Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I be worried if the server isn't writing down my order?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I be worried if the server isn't writing down my order?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio | Photo: Teri Dixon/Getty Images

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty,

Am I the only person who dislikes when a server will take the table’s order without writing anything down?

It’s obviously very impressive when a server reels off an elaborate list of specials without consulting a piece of paper, and then reels off our orders back to us perfectly before leaving the table, but the reality tends to come off more like this:

“Specials tonight are… a pan-seared pork loin with… [pause for breath/dramatic effect/memory recall]…”

and then

“so that’s a mac and cheese, two lobster humidors, a salmon and… sorry, remind me your last order?”

Do diners like this? However perfectly-recalled the order is, I am always moderately-to-extremely uneasy when the server walks away with my order in their head, regardless of how simple it is.

Yours,
Notepad Writer

Dear Notepad Writer,

I’ve been lucky enough to work in restaurants where writing orders down was encouraged or required. I, too, prefer when servers write orders down, and it’s something I do when I’m waiting tables. And no, we’re not alone.

But not all restaurants equip their servers with pens and paper. When servers don’t write something down, it’s usually a directive from their managers. The argument for not writing down orders is that the server is “listening” better to the customer while not writing, and that they’re sustaining eye contact, interest, and attention. Some managers think it makes the staff seem more attentive and friendly—I think it makes me nervous they’re going to forget my side of ranch dressing.

Rattling off the specials by memory has a similar but not exactly the same explanation: It makes the server look confident in their knowledge of the menu and familiarity with the special dishes. In a perfect world, we like to imagine our servers are almost as knowledgable about the specials as the chefs themselves, that they’ve tasted them, thought about them, asked questions. Reading them off a pad can make it seem robotic, and like the staff doesn’t know much about the dishes they’re recommending. I don’t have much of a problem with servers reciting specials by memory; usually it’s only a handful of dishes and they can nail it by the third or fourth table of the night. I do keep a little cheat sheet in my pocket in case I have a brain fart.

But back to the writing-down-orders question. On this one, I am solidly pro writing things down. It (hopefully) ensures accuracy, especially in a big group, and also helps me remember who’s getting what dish. I hate coming out to a table and just holding a dish up—“Who got the chicken parm?”—like it’s some sort of free-for-all. When I write orders down, I can indicate who ordered which dish.

A server writing down orders shouldn’t take so long that it disrupts the flow of your ordering, though. A restaurant where I used to work was small enough that we didn’t have a computerized point of sale system. We brought handwritten orders back to the kitchen and tacked them up for the kitchen to see. And we had a shorthand code: We all knew “SF: MW, SOS” is steak frites, medium well, sauce on the side. I even circled the SOS each time to make sure the chefs saw the special instructions. Shorthand makes sure that the order-taking doesn’t last forever and that the customers don’t have to stop and start every few words. I’d advise servers to perfect their shorthand, even if they have to expand on those quick notes later.

Maybe I can remembered certain tables’ orders, but why chance it? Larger, complicated groups would be a nightmare to remember, especially if you throw substitutions in the mix or if someone changes an aspect of their order before I walk back to the kitchen. I think most people would rather get the meal they ordered than marvel at my memory tricks.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Is it tacky to bring my own Tupperware for leftovers?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Is it tacky to bring my own Tupperware for leftovers?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Hi Salty,

I read an article about how to reduce plastic usage and one of the suggestions was to bring your own containers to a restaurant in case you get leftovers. Is this tacky? Is it acceptable?

Best Regards,

Alex

Hi Alex,

As someone with a strong hatred of the noise Styrofoam makes when it scrapes against itself, I understand not wanting to use takeout containers. (Just thinking about that foam-scratching sound makes me shiver.) There are recycled to-go clam shells now that are made of waxed cardboard and bamboo and plant fibers, but I’m sure the Greenpeace folks will still tell you that reusable is the best option.

In all but the nicest restaurants, I don’t see how this would be considered tacky. You might get a raised eyebrow—I’ve never encountered this before, so it might be the first time other servers have heard the request—but I wouldn’t think it was wrong for a person to ask this.

Let’s think through the logistics: If you’re in a casual restaurant where they ask you to box up your own leftovers—a move I personally find tacky, if we’re being honest—then it’s hardly a problem. I imagine you could just tell them you have your own Tupperware and save them a trip to the kitchen. If it’s a place that’s going to box leftovers for you, then I still don’t see why it would be trouble to hand over the Tupperware as they’re taking your plate away. Maybe the restaurant would even be glad to save the three cents in packaging? As long as you’re not asking them to fit half a roast chicken in a container the size of a cell phone, I don’t anticipate many problems. Of course, a restaurant could wonder what the health department might say about a “foreign” container coming into the kitchen, which might be the only snafu here.

I think the only place I personally would feel uncomfortable doing this is a restaurant that doesn’t typically do leftovers at all—one of those really, really fancy places that would have a tough time boxing up a sea scallop soufflé or something. (Plus those places never give you enough food to have leftovers, anyway.)

If you’re looking for encouragement and camaraderie in your foam-free mission, look no further than the Take Out Without campaign. It’s an awareness campaign, one tenet of which is to “ReTakeYour Own Reusables,” or bring “your own containers, straws, cutlery, mugs, bottles, and even your own bag” to restaurants. You’ll find you’re in great company there.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Are menu substitutions a middle finger to the chef?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Are menu substitutions a middle finger to the chef?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Hi Salty,

My husband and I have an argument about dish alterations that I’m hoping you can settle. We’re both a touch on the picky side about certain things we won’t eat. For me, it’s spicy food or seafood; for my husband, it’s certain veggies, mostly. While neither of us going to order a dish where our food-to-be-avoided is the whole point—like, I’m not the jerk who’s going to order the Ragin’ Cajun Mouth-afire Jamboree but without all that hot sauce, please—I don’t think it’s terrible to politely ask for an element of the dish to be omitted or substituted in order to make it something I’d enjoy (“Can I get the chicken-and-shrimp pasta without shrimp and with extra chicken, please?”). And if can’t be done, no harm, no foul; I’ll order something else.

My husband disagrees and thinks the entire idea of substitution or leaving out ingredients is “messing with the integrity of the dish.” He thinks it akin to insulting the chef’s vision and would prefer to avoid a dish entirely rather than ask for it with substitutions.

So, am I figuratively giving the chef the finger by asking for my salad without anchovies? Or is my husband cutting himself off unnecessarily from dishes he might like if not for that dastardly broccolini? Am I making my server’s life harder? I’ve never had a server act like this is a big deal, but I want to be on the side of the angels here. Thanks for helping a sister out.

Hold the Tuna, Please

Dear Tuna,

First off, all letter-writers should aspire to your level of humor and good-naturedness. Snaps for you. Secondly, where can I get the Ragin’ Cajun Mouth-afire Jamboree? It sounds up my alley.

When it comes to food substitutions or omissions, whether or not they’re a pain in the ass depends on how crucial an ingredient is to the overall dish, whether the chef is plating/preparing each dish individually, and how much the substitution would disrupt the kitchen’s efficiency. Like you mentioned, ordering a paella with no rice wouldn’t really make sense; nor would a ratatouille without tomatoes. And in the case of some dishes that might be prepared in large quantities all at once—the soup of the day, or a baked mac ‘n’ cheese—a kitchen might not be able to customize it for one person.

But if the request is as simple as “please just don’t put the pickle on my plate” or “please skip the hot sauce,” I can’t see why it would hurt to ask. I was out to dinner recently with some family, one of whom is pretty bland in her food choices. She wanted her chicken-and-zucchini pasta alfredo with no chicken and no zucchini; essentially, just pasta alfredo. She asked nicely, the server didn’t even blink before saying yes. Win-win. I don’t mind when customers ask for omissions—within reason, mind you—because the worst that can happen is the kitchen says they can’t do it, and the customer picks another dish. I’m always fine with asking the chefs, because it shifts the decision away from me and the customers know I’m at least asking on their behalf.

As for your husband’s point about the art, nay, the vision of a dish, I’m of two minds about this. If you’re at a Romano’s Macaroni Grill or a Buffalo Wild Wings or something, I don’t think you’d be deeply offending the kitchen by asking for no onions or pickles on the side. If you’re at a higher-end restaurant with artistic plating and luxury ingredients, substitutions or omissions might be less welcome. I’ve even seen menus that preempt your question with a “no substitutions” printed right on the page. (Someone out there will still ask to get the tuna salad with chicken instead, guaranteed.) Unless it’s very clear that the kitchen won’t accept substitutions, it can’t really hurt to ask, especially since you seem like pretty laid-back people who aren’t there to make a fuss or pout when you don’t get your way. Maybe phrase it like this: “Would the chef mind if I substituted X for Y? I’m really not a fan of Y. Please and thank you.”

Believe me, I’ve been asked a lot crazier shit than “Can I get the burger without tomatoes?” (Fellow servers, I know you feel me.) No, sweetpea, I cannot serve you chicken noodle soup sans noodles.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: What can I do about this crazy loud restaurant?

Ask The Salty Waitress: What can I do about this crazy loud restaurant?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Hi Salty,

When I eat out in restaurants, it’s usually to catch up with friends. So oftentimes, the priority is to find space where it’s quiet enough where we can catch up. When I get to choose the locale, I’ll avoid obvious locations where it’ll be too loud, like sports bars. But I’ve noticed that quite a few restaurants tend to blast their music way up to the point where it’s hard for me to hold a conversation with even three people, much less five or more.

Is there a reason why restaurants (even those that don’t cater to the Saturday night/happy hour crowd) choose to blast their music up? Second, is there anything I can do? Would a polite request to my server that she ask whoever’s in charge to lower the music a bit be okay, or am I nuts?

Thanks,
Turn It Down

Dear Turn It Down,

What’s that? I can’t hear your question! Speak up!

But seriously, I feel you on this complaint sometimes. Like you said, there are some restaurants where one could reasonably expect high volumes: sports bars, trendy club-ish places, busy bar-restaurants in the corporate district at happy hour. There’s a difference, though, between crowd noise—which sometimes can’t be helped—and blaring music that’s purposefully making a restaurant loud.

Restaurants might turn up the dial for a few reasons. I think the primary one is because they want to create “energy” and avoid the space seeming dull or empty. I think that overly loud music tends to highlight a sparse room—“Oh cool, there’s two tables in here at 1 p.m. but the speakers are blasting Kylie Minogue remixes on loop”—but not everyone sees it that way. Loud music might also intended to cover up kitchen noise, or street-traffic beeping and honking.

Your best bet is to keep choosing the restaurants you like that keep the soundtrack at a normal volume, or to steer clear of nightlife-type spots that will likely have thumping bass lines. But if you find yourself at a restaurant that’s just inexplicably loud, maybe ask if you can be relocated to a part of the room that’s not directly beneath a loudspeaker. Or, you can politely ask your server whether it’s possible to adjust the music. They might not be willing to, but if enough customers are constantly mentioning it, it could get management to change its tune. Literally.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Is it weird to read a book at dinner?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Is it weird to read a book at dinner?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty:

Is it poor form for a solo diner to be reading a book during their meal?

I was at a rather upscale restaurant in a foreign country, by myself, and I’d brought a book to read as the several courses promised to stretch out over a few hours. I immediately put it away when a server came to check on me or put a plate down. None of the servers said anything or glared at me that I noticed (perhaps because they were distracted by the American group two tables over loudly discussing tip logistics) but I got really uncomfortable and ended up putting the book away. Strangely, I felt less compunction in scrolling through an e-book on my phone. What are your thoughts?

Thanks,
Not Literate Enough To Come Up With A Punny Sign-off

Dear Not Literature,

If you read more, maybe it would lead to punnier sign-offs, just saying.

But it’s interesting that you mentioned you were in a foreign country when the book-reading made you self-conscious. I think we can get uncomfortable dining out in new places, and you probably felt like you were under a microscope a bit more than usual.

Having waited on my fair share of solo diners, I don’t care at all whether you read in a book or on your phone or on a Kindle. Just keep whatever magazine or tablet from taking over the whole table and we’re good. Dining alone can be a nice indulgence in me-time, but it can make some people bored. If a good book helps, by all means, crack it open.

Things you shouldn’t do to pass the time: clip your nails, phone a friend, regale me with long-winded stories of Tinder dates gone haywire, turn your food into animal sculptures. Reading, on the other hand—totally fine!

I’m an old soul—and my body’s starting to catch up—so I prefer a good paperback over a Kindle. It doesn’t make any difference to me whether you read on a page or a screen, for the record, as long as you can pry yourself away when I ask you how your patty melt tastes.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I bring my kid to a tavern?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I bring my kid to a tavern?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio

Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty,

My wife and I love a certain bar in our neighborhood. It’s really more of a tavern, I guess, because it has deep-fried bar food and surprisingly decent pizza, in addition to TVs and happy hour specials and all that. My question is: Is it weird to bring our kid—he’s 8—to the bar? It would be a lot easier than finding a babysitter, but would his presence bother other people? I think he’d be well-behaved, and we definitely wouldn’t go late at night, but I don’t want to annoy people at a place we really like going.

Thanks,

Dad With Doubts

Dear Dad With Doubts,

The can of worms, you’ve opened it. Questions like this depend on so many factors—how, in fact, well-behaved your kids is; how rowdy the crowd is at this bar; whether it has table/booth seating where you could tuck away, etc.

I don’t have any kids of my own, so you can call me biased if you want. But I think the fact that you are unsure in the first place means you’ve probably not seen a lot of kids in this bar before, which ups the likelihood that you’d be swimming into uncharted waters. Depending on the type of bar, some of your fellow adults might feel like having a kid there cramps their style.

Of course, you can bring your kid, I guess, unless there’s a policy against it. In some places, kids aren’t allowed to sit at the bar, and I think that’s a generally good rule of thumb anyway, since bar seats are often at a premium. If your kid’s sipping milk, best not to occupy a barstool.

If there are quiet booths in the corner, though, and you’d be away from most of the hockey-screaming, shots-taking crowds, then I think you might be fine. The presence of food also mitigates the straight bar-ness of the bar, too. I’d still suggest that earlier in the evening is better; I’d personally be weirded out to see a kid in a bar after 8 p.m.

For the sake of other adults, do everything you can to keep your kid occupied and not running around, if he’s prone to that. Screen time is bad, blah blah, but if a movie or book or game keeps him from disturbing other people, then I say treat it as a special indulgence this time.

There’s a ton of gray area here, clearly. You know the bar better than I do, so I’d say to go with your gut feeling on this one. The stakes, as you said, are pretty high: Is it worth the potential discomfort at a place you really like?

To wrap up, I’m gonna use the Supreme Court’s pornography rule-of-thumb: When it comes to kid-friendly bars, you’ll know it when you see it.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I tip in cash or on a card?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Should I tip in cash or on a card?


Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty,

With tricky minimum wage laws, tax laws, restaurant policies and credit card fees, does leaving the tip in cash vs adding it to the credit card make a difference in what the server takes home at the end of the night?

Thanks,

Intermittently Cashless

Dear Cashless,

Questions about tipping in cash versus on a card are the most common topic I’m asked about, so let’s finally set the record straight: For the most part, cash rules.

Like all generalizations, there are exceptions. First: If you have to tip much less in cash than you would on a card, go with the card. Say your bill is $100 and you have $15 in cash but would like to leave $22. Tip on the card; I’d rather have the extra $7.

The way servers’ tips are processed varies from restaurant to restaurant. Some servers I know don’t give a rat’s patootie whether you tip in cash or on a card because their restaurant has a different system than mine. Some servers get “cashed out” at the end of the night, meaning management gives them cash for tips left on credit card.

But this isn’t always the case. Cash is fast money, honey, meaning I can take it home at the end of the night and use it to put gas in my old clunker or buy a pack of cigarettes. Credit card tips might not get processed until later, so I’d have to wait for them to end up in my paycheck days later. Some restaurant owners will even deduct credit card processing fees (usually around 2-3 percent) from a server’s tips, so a nice 18 percent tip ends up somewhere around a mediocre 15 percent tip in my pocket. It’s a crap move, but so are lots of things in this industry.

Another policy that varies is whether a restaurant expects servers to “tip out” other staff like bartenders or dishwashers who helped them out during their shift. In this case, it really helps to have cash on hand so you can slip the dishwasher a $20 for saving your ass when you were in the weeds.

One other big upshot of cash tips is that servers don’t have to claim all of them on their taxes. (Don’t come after me, IRS, I’m in no mood.) We’re taxed on how much we take home in tips, so it’s in servers’ interests to lower the amount they declare. If you’re netting on average 20 percent, you might only declare 12 percent of cash tips on your year-end taxes. Oh, you’re offended by the suggestion of “tax evasion”? Look, I’m just telling you how it is. Don’t shoot the messenger.

If you’re confused by all these pros/cons, take some advice from a server friend of mine: She doesn’t mind it when tables ask her how she’d like to be tipped—cash or card. That might be ideal for some servers, but I can also see how it might be tacky at a fancy restaurant or something. If you’re friendly with your server, though, why not ask her what she’d prefer? It makes my day when people remember I’m a human being.

Finally, I don’t want you to get the idea that plastic is always bad. If putting the tip on a card means you’re going to be more generous—don’t rich folks always want airline miles and stuff like that?—then I’ll take that “hell yeah” tip on your Amex any day, sweetie.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I leave a server my number?

Ask The Salty Waitress: Can I leave a server my number?


Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio | Photo: Teri Dixon/Getty Images

Are you a server’s worst nightmare without even knowing it? We’re here to help. The Salty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.


Dear Salty,

If a customer finds you attractive, is it weird for them to leave their phone number on the check? Thanks in advance.

Jack

Hey Jack,

Are you coming on to me? Oh, you were talking hypothetically. Right. That’s how it always goes for me these days.

Your question—as with all matters of the heart—is complicated, and depends on the details of your particular situation.

My first question is: Are you a regular at the particular spot where Miss Jessica Rabbit works? If so, you’ve got a bit more to lose than a non-regular. If she’s usually working while you’re there, things could feel awkward if she doesn’t text you, or they could get even more awkward if she does.

As you may remember from my answer to “Would you ever sleep with a regular?”, I’ve been there, banged that, sort of regretted it. I lost a perfectly good, steady customer over a messy one-night stand that the older and wiser Salty knows to avoid.

This isn’t to say you should never try to ask a server out if you’re a regular, just that you need to tread lightly and think of what’s at stake. Are you going to be hurt if she doesn’t call? Will you stop eating at a perfectly good restaurant over it? Most days, I’d rather have a great chicken sandwich than a boyfriend, so I’d personally err on the side of the restaurant.

My second question is: What’s motivating you to ask her out in the first place? Do you know much about her? Has she shown any interest in you? (Note: Being polite is not an indication of sexual desire.) If it’s just a fleeting physical attraction for her, Jack, there are lots of pretty fish in the sea, including ones that don’t work at your regular lunch spot.

Finally, I’d urge you to think through exactly how you leave your number. Do it as simply as possible to avoid being creepy: Just your name, and your number. No hearts, no poems, no “I’ve been watching you serve my tuna melt for weeks now.”

A colleague of mine was telling me how she once left her number for this cute bartender, and got a polite text back that night: “Hey, flattered you left your number but I actually have a girlfriend. Have a good night!” This is about the most ideal brush-off possible—no bruised egos, no awkwardness. But keep in mind, your server’s response might not be so kind, if it comes at all.


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com.



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