Restaurant Ettiquette: Closing Time

(December 11)

Before I ever set foot in Paris, I had learned from watching various films that there are two types of people; those who prefer to walk the streets of Paris in the rain and those who prefer the streets while dry while dry. While I find myself on team rainy-Paris (yes, I am a romantic), I found that I most enjoyed Paris at night, walking back to our Airbnb after dinner and watching the restaurant workers stacking the patio tables and chairs and sweeping the sidewalks while their last table finished their espressos. Continue reading

Restaurant Etiquette: Credit Cards

December 4th

1. Don’t ask the server to decide which credit card to take at the end of meal. We’ve all seen and heard the haggling at a table after the check arrives. From “Are you going to let an old lady pay for dinner?” To “It’s his birthday, he can’t pay!” Imagine playing out this scene at a grocery store or dentist’s office and the absurdity becomes immediately clear. The cashier at the Kroger does not care who pays the bill; he will simply take the first form of payment handed to him. So too with restaurants (unless you are a regular, in which case we will generally always take your card regardless of when you hand it over.)

2. If it is important to you that you pay the check rather than someone else in your party, there are ways to arrange it. The easiest strategy is to arrive early for your reservation and slip your credit card to the server before your guests arrive. Alternately, many restaurants will allow you to leave a credit card days in advance if you are willing to complete a credit card authorization form so they can keep your card on file. As alluded in point 1, being a regular guest at an establishment generally ensures that the scales will be weighted in your favor in a credit-card duel.

3. If your party plans to split multiple ways, it is a good idea to bring cash. It is also a good idea to ask for separate checks BEFORE you order anything. This allows your server to organize the checks in advance so there is no confusion when the check arrives at the table.

4. Regarding check splitting, there are, in fact, apps like TAB which divide the tab for you, enabling your party to pay the bill with one credit card and settle up amongst yourselves later.

5. Get used to paying at the table. Credit and debit cards with chips in them encourage restaurants and other vendors to arrange payment systems that allow customers to keep the card on their person at all times. Besides making your credit card look like something from the Jetsons, they shift liability for fraudulent transactions to the “least secure” part of the payment pipeline, i.e.– onto the restaurant. So while some guests may find paying at the table rather rude, it is likely to become the new normal.

Restaurant 101: Sections

In a restaurant, either directly or in passing, you may have heard “that’s not my section,” (or “that’s MY section” depending on the nature of the conversation). Sections are exactly what they sound like; each server in the dining room is assigned an group of tables in the dining room. Depending on the typical volume of guests in the restaurant a server’s section can be anywhere from 3 tables to 10. Sections are not random or arbitrary, however, they are integral to the smooth operation of the dining room, ensuring that a staff member does not get overwhelmed with more guests than he can handle, and maintaining an equitable spread of guests throughout the restaurant.

Sometimes you might see a whole section of empty tables in a restaurant and all the guests are seated in close vicinity to each other. Just because a table is empty does not mean it is available; there may not be staff assigned to the empty area. In corporate restaurants, you are unlikely to be seated in a closed section. In a mom-and-pop neighborhood spot, you might be able to finagle a table in a technically closed section, but keep in mind that because the restaurant is staffed with the crew in the other section, your service is likely to be slower.

Sectioning the restaurant is a necessary part of the service solution, ensuring that no staff member becomes overwhelmed, and thereby that all guests’ needs are efficiently handled.

Restaurant 101: Carrying Plates

Here’s another tip from serving school: how to carry multiple plates. This is just the basic 2-3-4 plate carries. I am deeply in awe of diner servers in fast-paced joints that can stack seven chicken-fried steak dinners, but I know that skill can only come from years of experience with the weight and balance of a particular set of dishes, acclimation to their temperatures, and the sure-footedness that comes from knowing a restaurant dining room as well as one’s own home.

The multiple plate carry is useful for dinner parties, or for your first job in a restaurant. The four plate carry is also ideal for transporting plates of birthday cake from a conference room to your office mates, should the occasion arise 😉

Restaurant 101: Maitre’ d

Maitre d’

(May-truh dee)

From the French maitre d’ hotel, which means, essentially, ‘Master of the House.’ Typically this title is unisex, applying to men or women in the position, as the feminized “Mistress of the house” has, *ahem*, un-egalitarian connotations.

In the restaurant, the ‘House’ has two sides; the Front of House and the Back of House. The Front of House encompasses the areas that customers interact with, the dining room, the hallways, washrooms, etc. It also contains the liminal spaces of the phone lines and reservation system. The Front of House can extend to Valet service, coatcheck in a complex fine dining establishment.

The Maitre D is the Master of the Front of House. This seemingly simple definition can be applied in multiple ways in various dining rooms. In some restaurants the Maitre D is the de facto manager. She may be responsible for overseeing staff assignments, monitoring service, coordinating arrangements with the kitchen, bar, as well as handling any employee issues that arise in the course of a service. The de facto manager style Maitre D will also be responsible for closing out the days’ cash/ credit card transactions, locking up the restaurant, etc.

Some people with the title Maitre D further act as the sommelier if the restaurant does not have one on staff.

In a fine dining operation with the full coterie of roles from Bread Server to Service Captain, however, the Maitre D may act more as the head waiter and lead host, greeting guests at the door, remembering repeat customers, making everyone feel welcome, and waiting on certain VIP tables himself.

Wherever you find one, however, the Maitre D is a good friend to have in the dining room. He is the best person to make special requests from (flowers to arrive at your table, a bottle of champagne waiting for you, a certain table for an important meal, or menus without prices listed on them when you are treating guests and want them to feel welcome to order anything). It is not out of place to offer a gratuity to a Headwaiter style Maitre D who has taken special care of you. But as some Maitre D’s are actually salaried managers and precluded from accepting tips, do not be surprised if a tip is rebuffed with a polite “Thank you, but a tip is not necessary.” If a Maitre D turns down a gratuity, it would be rude to continue to offer one.

Restaurant 101: Marking

Mark– verb. The act of setting a table with the appropriate utensils for the next course.

“Desserts are up for table four, have they been marked?”

“Yes, everyone has coffee spoons and dessert forks”

Usually marking is performed by the server, though in some establishments the duty is shared equally by servers and backwaiters.