Hello waiter:

One of my pet peeves is feeling rushed by too-fast service.

I frequently dine out alone, usually at “off” hours when there’s no rush to turn tables, no wait list, etc. (I wouldn’t dream of tying up a table at such times). Typically, I have a good book, newspapers, etc. with me and I love to take time to enjoy my meal, a glass or two of wine, and my reading. Even when I tell my server that I am not in a hurry, sometimes I get the feeling they’re trying to rush me along. The most egregious example was when I once ordered a salad and an entree and specifically told my waiter NOT to bring out my entree until I had finished my salad: the entree came out, literally, as I was taking the third bite of my salad.

So lately, I’ve taken to ordering things one-at-a-time: an appetizer, a soup or salad, then my entree. I say “Let me start with this and then decide what I want next.” It’s the only way I’ve found to slow service down to a leisurely pace where I can really enjoy my meal without feeling like I’m being given the bum’s rush. Is there a better way to handle this? I know it probably drives a server crazy, but short of sending things back when they come out too early — which I’m too conflict-averse to do 😉 — I don’t know how else to handle it.

I tip very generously for good service — a minimum of 20% on the entire bill, including wine — and it seems to me that one hallmark of good service should be letting the customer set his/her own pace for their meal (within reason, of course). Am I off-base here?

Thanks, Waiter!

Dear Montanarose,

It sounds to me like you’re being rushed out by servers who don’t want to stay in the restaurant any longer than they have too. You mentioned that you dine out during “off hours.” If that means you’re walking in to a restaurant ten minutes before it closes and barricading yourself inside a booth with the Sunday New York Times, uh yeah, you’re being rushed. I’d rush you too! At that point everyone’s worked a long day and wants to go home. I hate when people walk into a restaurant five minutes before the ovens get turned off and tell us “they don’t want to be rushed.” When that happens, trust me, some angry Spanish guy’s in the back waving a large carving knife and discussing which one of your limbs he’s going to sever first.

In your case, however, “off hours” probably means between you’re looking for a quiet bite to eat before 3 and 5 PM. That’s when I like eat too. However, this is when most restaurants have their shift change between lunch and dinner service. You’re probably catching a lunch server who’s dying to leave the restaurant so they can pick up their kid from school, get to an audition or class, go to another job, or score some high grade recreational pharmaceuticals. Some control freak restaurants demand that a waiter serve their table from start to finish – no matter what time constraints or outside demands the server’s facing. So if my shift ends at 4PM and you walk in at 3:55, I might be stuck in the restaurant and extra two hours! I’ve seen it happen many times. When I managed The Bistro I always let the lunch server start the table and then transferred the check to a dinner waiter as soon as they showed up. (Or I took the table myself) That means the lunch server loses out on the tip but, after a long day, they usually don’t care.

Ordering your meal in stages is a bad idea as well. It screws up the timing in the kitchen and pisses the chef off. For example, let’s say you order a salad, eat it, and then order the risotto. Well that risotto’s going to take twenty minutes to half an hour to cook. I’m sure you’re patient, but most customers get antsy when encountering such a delay. I’ve had customers who delayed ordering their main course until after they finished their cocktails and appetizers freak out and demand to know why their well done steaks were taking so long! When the chef has the whole order in hand, he or she can manipulate the meal to come out on the schedule you want. That is of course, if the server tells the chef the customer’s timing preferences.

I laughed when I read the bit about the entrée coming three bites into your salad. That’s indicative of a kitchen fuck up. Javier, one of the bi-polar cooks at my last job, knew nothing about timing a meal. If the supervising chef wasn’t there he cook up an order the minute it got to the kitchen. Even if I told him that the customer was taking it slow, Javier would let the entrée languish under a heat lamp until it dried out just to spite me. (He was such a little prick.)

Bottom line – unless it’s just before closing or the restaurant’s packed and we need to turn tables, (so the owner and waiter can make money) there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to eat at your own pace. Explain to the waiter how you want the food to come out. If they’re a good server and it’s a classy place, they’ll respect your wishes and work with the kitchen to accommodate you. If the restaurant can’t or won’t – vote with your feet! Or talk to a manager! I know you said you’re conflict adverse but, if you get your entrée when you’re just starting your appetizer, SEND IT BACK! That’s bullshit!

The best way to avoid your problem is to patronize one or two restaurants and cultivate one or two waiters for your off-hour meals. This allows the staff to learn your preferences and respect your wishes regarding the time flow of your meal. It may not happen the first time you eat there, but after a few meals and a few good tips, servers will go out of their way to take care of you – no matter how long you take. We had a dozen customers like this at The Bistro. The first two times we served them might have been a little rocky, but after that initial trial and error phase they were faithful regulars for years.

If the restaurant won’t accommodate your reasonable requests go elsewhere!

Dear Waiter:

As a former waitress myself, I am always hesitant to bring in my half-full Starbucks/DD/Peet’s coffee or ice tea into a restaurant for fear of insulting the nice people who make coffee and tea there. What’s your call?

Great website.


Dear Maria:

Leave the Starbucks outside! Only wait staff are allowed to swill Starbucks inside the restaurant. IS NOTHING SACRED?

Dear Waiter:

You mentioned how much to tip at a take out place — I have to ask, why tip at all? We don’t tip at McDonald’s or Wendy’s! I think it’s a scam. They are measuring just how stupid we are. Those employees make at least minimum wage, right?



Dear Margaret:

“How much should you tip on take out?” was the most frequently asked of the 300 questions I found in my inbox this morning.

You should always tip on take out. You do not have to tip 20% on the check total but you should leave something. It’s not a scam Margaret. Mc Donald’s and other fast food joints do take out as their bread and butter. White table cloth restaurants do not. Take out orders from higher end establishments are more complicated than a burger and fries – and more expensive too! I remember taking a $300 take out order at The Bistro! I’m sure those customers didn’t want to find their food soggy and mashed up in the bottom of a cheap paper bag! Somebody has to take the order, pack it up carefully, and make sure it gets to the right customer. It doesn’t matter if the worker’s a waiter or a bus person; some sort of gratuity is appropriate and appreciated. Workers at McDonald’s make minimum wage. Waiters and bus people do not. In New York State the minimum wage is $7.15 an hour. In NY State the minimum wage for tipped workers is $4.60 an hour. That small wage, when added to the tips received from customers, should raise compensation levels for waiters and bus people to or above $7.15 an hour. So you see Margaret, waiters and bus people need to tips to survive. And we appreciate the take out tips! Every little bit helps.

Like I said, you don’t need to tip 20% or even 15% on take out. A good rule of thumb is between 7% and 10% percent. For example:

$20 takeout order? $2 tip.

$50 takeout order? $4 or $5 dollar tip.

$100 takeout order? C’mon, leave the guy ten bucks.

There are, of course, generous souls who leave 15-20% on take out. Bless you and keep doing it! The Kingdom of Heaven is yours!

And the people who don’t leave a tip on take out? Well, they’re going to the “other place.”

Please send your restaurant questions to [email protected]

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