Servers’ Bad Behaviors that Hurt Your Restaurant
Although I spend most of my time in the back of the house, I spend a fair amount of time eating in restaurants. We all know that the reputation of a restaurant can be made or broken in the dining room. Despite the reputation of the chef and the restaurant, or how fantastic the food tastes, service brings the customers where they are made to feel special.
While on a business trip recently, I had a meal in a restaurant that brought this concept home to me. I was enjoying a delicious dinner with attentive service. Two-thirds of the way through my entrée, the server approached and set the check on the table stating “you don’t want dessert, do you?” In the space of those few seconds, she undid all the good will she had previously created, missed the opportunity to sell dessert and maybe more, and drastically lessened her tip.
The acronym TIPS stands for To Insure Prompt Service. This server’s behavior made me think about other things that wait staff can do to hurt their own tip. Here is a list of the top behaviors likely to insure the reduction of a tip left by your customers.
1. The dirty server. A server who is not properly groomed, or who is in a uniform that is wrinkled, dirty or faded. I am reminded of a waiter in a well-known fine dining restaurant, whose dirty fingernails made it difficult to enjoy anything on my plate. Knowing the extent to which servers come into contact with the food made me question the cleanliness of more than just the waiter.
2. A server with visible tattoos and multiple piercings, especially tongue studs! I used a few waiters from a temporary agency to help serve a large party that we were having when I was the executive chef at the Wyndham in Phoenix. One of the servers they sent literally had tattoos all over his body! He had artwork down every single finger. There was no way that I could use him in the dining room. He ended up spending the evening washing dishes.
3. The heavily perfumed server. Let me smell the food spice and not Polo. Heavy aromas of perfume, cologne or after-shave are out of place in the dining room. I want to smell my food, not the waiter or waitress. Please leave the strong colognes at home.
4. The bothered server. This is the waiter who treats me like a bother, rather than a guest. This waiter makes no eye contact and has an attitude of aggravation. “What do ya want?” From this person there is a total lack of a warm and sincere greeting.
5. The server addressing the whole table by saying, “How you guys doing?” Especially when I’m dining with my wife – obviously not a ‘guy’.
6. The curt waiter or waitress with the preconceived judgment that a customer will not spend sufficient money to be worthy of attention. The memory here is of a trip two friends of mine made after a movie for a late night dessert and coffee. They told the hostess their intent and were seated. As soon as the waitress heard the reason for visiting that night, she brought over two glasses of water and slammed them on the table saying, “What do you want?”
7. The manager who puts the customer in an embarrassing position. In observing the reaction to the waitress above (number 6), the manager came over to their table to ask if everything was OK. When they complained about the rude treatment by the waitress, he began to yell at and berate the waitress right there in the middle of the dining room. A few minutes later, the waitress returned to my friends’ table, tearfully stating that she was sorry, and then giving a number of excuses, including that she was having a very bad day. I didn’t think she could have put herself in a worse light, but her string of excuses for her bad behavior did just that. Even if her husband had left her, her dog had died and she had gotten into a car accident on the way to work, her customers were just there for dessert and coffee.
8. The haughty waiter. Two young women went to a restaurant for an after-theatre supper. The restaurant was well known for cannelloni. The ladies decided that they would split an order of cannelloni because it was so late at night. When ordering, one lady mumbled that they wanted to split an order of canne… The waiter obviously did not understand what she had ordered because they received two small slivers of cantaloupe. When one of the ladies told the waiter about the mix-up, he became very angry and refused to take care of their table
9. The overly informal waiter. This person actually sat down in the booth opposite mine to take my order. It might be fitting in a Red Robin, but is it right for your restaurant?
10. The unhelpful server who is so unfamiliar with the food menu, liquor selection and wine list that he or she is unable to make suggestions. The guest cannot always know what the restaurant does best. “I don’t know” isn’t helpful here. Where’s the suggestive selling?
11. Bringing the check before you are finished eating and saying, “You don’t want any dessert, do you?”
12. Picking up the check with the money and saying, “Do you require change?”
13. Bringing back the change in large bills, rather than in a form conducive to a proper tip.
Astute owners and managers must be on a constant lookout for these gaffes in service. It’s not just the server’s tip, but the reputation of the restaurant as well.
Willis Getchell is a Certified Executive Chef with experience running his own restaurant and managing corporate and resort settings. He now shares his 30-plus years of well-seasoned experience at The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Phoenix. He is a recognized leader in his profession, receiving numerous honors, including the Institute’s 2006 Award of Excellence and the Valley of the Sun Chef’s Association Chef-of-the-Year award.