Table Mates: The Dos and Don’ts of Interacting With Your Waiter

A successful business meal can be equated to a delicate dance being performed exquisitely. The three dancers are the meal host, the guests(s), and the server(s). The dance is their seasoned, polite and attentive interactions that allow the meal to run seamlessly, with just the right amount of focus allocated to business conversation vs dining. Cutting into this dance without knowing the steps will inevitably spoil its rhythm, defeating the purpose of the gathering. My advice to you as a former restaurateur is to practice your steps, and when necessary, allow the server to take the lead.

“Would You Like Some Karma With Your Espresso?”

The restaurant server has a specific job to do, which reaches far beyond acting as our “servant”. In the days before Top Chef and Steve Dublanica’s Waiter Rant, I worked as a restaurant server as well as an owner, where I witnessed high-powered business people and celebs galore not always grasping this concept. The resulting “wait staff karma” was never pretty, lending cautionary insight to the story. Plain and simple: Mistreating a restaurant server is more likely to end badly for the guest than for the server. Here’s a related true story:

When Cooper worked for a major investment bank, one of his money managers invited a huge pending client for dinner to celebrate the seemingly done deal. The next morning, the “client” called Cooper directly and said he couldn’t in good conscience invest his money with him. Cooper was shocked! When he asked why, the gentleman said it was due to how rudely the money manager treated the wait staff at the dinner meeting. The money manager was sacked.

And Another….

A frustrated wait staffer had been dealing with a belligerent, abusive business meal host, who attempted to “entertain” his guests at the server’s expense. In a strange twist of fate, when settling up after the meal, all three of the man’s credit cards were declined. Can you imagine the embarrassment in front of the big shots he was trying to impress? Only over a glass of wine later that evening did the server confess to me that, in an extreme but not inconceivable move, she’d never even attempted to process the credit cards!

Show Me You Care

When a little bit of mindfulness and a whole lot of integrity are parts of the formula, our interactions with wait staffs can have magical outcomes, likened to synchronized teamwork. Let me equip you with my business dining checklist…a code of etiquette, if you will, that will ensure your business meals will run like well-oiled machines, and your business dealings will have fruitful results:

-Be alert and pause your conversation each time the server approaches your table. It shouldn’t take the clearing of a throat to round up the party’s attention. A good trick to get others in your party to comply is to begin to turn yourself toward the server as he or she approaches.

-Make true eye contact with the server from the start. This will establish a connection and increase the chances you’ll be able to catch an eye later….like when you’ll need a new napkin.

-Instead of having the server repeat their list, listen the first time to the salad dressing, bread, and starch choices. Just think about how careless you would come across in front of others, having not paid attention.

-If you’ve moved your bread plate in front of you, move it out of the way (back to the left) as food arrives. Often both of the server’s hands are full when approaching the table, and your attention to this detail will lend more to the rhythm of their service than you might realize.

-Don’t reach for a dish that the waiter is attempting to serve unless the waiter signals for your help. You know the drill….it will likely be too hot to touch and lead to a small disaster.

-Don’t stack your used plates.

-Don’t raise your glass up for wine to be poured.

-Don’t shove an empty bottle upside down into the ice bucket….this is the ultimate rookie move (See my rundown on wine service for all the juicy details).

Fellow servers: what can you add to the list to help diners help you?

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