’s why restaurants do that.” And, of course, internet crybabies will complain that servers are entitled and that restaurants adopt punitive policies. (And by internet crybabies, I mean white men between the ages of 19 and 39. And you wonder why the nation is turning on you.)
So think of this column as a sort of public Yelp account that reviews restaurant policies and bad customer—and server—etiquette.
But before we get weeds-deep on policy issues, I first want to debunk and rebunk some restaurant myths.
MYTH: The Customer Is Always Right
Whoever told you this lied. Sometimes the customer is the problem. I’ve 86ed guests for loudly and repeatedly cussing. I’ve been sexually harassed by guests (and staff)—and it’s far worse for women and non-gender-conforming people. And if you feel that the food or service isn’t up to par for what you’re paying, take it up with a manager. Their job is to literally make you want to come back. This especially means you, Yelpers. Have some courage to make your case in person. Moral of the story: Don’t be a dick.
MYTH: If You’re a Dick, We Fuck with Your Food
I’ve been working in the service industry since I was 16 and I never saw this happen. And while I admit it’s not impossible, I’ve never heard any verified story of cooks fucking with your food. They’re pros and they take their job seriously. Moral of the story: Whoever told you this lied to you.
MYTH: Servers NEVER Fuck Up
Here’s a tip: If you’re the only person in a restaurant, the odds of a server messing up your order hovers at around 50 percent. We see you—a table for one or four—and think, “We’ve got this.” But we don’t. It should be a lay-up, but instead of giving you what should easily be superlative service, we’re busy with a crossword puzzle or chatting up the line cook. And we’re sorry. Moral of the story: We, too, can be awful.
MYTH: You Are a Number
Actually, and sorry to say this, this myth is true. Now this isn’t meant to deny your humanity, but the number we assign you is based on where you’re seated. Generally, the person nearest your server’s left is number one. The person seated to their left is number two, and so on. And it’s very important that you stick to the number to which you’ve been assigned. There’s a logic to this. It instructs anyone else who might be helping to deliver your meal where each dish goes. A few years ago, I was serving a 12-top that was mingling and playing musical chairs before service started, but once they were seated and I took their orders, they became numbers. The thing was, they didn’t know that. They continued to play musical chairs. When their food arrived, it was a total shit show. I delivered the fried chicken to one seat only to realize the face didn’t match the dish. Eventually, everyone got what they ordered, but not before the table’s sole vegan—who’d ordered a veggie burger—had eaten a third of a medium-rare cheeseburger intended for his friend. Moral of the story: Stay in your assigned seat.