Restaurants often run on the motto “The customer is always right.” This sentence is jammed into the servers’ heads before every shift, but as soon as the customer signs the check and leaves, it’s clear that this is not what they actually believe.
To avoid incurring the wrath of all the restaurant staff, there are few key phrases that should never be said. Either demanding the impossible of the kitchen, or arrogantly exaggerating your status as celebrity or restaurant regular, or even lying about your reservation, is not going to win you any favors. Resist saying the following things, and maybe your dinner will be all the more enjoyable as a result.
“Couldn’t we just squeeze four more people onto this table?”
You reserved for four people because that’s all that was available, but you’ve turned up as a party of eight. When a restaurant is full, it’s full. The staff isn’t trying to keep seats empty. The answer to asking to squeeze extra people onto your table is always going to be “No.” There won’t be enough space, seats, or capacity. It’s a question that’s not worth asking.
“Don’t you know who I am?”
A surprising number of people aggressively ask the hostess this question when they’re struggling to make a reservation, are not seated at their favorite table, or are told “No” to anything they demand. Whether you’re a minor celebrity with an inflated ego, or a diner who considers himself a regular because he once ate at the restaurant five years previously, asking this question will immediately make you lose the respect of the restaurant staff.
Just because he’s a waiter doesn’t mean he’s French. There’s nothing a polite “Excuse me” and a moment of eye contact can’t achieve when it comes to grabbing someone’s attention. Clicking your fingers and beckoning your server by shouting “Garçon!” — perhaps followed a mime of pouring wine, or signing a check — will result in your table being neglected for a while longer, rather than garnering you any special attention.
“I have a very severe gluten allergy.”
If you are reserving a table and you do have a severe allergy, tell the restaurant in advance so they can prepare accordingly. If you don’t have a severe allergy, but you do have an undiagnosed gluten intolerance, don’t exaggerate. Claiming to be allergic will put the kitchen into a panic, as they remove any trace of flour, create a new dish just for you, and prepare said dish with separate equipment at a separate station. It’s not fair to put this unnecessary pressure on the kitchen staff. Instead, ask your waiter about your dietary requirements, and they’ll do everything they can to help you.
“I know it’s not on the menu, but could you just do me a simple scallop risotto?”
Requesting items not listed on the menu, or asking the kitchen to combine various ingredients that you have spotted on the menu to create a unique dish, just demonstrates your lack of understanding of how a kitchen works. The chefs aren’t cooking every dish from scratch as soon as you order — they’re not magicians. All of the preparation is done before service starts, so that it only takes a few final steps to get your meal to you as quickly as possible. Asking for dishes that aren’t on the menu is asking the kitchen for the impossible.
“Let the chef decide!”
We know the feeling of looking at a restaurant menu and not knowing what to choose because everything sounds so mouthwateringly delicious. However, you’re a grown-up and need to start making your own decisions. Telling the server to, “Let the chef decide!” is not useful. The chef is too busy to spend time trying to guess which dish someone he’s never met would like to eat that evening. His selection will be random: Fingers crossed you like it, and if you don’t, you only have yourself to blame.
“Sorry, could you repeat the specials one more time?”
It takes a lot of effort to remember the daily specials: The fact that you can’t remember a single one two minutes after you were told them proves this point. If you’ve already had them recited to you twice, but still can’t remember a single one, please give up and select something from the menu. Don’t put your poor server through the mental challenge of having to recite those detailed lines and prices yet again.
“You must have lost my reservation.”
Turning up at a packed restaurant on a Saturday night and pretending you had made a reservation two weeks ago which the hostess has lost, is simply not fair. Restaurants — well, at least the successful ones — very, very rarely ‘lose’ reservations. Trust us, the hostess has heard this lie many times, and is not going to believe a word of it. This is definitely not the way to score a last minute table.