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Hostess Jail

Steven King-or maybe Dave Barry-said he’d never trust anyone who was rude to his server. Have you ever sat next to a table of diners who appear to be in the middle of a power lunch? Pay close attention. Watch as the waitress is ignored, or worse, motioned to remain silent while the customers continue to talk on their phones and to one another. They apparently don’t know that a small ration of civility goes a long way towards impressing clients. It also improves your chances of getting that club sandwich before sundown.

However, courtesy doesn’t begin at the table. Be pleasant to the person who greets you when you enter a restaurant. Remember, that twenty-something hostess holds the key to your dining experience. If you don’t have a reservation, don’t lie and say someone must have neglected to write it down. Or if you made a reservation for twenty and you know that only eleven are going to show, say so. Apologize. Don’t be like the woman who cavalierly admitted, once the no-shows were obvious, that she’d exaggerated when booking the luncheon. Trust me, hostesses and servers hate exaggeration.

Okay, it’s your turn and the hostess leads you to your table. Instead of the romantic dark corner you were hoping for, she shows you a table in the middle of the dining room with a toddler and his highchair backed up to it. Again, politely ask the hostess for a different table, please. If you’ve played nice up to this point, and it’s at all possible, you’ll be shown to a better table. If not you may be sentenced to hostess jail. Didn’t know there was such a place? Oh yeah. Just turn left at the highchair.

You escape jail with a warning. You’re seated at a wonderful candlelit table. You say please and thank you when you tell the waiter that you’re deathly allergic to mushrooms. The salad arrives and, woe is me, it’s covered with sliced portabellas. The time to point this out is now. Don’t pout until the untouched salad plate is removed and you’ve filled up on bread. As soon as you see there’s a mistake with your food, tell the waiter. He’s almost as interested in making sure you enjoy your dinner as you are since his living depends on it but he can’t fix a problem after the fact. Complaining is a fine art. Your goal should be solving the problem. Nothing is more irritating to everyone involved than a customer who waits until the bill is presented and then says, “I just thought you should know…” Too late.

This is also not the time to ask for separate checks. The server needs to know when you order if you require individual tickets. Waiting until the last minute makes splitting the check difficult and time consuming. Usually, the bill is rung into a computer before the food is even ordered. That way food doesn’t leave the kitchen without being accounted for.

On the flip side, what if you want to pay the entire tab and you think your guest will try to manhandle the check away from you? Instead of arm wrestling or threatening bloodshed, catch the server ahead of time and discreetly slip her your credit card. Whatever you do, don’t grab the check and then sit on it. It’s really frustrating for a server to have to guess what happened to the check they’re forced to collect. That same customer who exaggerated the size of her party is likely to hide the ticket in her purse instead of taking care of it when it’s presented. You don’t have to pay the check immediately but after fifteen or twenty minutes the server might start circling your table like a bird of prey. Time to start fumbling for your wallet. Leave the proper tip. Enough said. Everyone knows what’s expected and why. Right or wrong, tipped employees are paid only a token amount by the employer and have to share tip money with support staff and pay income taxes based on total sales.

Making an exit. Be as well mannered leaving as you were entering the restaurant. The customer who exaggerated also approached her waitress on her way out the door. She had something she wanted to press into the server’s hand. Expecting a few extra dollars, the waitress eagerly accepted the donation only to discover she was left holding a dirty Kleenex. Don’t be that diner.