BY CARLOS CARDENAS
The restaurant industry isn’t easy work. But ask anyone who has worked in a restaurant for years and many of them will say they have a passion for great food, cocktails or feel at home in an eatery.
Many loyal patrons feel similar about fine dinning. We, in the restaurant industry, would be at a detrimental loss if it weren’t for our customers and together we perform this delicate dance to keep good restaurants open and unique food options available.
However, there are some things every server, bartender or restaurant manager want the public to know. This is not a slight against foodies, or a pretentious attempt from a restaurant person to educate a non-restaurant person, but rather an opportunity to share some information about a very basic and common aspect of cultural life. Restaurants have been around for centuries; the oldest still in operation is Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, founded in 1725. Customs have most definitely changed since the 18th century, but these are some basic tidbits we’d all like for the general public to be aware of.
>> Always wait to be seated.
It doesn’t matter if there is no one in the restaurant when you walk in, or if it’s a place you’ve been coming to for years. Every restaurant has a flow and system, and servers depend on those systems to appropriately distribute tables amongst each other and therefore, make their money. You never know if there is a reservation for 20 minutes from the moment you walked in, and when you pick whatever table you want without speaking to a host or server, you throw off all the planning for the entire shift.
>> There is a difference between a busboy and a server.
They each perform specific tasks and make their money through different avenues, but hugely depend on each other for stellar service. When you give your order to a busboy just because he is nearest to you, you interrupt his focus, and open up the possibility for confusion for the wait staff. The busboy is there to clean your table and tidy up the area where you were dinning, not to bring you extra sauce and most definitely not to ask the chef how much longer your food is going to take. Have a little patience; your server will be with you shortly.
>> Couples (of any age) need to stop sitting on the same side of a booth.
Not only does it look ridiculous — and yes, it looks ridiculous — but when you are just a party of two and decide to occupy a table for four because you want more room to sit on the same side of each other, you are stopping a table for four people from sitting there and preventing a server from making the most money. If you are just two people, sit at a table for two and look at each other in the face.
>> Every customer is important, but when someone has adopted the mentality of, “I’m paying for it, so give me whatever I’m asking for,” that poses a problem.
We encourage anyone’s culinary creativity but ordering off-menu and placing a very specific request for the kitchen staff is just as frustrating as it is disrespectful to the chef. The menu has been painstakingly mulled over, with food and labor costs considered for each dish, and when someone orders a fruit platter that is not on the menu just because they’re in the mood for mango it shows little regard for the establishment. Once that very specific order has been submitted, an entire conversation needs to be had between the server, their manager and the chef in order to decide how much to charge, how to input that into the system so the weekly numbers aren’t thrown off. Everything on the menu is there for a reason.
>> It serves no purpose to decant a bottle of house wine.
House wine is meant to be served by the glass and moves the most volume of any other bottle. Restaurants buy house wine because the juice is good and because it is affordable. That being said, these wines are produced in large quantities, so they typically are not very complex. No amount of time is a decanter is going to allow the wine to develop or open up. The wine simply was not made that way. Decanters are expensive and should only be used when opening a bottle that would benefit from aeration or further development. A $20 bottle of house cabernet is going to taste exactly the same before and after being decanted.
Restaurants would be nothing without our customers, and of course we rely on you for our continued success. Our hope by sharing some of these inside perspectives is that customers have a more thorough understanding as to how we operate and function, so that we can continue to provide the best experience for you, our valued guest.
Carlos Cardenas is a Rio Grande Valley native and a Level 1 Sommelier.