Whatever you do, don't ask Nicole Ponti, "What is your real job?"
Ponti, 23, a bartender at a restaurant in Clifton, loves the restaurant industry so much that she is studying hospitality management at the Institute of Culinary Education. When rude customers pipe up, she tells them bartending is how she's helping pay for her education. But sometimes she feels like asking them how they would be drinking bloody marys if she wasn't standing behind the bar at a supposedly fake job.
Over the last few weeks, we've discussed the pet peeves we diners have about restaurants. But managers, servers and bartenders who wrote to me brought up plenty of peeves about customers.
Guests who complain not when problems can be fixed, but after they have finished the meal and are looking for a freebie. It seems obvious, but don't eat out if you're not willing to pay for it. "We are trained to go up to every guest after two bites or one minute and ask how everything is," said Ponti, a former server. "The guest has the opportunity to tell me. If the servers care about their job, they also do not want the guests to eat things they do not enjoy."
BYOB customers who take advantage. First of all, just because you can bring your own wine to a restaurant doesn't mean you can bring your own tea, soda and cake, all of which have been carted in by the customers of a waitress at a high-end Bergen County BYOB who identified herself as Chris.
Chris added, "A lot of times, customers will bring multiple bottles of wine, champagne and beer to be opened, which is very time-consuming" and often requires several types of glasses. "Which is fine, if they would only take this into consideration when they tip; after all, when they dine in a restaurant with a liquor license, they tip on the wine they purchase."
No-shows. This is of particular issue in smaller, high-end restaurants that make most of their money on weekends – lose one Saturday night table and they may have lost the evening's profits. "Have the decency to cancel at least 24 hours in advance," Chris wrote. "It is mean to the house and the servers as they all lose money when this happens last minute."
Coupon users who tip inappropriately. So you come in with a Groupon, or a gift certificate, and get $50 off the tab. The right thing to do is to tip on the full amount of the check before the discount – after all, the server still had to serve the whole meal. "I am still giving the same service, and it doesn't mean now that the customer can tip on the new discounted price," said Fabian Pattarroyo, who said he has worked as both a server and a manager in numerous restaurants.
(I can attest to the fact that this is easy to do accidentally, when you're distracted while signing your check – I once called a restaurant back and asked them to add an additional tip to the credit card.)
Customers who aren't ready to order. And instead of saying, "Give us a few minutes," they ask the waitress to stand there while they hem and haw over the pasta versus the steak. "That's not to say part of my role isn't to help navigate the menu," wrote one server at a high-end Bergen County American restaurant. "But too often, I'm stuck simply waiting for them without being of any use. That's rude to me, and more importantly, to other customers. Minutes can seem like eons when you're waiting for your food, so every second counts for servers."
Ponti, the Clifton bartender often responsible for taking to-go orders, deals with customers who call unprepared. "Imagine the bar two rows deep, with two bartenders on, and one of us waiting to take your to-go order while you ask every person in your family what they would like to eat. Meanwhile, I have 70 faces looking at me."
Playing with plates. The Bergen County American restaurant server begged customers not to stack their empty plates, saying it's not as helpful as it seems. "First of all, it doesn't look nice. The table next to you doesn't want to feel like they're eating next to the dishwasher. But there's also a pragmatic reason that diners might not realize: It makes it more difficult for bussers and servers to clear the table for the simple reason that patrons don't stack well…. When we see a stack in the middle, we know that we're going to have to lift that precarious Jenga of plates up over the glasses with the hope that something doesn't decide to fall on somebody's lap."
Not leaving when you're done. Particularly if you have an early weekend reservation and are done with dessert and coffee. This is a big problem for BYOBs that cannot simply send customers to the bar. "If you are the type of party that likes to linger and take your time, do yourself and us a favor and come on a weeknight or Sunday or even consider the last seating," Chris wrote.
But when the restaurant is closed, leave. "Just like everyone else, we have lives and families," Pattarroyo wrote.
"Don't touch me. Period." So wrote one of our servers. This should go without saying, right?