Monday, April 13, 2009

Unwritten Contracts

Walk into a restaurant on any given evening, and you expect certain things to occur. If you have a reservation, you expect that a table will be waiting for you at the agreed-upon time. You expect the service to be polite, the room to be clean, the food to be well prepared and at the proper temperature, and on and on. In fact, let any one of your expectations not be realized, and the next day you'll be telling all your friends how badly you were treated during your visit and that you're never going back.

But, have you ever thought that it might work both ways? Are there certain things that you owe the restaurateur when you dine at his establishment? Let's begin with appearance. I know that trying to convince people that blue jeans are the wrong attire when you go out to dinner is a losing battle. But please, do they have to be worn, ragged and full of holes? Do the bottoms of the legs have to be shredded? I've seen casually dressed people in restaurants wearing t-shirts with obscene messages on them. And baseball caps---worn backwards, of course.

Appearance is just the beginning though. When you dine at a restaurant you're expected to behave yourself--speak in a normal tone of voice, not use obscenities, not make people around you feel uncomfortable. If you have small children along, you're expected to keep them under control, and please, don't get me started on this one.

Just as you expect your server to be polite, you must be polite to him or her. There is no excuse to berate a waitperson, yet I've seen it done, and often about something over which the server has no control. And, speaking of servers, let's discuss tipping. If you're dining out, you know you're expected to tip. And you know that the amount of the tip should be 15-20% for good service. I don't care if all your life you've tipped five dollars no matter how much the tab, or tipped a dollar for each dish served or any other explanation for not leaving what's expected. Times have changed, and part of the unwritten contract when you go into a restaurant is that you will tip according to current standards.

Finally, I believe that if something goes wrong in a restaurant, you have an obligation to let someone know. Some people in the restaurant industry don't have a clue, and all the complaining in the world isn't going to enlighten them. But, most restaurateurs are very conscientious about the food and service they deliver. When someone tells me they had a problem at a restaurant, and either didn't tell anyone, or told a waitress who blew them off instead of a person in charge, it drives me nuts. People who run restaurants have a lot on the line, and they deserve a chance to make things right. If you serve enough meals, sooner or later, no matter how good you are, you're going to make a mistake, and there's no way they are going to know something went wrong unless you tell them. Granted, a good server should be able to tell from the fact that you only ate one bite of your entree that you're not thrilled. But that irritation will have to wait for another time.

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