A few days ago Becky from Mommy Needs Vodka (actually it's Mommy Wants Vodka but I think needs is better) and I were reminiscing on our days of waiting tables. Fun times. As a former waitress, I feel it's my duty to give everyone a few tips on how to make the most of your dining experience.
The first thing you'll notice when you come through the door of most any fine dining establishment is the Please Wait To Be Seated sign. Ignore it. This does not mean you. You have eyes. You don't need to be told where or where not to sit. Just wander around until you find the busiest section. This means that your server is the "popular" server and you want to be right where the action is. The perfect table will probably be dirty so create your own personal space by conspicuously shoving everything to one side of the table. Then take your napkin and disgustedly start wiping it off.
Now you need to get the servers attention. Whistling or snapping your fingers will make your server respond with greater alacrity. As the hostess walks by seating less assertive people, cheerily call out, "Hey, we need menus!" Now your server will probably come over to your table and intrusively ask, "How are you today?" Avoid eye contact at all costs. Say nothing. Finish your conversation with your dining companion. You must make it clear from the start just who is calling the shots here - you. Your server may now make a second attempt to establish rapport by asking, "May I get you something to drink?" Shoot them down. Respond with "No thanks. I'll just have water." Again, you're in control. Your server will wonder just how you're going to ingest it if you're not going to drink it. Intravenously? Or perhaps by spilling it on the table and absorbing it through osmosis?
When your server returns with the water tell him/her that you are ready to order. Now is a chance to really let them shine. Ask a lot of questions about the menu. Ask about the Early Bird Special. So what if it's after 9 pm? Ask for the kids menu. If he tells you there is no kids menu say, "are you sure? The last time I was here there was definitely a kids' menu." After awhile your server will start to shift his weight from foot to foot looking around the restaurant at his other tables who are probably waving to get attention. This is the perfect time to ask about the specials. Vacillate between the two chicken specials for awhile and then order the pasta off the menu. Wait at least ten minutes before changing your order. Your server shouldn't have been pressuring you to make up your mind! Flag down the busboy or better yet, make physical contact. Explain to him that you've changed your mind and you want the chicken special after all. Except you want it dry, broiled, sauce on the side, without the skin and no butter. Repeat no butter! You're allergic. Wait no more than five minutes to ask what's taking so long. After all didn't you say you were in a hurry?
When your food FINALLY arrives the real fun begins. You are in the driver's seat. This is the time to make your server work for their tip (if they get one) Asking for a variety of items will make him feel useful. Ask for salt. When he comes back with it ask for pepper. Oil and vinegar? you get the picture. Request some Tabasco sauce. Even if you don't use it it will comfort you to know it's there.
At this point your server may start making himself scarce. Track him down. Follow him into the kitchen or send your precocious four-year-old after him. Restaurant servers love children. Think of the establishment as your own personal Gymboree. Your child should be able to express themselves vocally, physically and spatially. Remember, the restaurant is responsible for their safety.
Once your server places down the check, look it over, then find an item you don't feel like paying for. Wasn't that rice a little starchy? Demand that it be taken off the bill. If your server hesitates even for a moment, ask to see a manager. If you feel your confrontation with the manager is not heading towards a complimentary meal , feel free to use the "there was a hair in my food" line. When your server returns with your discounted check tell him you're thinking about dessert. But for now you'll just have coffee, preferably with non-fat milk and decaf. Definitely decaf. You're allergic to caffeine.
After six refills of coffee (they're free) you may notice some of the other workers are putting chairs upside down on the table. Now is a great time to have a look-see at the dessert menu. Take your time eating because after all, you're not just a customer but you're a guest in their home. Once you get your last single bite of dessert boxed up to take home, settle up the check. Don't insult your waiter who is probably lingering around in his street clothes, by leaving a tip. it is his pleasure to serve you.