10 Questions You Shouldn’t Ask Servers and Bartenders

Diners asking service staff questions is a big part of the dining experience. No one knows what sabra or mirepoix is. It’s up to the server or bartender to explain and guide the guests through the menu.

But some questions really don’t need to be asked.

Some questions are so vague or rude or just invasive, they will surely be retold to co-workers at the end of the night. And yet, these are typical questions asked by guests that I’ve experienced over my many years working in the FOH. The next time you’re out to dinner, either rephrase or let these questions go through a mental filter before speaking aloud. This should always be done, but with what service industry folk are going through this year with the coronavirus guidelines, a little kindness with direct communication can go a long way right now.

1. “What’s good here?”

Setting aside the judgemental tone, I never understood this question simply because it’s so vague. You’re inside a thriving business, sir – lots, if not everything, is good here. And what’s your standard for good? Are you looking for the best dish on the menu? Or do you only want the “good” food? Help me out, are we shooting for the gold or bronze?

For food, this is a little easier; just point them to the thing everyone orders. But recommendating drinks was always harder. Do you drink whiskey? Gin? Do you want cocktails with tons of juice or just vodka on the rocks?

Next time, be direct about what you’re in the mood for or what you generally prefer, or even absolutely hate: “I like bourbon. Which drink should I drink?” or “I’m starving. I want to eat a lot, but also, I hate fish.”

Here’s a simple formula to follow: “What’s a good noun here?”

Fill in the noun – entree, dish, cocktail. And if you can go further and explain what you want, well, I went from stifling a deep sigh to probably buying you a drink.

2. “You’re going to remember all of that?”

Sweet Jesus, now I’m not! Why are you openly doubting someone else’s capabilities?! I used to never write down orders and I would always remember them, even when someone would ask that gem. If you’re wondering how servers do this, I’ll tell you.

They concentrate and visualize what people are telling them. It involves listening. It’s that easy.

Until someone speaks up and sows doubt into your mind. It’s a dick move. Another adult is doing their job – trust that they are doing it to the best of their ability. And if they don’t and you get the wrong dish? Hey, that happens when people write it down, too. Nonetheless, it’ll be corrected.

So relax. They got this.

3. “What are you making?

A drink, obviously! Maybe if I was creating a ferris wheel from Legos or cold fusion, this explanation would be warranted, but it’s not! People seem to only like to ask this when the bar is packed and I’m making several drinks at once.

My mind is actually on 20 different things right now, so unless you want me to ruin this guy’s Manhattan, perfect, that guy’s negroni but with mezcal, and that chic’s vodka martini she wants extra cold with three olives, please wait until I’m done pouring and stirring to ask this.

4. “Smile!”

Man, at least the mandatory facemasks will stop this request. I once had a guy ask me to smile while I had my entire arm submerged into an ice cold bucket trying to retrieve a champagne bottle. My face is gasping because of hypothermia, sir. I literally cannot smile right now.

I used to get this a lot while working until either my face relaxed or I hit an age where men, and some women, decided they weren’t interested in whether or not I smiled.

Telling someone else to smile says so much about the type of person you are – and it’s not a good person.

Serving and bartending is a tense and demanding job that you literally have to be friendly or you’re one Yelp review away from a write-up. I’m not actively trying not to smile. I’m concentrating, constantly re-prioritizing all of my guests needs, so, yes, my mouth might have slipped into a straight line while I was carrying a tray loaded with drinks that’s a quarter of my body weight.

And there were some days that, due to personal or work related problems or both, I could barely muster up a smile. Maybe, just maybe, instead of asking your server to smile or writing a passive aggressive note on the back of a check, you could do something, rather than telling them, to make that person smile.

“But that’s part of customer service!” some will argue.

Is it?

Being prompt, friendly, and anticipating needs is customer service. Toxic positivity isn’t.

5. “You know who you look like?”

All right, sometimes this is fun. I’ve gotten Hilary Swank time and time again. I’ll take it! But I’m vain and have been graced with a somewhat symmetrical face. Commenting on a stranger’s attractiveness is bad manners, especially when they are in the position of serving you.

And why is this so prevalent within the service industry? I’m guessing because alcohol is involved and, in a way, guests consider servers and bartenders as entertainers? I doubt car dealers are being told they look like William H. Macy all the time. Or maybe they are.

6. “Can you call me a cab?”

YOU GUYS. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? YOU’RE HOLDING A SMARTPHONE. CALL THE CAB COMPANY YOURSELF. OR EVEN BETTER, DOWNLOAD UBER OR LYFT. IT TAKES 5 MINUTES. YOU’RE TORTURING THE 20 YEAR OLD HOSTESS. SHE’S TOO YOUNG TO KNOW WHAT A CAB IS.

7. “Will you just write in the tip for me?”

I mean, I will, but you have to tell me what the credit limit on this card is because that’s what I’m going for!

8. “Will you sit in my lap?”

A sweaty drunk guy asked me this once after he ate a fuckload of pasta. I respectfully declined. This is not a common question, because why would it be, but it falls under the same vein as hitting on service staff. Unless they’re asking you out or offering to sit in your lap and feed you noodles, don’t ask for their number.

9. “Can you turn the air conditioning up?”

You might be wondering, well, this seems like a reasonable question. And it is. However, no one does this. We make you think we do. We make a big show of peering at the thermostat and pretending to press the button, but we don’t. Then we wait a little while and go back and ask, “Is that better?” And you say, “Oh, yes, it is!”

I don’t know why this works. Every time, I waited for the person to tell me they were still cold, but they never did. So, actually, you can ask this, but nothing tangible will be done to solve it. But you will, somehow, be warmer.

10. “Are you sure there aren’t any tables?”

Yes. We are sure. We’re not trying to prevent you from eating. Our business is literally convincing people to eat and drink here. That is how we get paid. There is no point in asking this, other than to make the hostess’ anxiety worse. Put your name on the waitlist and have a drink at the bar.

And remember to ask, “What’s a good noun here?”

(Photo by Henrique Félix via Unsplash)

From Bartender to Freelance Writer: How to Prepare for A Career Change

I’ve been in the service industry for my entire adult life, except for one eleven month period when I got out. The phrase “got out” pertaining to someone leaving the hospitality industry is, I imagine, almost synonymous with a felon leaving prison.

The recidivism rate within the service industry is probably lower than most correctional facilities because, in prison, you can at least sit down every so often and punch someone in the face if they complain about the food. My first attempt at getting out of bartending sputtered and stalled, for several reasons.

I failed because I wasn’t prepared. I had money saved, but there was no budget. I lacked the emotional maturity so any rejection or hiccup sent my anxiety soaring. I would give up for the day and drink copious amounts of pinot grigio from a jug while watching HGTV and checking my dwindling bank account. I didn’t have a supportive partner or even close friends in the city I was living in. In hindsight, it’s no surprise I returned to bartending, serving (literally, ha HA) another seven years, or as they say on the inside, 84 months.

Now, it’s time to get out- for good. This will be tricky because I don’t have a job in another industry lined up. In fact, there will be no single job. I’m going from slinging drinks to freelance writing. Not a decision to be made lightly, I’ve been planning for this for a few months.

Make The Decision

I bartend in a corn maze

To be fair, I never liked my current job. Never mind the inconsistency, the low stipend for playing the role of bar manager (really, an inflated title they gave me to compensate for having to deal with a three compartment sink), or the exhausting physical aspect of it, what always bothered me was the low-grade sexism of the place. I’ve worked in places where the sexism was really blatant, which, frankly, would be welcome at this point.

Pointing out that a tank top for female employees reading, “Eat my pie,” is bullshit versus explaining that everytime I ask a question, turning away from me to face the nearest man to give the answer is much harder. Or wondering why male employees receive their supervisor pay on a different check than myself. If I wanted to be gaslit all the time, I would go back to my alcoholic ex.

Tell People/ Find a Support System

In order to make the decision real, i.e. not back out, I told people. So if I did back out, it would also be embarrassing on top of soul-sucking. Telling people what I want is hard for me so this was a good exercise. Plus, I could read their reactions to see if I was making a huge mistake.

To my surprise everyone’s responses were positive and told me to go for it. My partner offered to help as best as he could. Friends were excited to hear the news. I was not expecting an overwhelmingly positive response, but more on that later.

Create a Budget

Creating a budget is like cleaning out your closet. You find an old sweater you were missing (or money) along the way and at the end, even though maybe you tried on an old pair of pants and they’re way too tight (or it costs more to live than you thought), you’re at least facing the truth. Terrifying but cathartic.

To track what I’m earning and spending, I made an appointment with a financial consultant at Next Door, which is free and run by State Farm. How is this free? In return, they use your data to create entertaining commercials starring character actors and beloved quarterbacks so we buy more insurance products from them. Tit for tat, baby.

After a nice woman collected data from me (College? How did you get here? Rent?), she handed me a worksheet. The sheet listed expenses into categories: fixed, variable and non-monthly. Fixed is a set amount you spend every month like rent, variable would be bills but they vary a bit, like groceries or utilities and non-monthly would be clothing or gifts. After you tally those, you add them up and subtract from your monthly income. Hopefully, you have money left over, which would be either disposable income or savings. If not, you scream until you figure out what you can cut from your life. Actually, regardless, there will be internal screaming.

A seagull, after seeing his monthly clothing budget

Since I’m going into freelance without clients, my income would become me paying myself from my savings. Awesome because I can give myself a raise whenever I want to the detriment of my boss, me, who will simply ask more out of me, the employee.

Make a Plan

All right. I made the decision, I told people, and I created a budget. Now. What’s the plan? What needs to be done to start getting clients? I wrote things to do on Post-It notes:

  • make your website look professional, i.e. take down drunken rants from three years ago (but save as drafts; they are money)
  • find a domain name that isn’t stupid
  • start an Upwork account
  • research other avenues to find clients
  • start blogging
  • create more specs
  • decide what kind of work you want to do

Panic

Deciding on a domain name took me two days. Then I tried to redesign my WordPress site, which again took a lot longer than the 45 minutes I envisioned. “This theme? No, this theme? This theme? No, this theme? No, this theme.” Researching revenue streams took me down Clickbait Avenue. Trying to decide a niche for myself was another 48 hours of listing things I knew and then asking, “But do I really?” With a timeline of six weeks to get everything together and quitting my job, I needed a sense of urgency.

Rip Apart an Elephant

Do it

What’s the saying? It’s easier to eat an elephant by tearing it limb by limb than biting into the whole thing?

I’m pretty sure that’s it.

When faced with too many things to do, I freeze. To unfreeze, I broke down my to do list into bite sized pieces. I compared it to running. If I’m planning on a 45 minute run, that seems daunting. But if I tell myself to make it to the fifteen minute mark and then the 20 minute mark, then the thirty, it’s not so hard.

So, instead of just a “Organize WordPress site” post-it note, I broke it down into multiple post-it notes: “Draw website”, “Write Copy”, “Organize Pages”, “Write Specs. I accomplished two of those in the same time frame as it would have taken me to procrastinate by baking cookies.

If you hit the proverbial elephant with a grenade

Expect Good Things

Always expecting the worse has been my mantra for the last several decades. While this has given my humor a knife sharp edge, my negativity is exhausting and not much fun. Changing my outlook to positivity is a must.

Generally, people don’t dive into a pool expecting to hit their head on a rock and severing their spinal cord, rendering them a quadriplegic and becoming a burden to loved ones. Usually, as a diver arches their way into the shimmering blue water, they anticipate the cool splash and the suddenly absence of sound, replaced with the gurgling of water. Then you rush to the top, with all your limbs still working and your face breaks through the surface back into the world and you breathe that sweet, sweet air.