Anyone who has dined in a restaurant has some notion of what good service is, and many of us have horror stories that illustrate what it definitely isn't. Whether you're having drinks at your favorite dive bar or dining at a five-star restaurant, here are ten easy ways to tell your server cares.
You're greeted within moments. It seems simple enough, right? At a restaurant, a good general expectation is that someone will acknowledge you within thirty seconds of being seated. If it's been upwards of a minute, you can realistically expect the worst. At a coffee shop or a place with counter service, there's absolutely no excuse for a sloppy, slow salutation. Even during busy times, a good server stays acutely aware of their guests. If they're not able to chat you up right away, they'll at least stop for a quick "hello" so you know they're thinking about you.
The space, as a whole, is spotless. Bad industry professionals rely on bussers and barbacks to do the dirty work; great ones take ownership over the building as well as the people in it. Are the light fixtures dusty? Are the baseboards clean? Are the bathrooms clean and well stocked? Are dirty dishes removed promptly? The teeny tiny details are the most important indicator that your server cares about the entirety of your experience. Bonus points if whoever is helping you takes the time to help out other staff (including barbacks and bussers!) that might be struggling to keep up.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Take a peek under the table. Are there stacks on stacks of sugar packets or wads of weathered napkins under the legs? It's about time food service folks learned to stop MacGyver-ing temporary table-wobble repairs. If an establishment truly cares, they'll take the time to inspect each seat before guests come in for service. Think of it this way: the table is the literal foundation of a meal. If the foundation won't stop wiggling around, it's nearly impossible to build an awesome experience.
They converse comfortably. "Welcome to chain restaurant hell, my name is Donny and I'll be your server this evening. Can I get you started with something to drink or maybe a nice appetizer?" We've all heard this before, and we all know that what comes next is fastidiously executed mediocrity. Great servers know how to get their point across without resorting to scripts or truisms. They should be comfortably hospitable, but never overtly "sales-y." Ask what they recommend; do they seem particularly animated about a particular item? Can they invoke a sense of excitement about a dish? If your server is genuinely enthusiastic about a product, chances are they'll also be devoted to enhancing your overall experience.
They know you better than you know yourself. A true service Jedi excels at mind tricks. If you want to share dessert, two spoons will appear in front of you, wordlessly. If you order three coffees to go, a drink tray will surface, as if from nowhere. If you're pushing a baby stroller, the will door open itself before you even have to think about it. If the Force is strong with your server, they will give you what you need before you even know you need it. And if they sense a disturbance, they'll squash it long before it becomes an issue.
They hold on to every word you say. You casually mentioned that you're trying to catch a movie that starts in an hour. Forty-five minutes into your meal, they've got you cashed out and ready to go. You asked which appetizers are gluten-free. They took the time to break down the whole menu for you, plus drink pairings. Great servers are like mythical Nice Guy boyfriends; they remember the little things you say and do, and find a way to surprise you with them when you least expect it.
They're experts. On the menu. On the coffee, the beer, the cheese, the concept. They've tasted it. They know what makes it super special. They're happy to hold your hand throughout the ordering process, without being condescending. We live in a world of wacky menu trends. It's totally acceptable to have no idea what the hell Quark is, and no one should ever make you feel ashamed for thinking that it's probably some weird kind of bird.
They Keep Calm and Serve On. It's a Friday night, they're down a cook, there's a food critic sitting next to you, the chef is screaming, and there's an hour-long wait for a table. You, the diner, should never have any inkling of the insanity happening around you. The moment a server starts making excuses, they stop giving good service. The ability to smile and keep your head up, regardless of what might be going on behind the scenes, is rare yet mighty. Extra props if staff find the time to appease waiting guests with on-the-house bites or drinks.
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They carry the experience through from beginning to end. Great service doesn't end when the check is dropped or the drink is served. This mentality can be especially difficult to find in counter-service type establishments (coffee shops, bars, bakeries, etc.). It's rare to see a barista or bartender cross the threshold into Customer Space, but doing so allows them the opportunity to demonstrate a much higher level of care. Do they stop by to see how you liked the drink they recommended? Do they clear away your dishes, rather than pointing you snidely towards a bus tub? And when you go to leave, do they take the time to say goodbye and thank you for your business? These little touches are all it takes to make a decent experience into a delightful one.
They clearly love what they do. Remember that movie "Waiting" that came out before everyone decided it was cool to hate Dane Cook? That movie reinforced a generalization that a lot of people make: that everyone in the service industry is only doing it so they can work towards something "better." While this may be true in some cases, there are plenty of devoted industry folks who do what they do because they legitimately love taking care of people. Dining out is a luxury, and great servers, baristas, and bartenders take pride in providing other people with respite from the daily grind. Being in the service industry isn't inherently demeaning; it can be rewarding, challenging, and downright fun. And if the person helping you out has that attitude, it will only make that experience more of a treat.