Throughout my 12 years in the hospitality industry, I worked nearly every position, from host to line cook to general manager. There are so many do’s and don’ts I have learned over the years about reservations, allergies and everything in between.
Here are the tricks, tips and tirades of the trade.
Do you ever wonder why you are unable to book that 6:30 p.m. group dinner reservation on a Friday or Saturday evening, despite calling a week ahead of time? You can thank reservation platforms such as OpenTable, Resy and Tock. Restaurants create their own algorithms on these platforms to allow a certain number of covers (guests) to be seated every 15 minutes. Depending on the size of the restaurant, they may only allow 12 to 15 covers per 15-minute interval.
So why do larger parties find it hard to book a table unless it is at 5 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.? Frankly, they take too long. That table of five or six will sit for about three to four hours, meaning there won’t be time to turn that table for another party after the larger one is done.
Being on time is the single most important thing you can do when dining out. There is a reason why the restaurant only had a 6:45 p.m. booking and not a 6:30 or a 7. Reservations are planned out to the minute so each guest is fed without a hiccup in service. Not a single chef I worked with could understand why people are late — and so often. So please do your due diligence and show up on time. After all, you did confirm the reservation.
The best days
I know, I know, going out on a Friday after work or Saturday evening with friends is a lot of fun and sometimes needed. But I find Tuesday or Wednesday to be the best days to dine out. Chances are that you will not have a hard time finding a reservation, as they won’t be even remotely as busy as on the weekends. Weekdays are for the locals and industry folks. The food is guaranteed to be as fresh as it gets — no fish special from the weekend that carried over to Monday. The kitchen is also well-rested and relaxed, and the chef is putting on some new dishes he or she wants to run as specials for the weekend to get some feedback.
Please tip your server 20%. This should be the minimum amount. Exceptional service? Tip more. Service not up to par? I get it, and it can be frustrating, but you cannot tell me you haven’t had an off day at work. Tips are a server’s livelihood. Most of us have the luxury of staying home if we’re not feeling up to par, but hospitality folks do not. (Staffing issues are a whole other story.)
If you have built a relationship with your favorite restaurant, or simply are a regular, try bringing in a six-pack of beer for the kitchen the next time you dine out. It’s a way to show appreciation for those who work the hardest, spending 12-hour shifts standing in excessive heat from the flattop range. Some restaurants have finally started to come around to this idea, too, and post on their menu that beers for the kitchen are $2 a pop. Don’t be surprised if your generosity is returned: You may be surprised with a “gift” from the kitchen, too.
Food to avoid
There are many things you need to try at a given restaurant, but seafood that spoils easily is one to stay away from. Skate, while one of my favorites, is a fish that could have been delivered fresh to the restaurant but half of them are spoiled by the next day. And cooks making a mussel dish will not be inspecting every one before it hits the hot pan, so chances are high tyou could get a bad mussel and the rest of your dinner (and week) are now ruined.
Yes, a Mojito sounds delicious. Ever hear of a Ramos gin fizz? Also very tasty. Do not order them.
Every bartender in this world hates to make the 15-step cocktail. When the time is right and the bar feels slow, feel free to order these. But when it comes to a Saturday night and you are sitting in a full restaurant, think twice before doing it. Instead, ask the bartender to make you a drink with your favorite spirit; they’ll enjoy that 100 times more. And don’t be that person to say to the bartender, “I had this drink this one time and I don’t remember what was in it; another bartender here made it, do you think you can make the same thing?” The answer is no.
Allergies can be a nightmare for hospitality workers. It’s not that we do not want to deal with them — we likely have some ourselves — but when we are given a list of five-plus allergies from a diner, without notice, things can get frustrating. Yes, you, as the customer, expect to be able to dine out with allergies and put your faith in the server and kitchen, and the last thing we want is for you to have a horrible reaction. But certain allergies need to be mentioned a day or two ahead of time to the restaurant if you expect things to go off without a hitch. An Allium allergy is definitely one of them, as chances are whatever you are ordering is either seasoned or marinated with garlic and onion.
The verdict is out: Hospitality workers may seem like they don’t like kids, but we actually really do! We have no problem with you bringing your children out to eat, BUT this is not a playground or your home. If your children are going to be running around the restaurant, and you will be sitting at the table enjoying some libations, don’t get upset that we are mad. It’s obnoxious, rude and most importantly, extremely dangerous. A restaurant has 1,000 moving parts every minute, with staff running around like chickens with their heads cut off. If I scream “Behind!” or “Corner!,” I really hope a child isn’t there because I cannot see them from my point of view and they will get knocked over and come crying back to your table.
Sounds like a great idea, right? No cooking or cleaning on a holiday; sign me up! NOT! The last place that the hospitality industry wants to be on a holiday is taking care of you. (No offense.) We want to be with our families just like everyone else. The next time you do go out on a holiday, do not ask why the usual menu is not offered. It never is and it never will be. This is a great way for restaurants to hike up prices on some not-so-pricey menu items for a prix fixe menu. It makes sense since we garner more covers than usual depending on the day of week for the holiday, and we know 75% of the reservations are not our regulars or are people who have never dined with us before.
Most restaurants have a pastry chef or someone who is dedicated to the pastry section of the menu. Try your best to order a dessert, even if you have plans to go to the local ice cream place after dinner. Pastry chefs work just as hard as the rest of us and tend to be the last ones in the restaurant kitchen, waiting for that last table that could order dessert but tends not to. Also? Regular coffee is a myth after 10 p.m. You may order it, but 9 times out of 10 it’s either decaf or, if you’re lucky, an Americano — an espresso in a mug filled with hot water.
Steve Colombero is the strategic events coordinator for The Baltimore Banner.