At Your Service: Giving thanks to the servers who help make dining memories. | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

At Your Service: Giving thanks to the servers who help make dining memories. 

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Some of us will enjoy Thanksgiving dinner next week in restaurants; others will celebrate the holiday at home or elsewhere. Each year at this time, I get a rush of e-mails asking for the “saddle bag, upside-down Thanksgiving turkey” recipe I published a few years ago. You can still find it in our archive. This year, however, I’m going out for my Thanksgiving dinner, to a restaurant widely known for delivering excellent table service. I won’t get bogged down here with which one; there are many such dining establishments in our area that fit the bill. And this Thanksgiving, I want to take the opportunity to give thanks to all the hardworking, sore-footed restaurant servers who turn ordinary meals into extraordinary dining experiences. I don’t need to name names; you know who you are. n

Most weeks, I get at least an e-mail or two from readers bemoaning crappy restaurant service. And I feel your pain. Really, I do. But at the same time, I think that great restaurant service is a two-way street. Behave like a dick in someone’s restaurant, and they’ll probably treat you accordingly. But offer servers and other restaurant staff the respect you’d like to receive in your own workplace, and you’re probably on your way to a memorable meal. It’s not a guarantee, but it sure doesn’t hurt to treat your server, bartender, buser, etc. with grace and humanity. Servers are people, too. So for starters, show up for reservations on time. No reservation? Don’t expect to be seated immediately.

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It may surprise you to learn this, but I’m not much of a service snob. I don’t go bongo if I have less than 13 dining utensils in front of me at a restaurant, and I can never quite remember if plates are supposed to be served from the customer’s right or left. What I do care about is effort. I like to see someone really trying to do a good job. If they’re not succeeding, chances are they’ve had crappy training.

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That’s something important to remember in a restaurant: Sub-par service is most often the result of sub-par training. It’s probably not the server’s fault. So you might want to direct your ire toward managers and owners, rather than some kid making $2.13 an hour plus tips. Humans aren’t born, for example, with the technical skill to open a wine bottle. They need to be trained. Here in Utah, where alcohol for many is taboo, there are servers aplenty who’ve never touched the stuff. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn about wine and wine service. When I run into a server who can’t figure out the physics of a corkscrew, my disappointment is aimed at the manager who failed to train her, not the server herself.

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Let’s talk tips. I know it’s a volatile issue on both sides: the consumer and the restaurant worker. Utahns are notoriously renowned for being lousy tippers. This is not a culture that, generally speaking, puts high value on fine dining or generous tipping. I tend to agree with a restaurant manager who remarked, “If you don’t have the money to tip, then you shouldn’t eat in restaurants.” Like it or not, this ain’t France, and tips aren’t included with your bill.

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You might recall a story from a few months ago about a Park City server who, tired of lousy tips, allegedly took it upon herself to “fatten them up.” Clearly this sort of embezzling can’t be justified, but I can sympathize with servers who grow frustrated by overly stingy customers. Waiting tables is hard work. And as I mentioned, servers here typically make $2.13 per hour, and often have no insurance or health-care coverage. They survive—pay their rents and mortgages, buy gas, feed their families, even purchase their own work uniforms—largely with the tips customers leave. Is a robust tip a God-given right? Of course not. I haven’t had many Michelin 3-Star restaurant experiences here in the Beehive State. But then, I’ve had very few truly horrible service experiences, either. Most of the time, the service I get in local restaurants is more than adequate: pleasant, professional and timely. For such service, I tip a minimum of 20 percent of the bill. For excellent service, I’ll usually tip 25 percent or more. So should you. The difference between a 10 percent tip and a 20 percent tip to a server might be the difference in being able to pay for day care or tuition. Do the right thing.

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Try to remember, too, that your server didn’t overcook your chicken. If your food sucked, don’t go back to that restaurant, but don’t take it out on your server if he did all he could to provide you with a pleasant dining experience. Save your venom for comment cards or speak directly to the restaurant manager or owner. Chances are they’ll be interested in remedying the unsatisfactory situation.

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And help your server out: Give him/her a heads-up if you’ve got a play or a movie to catch in an hour, or if you’re planning to linger through a leisurely meal. They’ll appreciate the info and be better able to customize service to your needs.

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As much as I dine out, I really am thankful for top-notch restaurant service. Waiting tables is not easy work. I couldn’t do it. I haven’t the memory, dexterity, stamina or temperament for the job. So I applaud those who do, and those who do it well. I hope if you’re working on Thanksgiving Day that you go home with a big pile of tips. If not, at least enjoy your day off.

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