If you have never had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, you may not be familiar with the term, "in the weeds." First off, allow me to congratulate you on never having worked in a restaurant.
"In the weeds" is what we restaurant folk (we're similar to "circus folk" except we smell like fajitas and honey mustard instead of cotton candy and clown tears) say when we are very behind in getting everything done that needs to be done.
One is thrown "in the weeds" for a variety of reasons: the dish guy hasn't run the silverware through the machine when tables need to be reset, the hostess is extremely adept at seating multiple parties at once, or maybe the restaurant is short-staffed because two servers called out sick to go to an audition.
Sometimes, it is the customer who throws us in the weeds and they have no idea they are doing it. Here are five ways that customers, unknowingly, throw their server into the weeds.
1. Asking for water for the entire table
Not all restaurants automatically serve water to every table and plenty of places only bring water when a customer specifically asks for it. Cocktail servers very rarely bring water to every guest. If you are thirsty, ask your server to bring you one. Do not, however, say, "Can I get a glass of water? In fact, just bring everyone a glass of water."
Do you know for certain that all eight people at your table actually want that water you just ordered for them? Think about how much time is going to be wasted for the server to retrieve eight glasses of water when only two or three people will drink them.
2. Saying you're ready to order when you're not ready to order
Any server will tell you that he does not have time to stand in front of a customer to watch him silently read the menu. As I stand there watching you try to decipher the difference between a grilled chicken breast and a fried chicken breast (clue: the grilled one is grilled), I can see other tables needing my assistance too.
If your server says something like, "I can see you're not quite ready, so let me give you some more time and I'll be back in a few minutes," just agree. I promise that the server will come back. If you say, "No, wait, I'm ready," and then proceed to say, "Ummmm," your server will be displeased.
3. Letting your child order for him or herself.
Look, I have patience with kids and I am all for them learning to place their own orders. However, know your child's limits. If the little one is too shy or scared to order their chicken fingers and tater tots on their own, just do it for them and let me get on my way.
"Tell the man what you want, honey. Go ahead, you can do it. Don't be shy, sweetie. You told me what you wanted, so now you can tell the nice man. C'mon honey, the nice man is waiting. What's the matter, you don't know anymore?"
I don'' have time to coax an order out of a child. Give them a chance to order and if they can't live up to the task, do it for them. They're kids, for crying out loud. Don't make them talk to the waiter if they don't want to.
4. Not listening to your server
How many times can I list the beers on draft to one table of four people? Four, that's how many times. There is no reason for a server to have to repeat the beer list, the dressings or the specials. We say it once and we expect everyone at the table to pay attention to us and not be engrossed on their cell phone so they can check in on Facebook.
When your server is talking to you, he's doing it for a reason. He is conveying information because he already knows what the specials are and you don't. Repeating the specials an extra time is fine, but four times just means that you're not paying attention and you're wasting my time.
5. Asking for separate checks at the end of the meal rather than at the beginning
These days, computers in restaurants make it pretty simple to offer separate checks. However, it's really helpful to have that information when we are ringing the order in rather than having to split it up at the end and trying to remember who had what. If you wait until the check is presented and then say, "Oh, can we get separate checks?" there is a good chance it's going to take a lot longer than it would have if you'd asked at the beginning.
Servers don't mind doing separate checks, we really don't. What we do mind is having to rush through it when you are ready to go. And by the way, if you are doing separate checks, it's helpful to sit in close proximity to the people you are sharing a check with. Pointing to some random person at the other end of a 14-top with whom you'll share a check with is the opposite of helpful.
Do you want that wrapped?
Contrary to popular belief, servers want you to have a good time in a restaurant. We also want you to be able to move in and out quickly because the way we make money is by turning the table over and getting more people in our section. We don't want to be in the weeds anymore than you want to wait a long time for your food.
If we servers try harder to keep ourselves from falling behind and customers try harder to not give us tasks that will put us in the weeds, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Of course, it could also just be a financial transaction where one party leaves with a full stomach and the other party leaves with an apron full of tips. Either way is good.
(More about restaurants and service at Eatocracy)
("Eat This List" is a regularly recurring list of things chefs, farmers, writers and other food experts think you ought to know about. Today's contributor is the pseudonymous blogger The Bitchy Waiter. He lives and works in New York City, and has appeared as a guest on Dr. Phil and a guest commentator on "CBS Sunday Morning." Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @bitchywaiter – and don't forget to tip.)