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May I take your order?

Dining Outiquette

Long before I was a Mommy – and also while I was becoming and being a Mommy – I worked as a waitress at popular tourist destinations on the World-Famous Cabot Trail. Over the nine years I have worked in customer service and the food and beverage industry, I have seen everything from adults who don’t like their peas to touch their carrots and kids who throw their peas and carrots. It’s an occupation that can be positively grating on your nerves and sanity, but I mostly enjoyed it and know many people for whom it is a lifelong career. While I always really loved the opportunity to interact with people, I used to have a difficult time connecting with kids at the table and since becoming a Mom (and after eating almost every meal in a hotel for a whole week), I’ve learned that a lot of servers are super uncomfortable with kids so I’d like to present you with a list of Do’s and Don’ts when eating out with your kids.

1.       Do at least try to clean up their mess. I know you’re out to eat and the server is getting paid, but that server also has other tables, other meals and other people who need his or her attention. No, you don’t have to wipe the table, but at least try to pick up some of the stuff your kid threw all over the floor. They’re cursing you as you leave.

2.       If your child is hungry or impatient (as if there was ever a kid who could wait for food in a restaurant), DO tell the server up front that you’d like your child’s meal immediately. While some servers (read: experienced ones or parents themselves) do this as a precaution, it is so easily overlooked and most kitchens don’t automatically get a child’s food ready right away. Be proactive. Bonus if you bring a snack to keep ‘em happy.

3.       Don’t force the awkward “Suzie, say hello to the nice lady” bit between the kid and the server. It’s not OK and it’s really, really uncomfortable. If your child is shy or doesn’t feel like being social, let them be quiet and just order the damn meal. Your waitress probably has other things to do, and you should be drinking some wine by now.

4.       Do ask the server about alternativesfor kids’ meals: the last restaurant I worked in didn’t even have a children’s menu – but we did half orders of almost everything. My son would rather eat a salad than eat fries, so I often ask if it would be possible for him to have a half order of salad. Sometimes I get funny looks and the worst they can say is no! Trust me – they’d rather be asked than have you be complaining about the “limited options” or leaving unhappy.

5.       Do keep your kid in their seat, or get out. This might seem harsh, but there are two outcomes to your child getting “loose”, and neither is pretty. One outcome involves the server tripping over them and dropping food – the table waiting for that food is going to be pissed, and the server is going to be irate and unable to say anything. The second is that your child could get really badly hurt – hot tea and coffee is a real danger, folks. When I was dining room manager, I had no problem asking guests to please not have their children running around. I’ve also seen other tables get up and leave, and that is totally unacceptable.

6.       Don’t over complicate the order, especially in a busy dining room. Allergies are one thing, but your picky eater is going to starve to death if you don’t try to curb that now. If you know your kid won’t eat ¾ of the ingredients in a meal you should choose something else rather than asking the server to have the kitchen pick things out or swap. Save that for homecooked meals.

7.       Do try to give the server the benefit of the doubt: he or she may be totally uncomfortable with kids, and while the dining room might not look busy that server has a ton of other work to be done. BUT, if the service is bad, ask for a manager.

In general – just a few things you might want to keep in mind for eating out:

1. DO NOT snap your fingers at your server. Raising your hand or saying a simple (and polite) “excuse me” is more than enough. I hated the finger snap, and chances are your server does too. We are not dogs. We are not your maid.

2. If your server asks if you’d like anything else… that would be the best time to tell her. Don’t ask her for ketchup, only to ask for water once that arrives, and then for an extra napkin when she comes back again. It is tireseome and no one wants to make eleven trips to the same table!

3. Don’t treat your server like an idiot. I’m a (fairly) smart individual, and nothing irked me more than when people talked to me like a total dork. Don’t assume your server is just working for the summer, or while he or she studies either: there are a lot of people who choose to make a career out of the service industry, and they do damn well for themselves.

4. Last, but definitely not least, tip on service not on food. I have no control over how quickly food comes out of the kitchen or whether or not the chef got your steak just right. If I did, I wouldn’t have been taking your order – I would have been cooking it. If you’re unhappy with your meal, tell the server. He or she can probably comp it and will more than likely try to make it up to you. Don’t cut the tip in half because the food was awesome.

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