They are the faces of the restaurants you visit and without them your meals would be no different than eating at home. But what makes a good restaurant server great--and how can you make the most out of your dining experience?
You can argue that in Chicago’s ultra-competitive culinary scene, a restaurant’s success is connected to the its wait staff.
But nobody said it was easy.
“A lot of being server is acting, putting on a face,” said Johnny Davis of The Gage. “You’re not yourself here. You’re someone who is here to facilitate a good time for the clientele.”
Davis, a musician and former university professor, said Chicago is enough of a dining city for people to make solid careers out of waiting tables. But he said the person serving your food could actually be a millionaire or a former rock star.
“They do it for the free food and the camaraderie,” Davis said.
NBC 5 talked to servers who represent three different restaurants and they mentioned that communication is key to a great restaurant visit.
“When a customer is nice with you, you are happy and they start to be happy with you and you are happy with them as well,” said Roberto Valdivia of Lalo’s.
Servers told us they always try to bring food out to kids first to give parents a chance to relax.
But what if you’re up against the clock and need fast service?
“If it’s a case that they’re running late and they need to make it to a theater and that anxiety level is starting to grow, we need to know that because there’s things that we can do to make that a very smooth transition,” said Rebecca Peterson of The Gage.
What if you’re part of a large party of customers and plan to ask for separate checks?
Just give the servers plenty of notice.
“We prefer that everybody go with one check and divide it up equally. But if for business reasons they need a separate check, we can do it. If they simply don’t want to pay equal portions, we can do it. And we’re happy to do it. But I do let them know, it’s going to take some time,” Davis said.
But servers say there is a line a restaurant patron should never cross.
“The worst thing you a client can do is snap their fingers or yell when I am far away that they need something,” said Aldo Garcia of Mi Tierra.
So after all of the attention they provide you, what are Chicago area restaurant servers expecting in the form of a tip?
“Twenty percent is sort of the average, yes, for good service, for competent service,” Davis said. “If you want to indicate to the server you had better service, I would recommend tipping more than 20 percent.”
Servers told NBC 5 that a 15 percent tip sends up a red flag, especially since the tip gets shared with the restaurant’s support staff.
“It definitely is a case that that server will alert the manager to let them know, ‘hey, maybe something wasn’t quite right. Do you want to touch base with the table before they leave to make sure there wasn’t a reason why this was?’” Peterson said.
Peterson added that if a customer was upset with their service, the restaurant wants an opportunity to recover from it.