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Ask a Restaurant Server: Things You Want to Know,
but Were Afraid to Ask
By Kathy Stephenson, The Salt Lake Tribune McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

December 15, 2009 --We dine out for the food, but the service we receive can make -- or break -- the meal.

We expect waiters to be friendly, courteous, helpful and fast. But good service is a two-way street. Diners have a responsibilities, too.

The Tribune asked four Utah restaurant servers about all things dining, from proper tipping and pet peeves to sending food back.

Our serving panel included: Don Heath, a longtime server at Tuscany in Holladay; Ivan Lopez, a server at Z'Tejas at The Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City; Michael Anderson, a server at Carvers Steaks and Chops, Sandy; and Ammie West, an experienced server at downtown's Cafe Trio.

Here's what they said about:


Heath -- "If your server has gotten everything correct and you appreciate [his/her] work, you should be giving 20 percent. But tipping should also follow the style of the restaurant. If it's a fine-dining restaurant where they have water goblets, remove the crumbs from the tables and the server is knowledgeable about the menu and the wine list, you should be tipping more than someplace where you get a sandwich. Also, if you ask for a lot of extra things, the expectation is for a higher tip."

Anderson -- "Remember, servers get no (or minimal) hourly wages. We live on our tips."

West -- "I don't think people realize that I don't take home the entire tip. Servers 'tip

out,' giving a percent to the host, the people who bused the table, the food runner, the bartender and the dishwasher. And even if I don't get tipped the full 20 percent, I still give them their full percent from the bill."

Sending food back

West -- "The best way to approach it, is just like anything else in life, with courtesy and tact. If it's not hot enough or the flavor is off, I would want to know right away. Many people will suffer in silence because they don't want to hold up the other guests. But if you're honest and tell me right away, I can probably get something in the oven or on the stove and back to your table before your other guests are finished."

Lopez -- "After your initial bite, if it's too spicy or not what you want, tell us. It's not like the movies where you've have to be scared about what we will do to your food. But on the other hand, don't eat the whole plate and then try to send it back. We get a little suspicious."

Pet peeves

Heath -- No. 1: "When people set their drink right in front of them or rearrange plates and utensil. When I come with an armful of salads, there's no space to put their plates down. People need to give their server a little room to work with."

Heath -- No. 2: "When a diner is constantly anticipating my next move. Don't ask when the entrees will be arriving when people at the table are stilling eating their salad. You should be enjoying yourselves and just let the server do their job."

Lopez -- "Split checks. I've learned to ask before I start talking orders. It's tacky to argue at the table."

Anderson -- "Substitutions are fine. But it's hard when people ask for stuff that we don't have or start making up their own menu with things we just can't do.

West -- "Don't put your (already chewed) gum on your plate. You don't do it at home, don't do it here. Someone has to pick it off. If the restaurant has cloth napkins, ask for a paper one. I really appreciate it when people ask me for that."

Waiting for a table

Heath -- "When you're in a time crunch, don't go out to eat and then blame the restaurant when you are late. We will try our best, but we have a room full of 70 other people. When you ask us to hurry your dish, you're making us put you ahead of everyone else. When we are busy, you are not going to get same service as when it's really calm. Don't have that expectation."

Lopez -- No. 1: "I like it when people ask me for suggestions. We've tried everything on the menu, including the nightly specials. There are so many great dishes, let me show you something else."

Lopez -- No. 2: "If you make a reservation, be on time. Other people see those empty tables and get out of control because we're not seating them."

Anderson -- "Make a reservation. It guarantees you a better table."

West -- "If you have to wait for a table (Trio doesn't accept reservations), understand that there's a method to our madness. Don't be upset when a table of two, who came in after you, is seated before your group of eight. Have faith and patience that we will seat you as soon as possible."


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