How to be a bet­ter diner

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

Restau­rant bash­ing has be­come a very public sport, but you’ll sel­dom hear the other side of the story.

SINCE THE ME­DIA (and ergo, the world) be­came ob­sessed with food, it seems like every sec­ond grandma and school kid is lam­i­nat­ing choco­late and sous vide-ing their veni­son. But while our lev­els of gas­tro­nomic so­phis­ti­ca­tion might be at an all-time high, else­where our food ex­pe­ri­ence is lag­ging. When it comes to be­ing a good diner, it seems we’ve for­got­ten our man­ners. Thanks to re­view sites like TripAdvisor, if you’ve got a gripe about your tripe, it’s game on. Restau­rant bash­ing has be­come a very public sport, but you’ll sel­dom hear the other side of the story – that is the tales of in­con­sid­er­ate, rude and down­right rep­re­hen­si­ble be­hav­iour that din­ers rou­tinely dole out to restau­rant staff. Mel­bourne-based food critic and for­mer wait­ress, Larissa Dubecki chron­i­cled the hor­rors of poor customer be­hav­iour in her 2015 mem­oir, Prick with a Fork. In it she says: “There seems to be this psy­cho­log­i­cal thing that once you are at a restau­rant for a few hours, you have the right to this slave for the night and that slave doesn’t de­serve ba­sic hu­man ci­vil­ity.” It’s a shame­ful re­al­ity that most hospo pros will back up. To get a sense of what things are like, I re­cently quizzed some in­dus­try friends about their pet peeves. I heard sor­did sto­ries of lies, sex­ism, stolen tips, pinched bums, and pa­trons sneak­ing off to get ‘in­ti­mate’ in the wash­room be­tween cour­ses, but the core theme that united all of the feed­back was a sim­ple wish to be treated with re­spect. My res­tau­ra­teur friend, Bernard Glaude from Dayles­ford’s Belvedere So­cial agrees, “Cus­tomers some­times for­get that their server is also a hu­man be­ing. Be­ing rude, dis­re­spect­ful or oth­er­wise de­grad­ing just isn’t ac­cept­able be­hav­iour in the 21st cen­tury.” Other big­gies? Stack­ing plates or hand­ing plates to servers while they are clear­ing the ta­ble (wait­ers have a sys­tem for this, please let them do their job). Pa­per nap­kins stuffed in glass­ware (just gross). Fussy eaters and al­lergy fak­ers. Cus­tomers who voice com­plaints on­line when the is­sue could have been eas­ily re­solved with staff in the restau­rant. I also heard a lot of com­plaints about some­thing that wasn’t an is­sue back in the ’90s: smart­phones. Today’s wait staff have to deal with loud talk­ers, loud ring tones and loud videos, the lat­ter of which – ac­cord­ing to Glaude – is the big­gest vibe killer. “Play­ing videos in a din­ing room is just not ac­cept­able,” he says. “If you do it here, you will be told to turn it off like a naughty school child.” There’s also a loss of pres­ence that comes with be­ing a phone-ad­dict: In­sta­gram­mers, Tin­der swipers, al­pha males do­ing deals, silent cou­ples scrolling their way through multi-course de­gus­ta­tions. Then there’s the straight-up abuse that restau­rant staff en­dure on the job. Ru­de­ness, ar­ro­gance, ag­gres­sion, racism and sex­ism are all part of the ter­ri­tory, and yet a waiter’s role is to grin, bear it and al­ways, al­ways apol­o­gise. For any­one work­ing in a ser­vice-led work­place the old “the customer is al­ways right” mantra is drilled in from the get-go – no mat­ter how bad, wrong or in­de­fen­si­bly ill-man­nered said customer might be, but if there’s one in­dus­try in which the adage re­ally stretches the friend­ship, it’s hos­pi­tal­ity. Trust me, there’s a rea­son your waiter wants your tips – af­ter clean­ing up the messes of feral kids, be­ing hit on by lech­er­ous drunks, and obey­ing the end­less di­etary whims of weight-con­scious, joy­less gluten frauds all week, there’s a very good chance they’ve earnt them. One of the in­dus­try’s other big gripes is the ris­ing trend of the no-show: peo­ple who book a ta­ble and don’t turn up, with­out both­er­ing to let the venue know. As a diner, it may not feel like a big deal to change your mind and blow off a restau­rant book­ing at the last minute with­out call­ing, but ac­cord­ing to restau­rant book­ing site Dimmi, it’s an epi­demic that is said to be cost­ing the in­dus­try an es­ti­mated $75 mil­lion per year. To help com­bat the is­sue, last year Dimmi de­cided to take a firm stand by al­low­ing restau­rants to black­list Dimmi users who fail to hon­our their reser­va­tion. In the last 12 months, Dimmi part­ner restau­rants have black­listed more than 38,000 din­ers, up from around 3000 the pre­vi­ous year. The com­pany’s founder and CEO, Ste­van Pre­mu­tico, says the av­er­age diner doesn’t re­alise the con­se­quences. “The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the im­pact that no-shows have on the restau­rant in­dus­try. They think some­body else is go­ing to make up that book­ing, but that’s typ­i­cally not the case,” he ex­plains. For small busi­nesses al­ready work­ing on tiny mar­gins, keep­ing ta­bles full is cru­cial. The com­bi­na­tion of low profit mar­gins, high wage costs and high staff turnover make run­ning a restau­rant a pre­car­i­ous bal­anc­ing act. That 30-sec­ond phone call can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a busi­ness wast­ing a ta­ble, los­ing rev­enue and send­ing staff home early or, al­ter­na­tively, them re-book­ing it and stay­ing afloat fi­nan­cially. Syd­ney res­tau­ra­teur, Erez Gor­don says that an­other fac­tor that is es­pe­cially galling dur­ing a busy ser­vice is when a party shows up with fewer num­bers than orig­i­nally booked, with­out let­ting the restau­rant know in ad­vance. “If we know, we can sell the other two seats and re­ar­range the ta­ble plan to max­imise our earn­ing po­ten­tial for that ser­vice,” he ex­plains. “It has a big im­pact.” But like any well-trained hospo pro, Gor­don has to grin and bear it. “In a sat­u­rated and highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, we sim­ply smile and ac­cept poor be­hav­iour [oth­er­wise] we risk dis­en­fran­chis­ing po­ten­tial fu­ture cus­tomers.” But de­spite all this, most hos­pi­tal­ity pro­fes­sion­als are in the in­dus­try be­cause they get a kick out of show­ing din­ers a good time. “These sto­ries of bad customer be­hav­iour might sound re­ally ter­ri­ble, but thank­fully they are rare,” ex­plains vet­eran Mel­bourne res­tau­ra­teur and in­dus­try ad­vo­cate, Mat­teo Pig­natelli. “I truly love 98 per cent of my cus­tomers, and I’m ex­tremely grate­ful be­cause these peo­ple come to us rather than the thou­sands of other restau­rants around town. “The best cus­tomers un­der­stand how hard we work to make sure they’re happy and they let us do that for them. At the end of the day, what we want more than any­thing is to make cus­tomers happy and see them come back. It’s our job – it’s what we do.”

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