"We have campers (people on first turn who aren’t moving)," explains Carl Walker, the general manager at Brennan's in Houston, Texas. "If that’s the case, ask if there is another table that’s similar to where you were going to be seated."
"It’s totally appropriate to check in and see how much longer it will be," advises Tobias Peach, general manager of Restaurant 1833 in Monterey, Calif. "Try to be pleasant and understanding. Taking reservations is not a science. Just like a doctor’s office, airplane, and bus stop, sometimes we are just running behind."
"Everyone has seating preferences and it works to the guests’ advantage, as well as the restaurant's when they are taken into account," explains Robert Wailes, general manager of Café Adelaide & The Swizzle Stick Bar in New Orleans. "A simple, 'I don't necessarily feel comfortable at this table, is there something else available?' usually does the trick."
"Ask for a different table from whoever is seating you with a quick description of what you would like or want to stay away from," advises Carl Walker, general manager for Brennan's. "Like, 'Could I get something in a quieter spot, warmer, or another dining room?'"
"Tell the maître d' in the most gracious manner that you are uncomfortable at the table and would be happy to wait for another," says chef Clark Frasier of Arrows and MC Perkins, in Ogunquit, Maine. "There is no need to be angry. The host wants the guest's experience to be the best possible, but they may only have one table at that moment. Offer to retire to the bar and wait for the requested table."
"Ask the server what their favorites are or inquire about what the chef is excited about," advises Robert Wailes, general manager of Café Adelaide & The Swizzle Stick Bar. "Generally, you will get an honest answer. It also helps to be a bit specific in regards to what you're in the mood for. 'I think I'd like some seafood, but I am not crazy about cream-based dishes.' This gives your server some parameters to work with and gives them the ability to get a glimpse of your likes and dislikes, allowing them to help guide you through your meal. Believe it or not, most servers find this fun."
"Address your issues with it quickly," advises J.T. Stellmach, manager of Queen Anne’s Revenge, on Daniel Island, S.C. "Don't try to 'deal with it.' The sooner you send it back, the sooner you'll get what you like."
"Address the issues quickly and politely," advises J.T. Stellmach of Queen Anne’s Revenge. "Eating a large portion of it will raise eyebrows. The next dish could take 10 minutes to cook, so be patient and everyone will help you out."
"It’s helpful if you can be somewhat specific," explains Rich Garcia, chef at 606 Congress in the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. "For example, rather than, 'I don't like this,' say, 'I don't like the sauce on this dish. It’s too salty for my taste.' As a chef, I feel better knowing why you've sent it back."
"Be genuine," explains Dan Latimer, general manager at Husk in Charleston, S.C. "If you don't like something, you don't like it, just be nice about it and the server will be nice back. If a dish is cooked improperly, let them know that, too. It is important to understand cooking techniques though. If you order a well-done steak, it is going to be tougher than one that's medium rare. Not being a jerk about it will go a long way. I've been told, 'This is the worst thing I've ever eaten,' before. I highly doubt it. I ate dirt when I was a kid and you probably did too. That's the worst thing you've ever eaten."
"It all comes down to eye contact," advises Robert Wailes of Café Adelaide & The Swizzle Stick Bar.
"Eye Contact, eye contact, eye contact," says Dan Latimer of Husk. "Servers know to look around their station. They also know to avoid it if they are weeded. If you look like you need something in an establishment with good service, someone will notice. Do not tug on them, whistle at them, snap at them, or interrupt them while they are with other guests. Develop a relationship with your server from the beginning, get to know them a little, find out their name, and they will be much more likely to attend to your needs if you treat them like a human being. Remember, garçon means 'boy.'"
"A good waitstaff should need nothing more than eye contact," advises Tobias Peach of Restaurant 1833. "If that’s not working, a gentle 'excuse me' should do it. Restaurant owners should be acutely aware of how their staff is interacting with guests. It starts at the top. If they aren’t watching, then you can expect the message to be, 'do whatever you want.' If your server is clearly just busy as heck, be understanding. That is a staffing issue that the server shouldn’t be penalized for. If the server is just lazy and aloof, make sure he understands that from your gratuity."
"Being gracious is the key to giving and receiving great service," advises chef Mark Gaier of Arrows and MC Perkins in Ogunquit, Maine. "If a course is slow, just politely ask when it will be coming or if it is possible to bring it soon. No waiter is a mind reader — communication is key to a good dining experience. For example, if guests need to get to the theater at a certain time, they should tell the server when they arrive or better yet tell the reservationist. If you want to have your courses proceed at a leisurely pace, let your server know when you place the order. Most Americans like to eat quickly, so most restaurants serve at a brisk pace for this reason."
"If you think it's been too long, simply say that," advises Dan Latimer of Husk. "Be honest, but be courteous.The last thing anyone wants to hear is 'I've been waiting for an hour,' when you have only been seated for 40 minutes. Please don't tap your watch or exaggerate your complaint. We have computers now and we can tell how long it's really been. It’s okay to be a little upset if something took too long but you lose your street cred when you say it's been twice as long as it really has."
"Asking to thank a chef personally is always great," noted chef Garcia of 606 Congress, "but a big hit for me is when the guest wants to thank the cooks. I always enjoy taking guests into the kitchen to thank the cooks."