Helpful Dining Tips for ‘Licious

A few days ago, someone over on a LiveJournal community posted about a server they knew who got stiffed on a tip during Summerlicious.

Summerlicious, for those of you not familiar with it, is a two-week long event where participating Toronto restaurants offer a three-course prix-fixe menu at a significantly reduced price. It’s typically a loss-leader, where the restaurant makes money off of beverages, and hopes that their food is so good it will encourage the cheap-ass Summerlicious diners to come back at full price.

Now because Summerlicious diners have a reputation for being cheap-asses, they tend to get poor to bad service, especially when the restaurant is still offering their regular full menu. And as many people pointed out to the poster on the Toronto community… a lot of Summerlicious diners leave crappy tips not because they’re cheap, but because the server anticipated they would be cheap and gave them crappy service.

Greg and I are not normally cheap-ass diners. Nor are we poor tippers. Today, however, we left an 81 cent tip on a $41 bill, because we suffered through one of the crappiest meals we have ever experienced.

I’m not going to give a play-by-play, but rather some basic commonsense tips for both restaurants and diners.

1. If the customer orders soup, bring them bread. Automatically, no questions asked. Don’t make them beg for bread, and don’t forget to bring them bread until after they’ve finished their soup. Soup – bread. Think of them as conjoined twins.

2. Even if it’s not your fault, if your customers place their order and then sit and watch while tables who ordered after them get their food, you need to apologize and tell them why, especially if the wait is more than 15 or 20 minutes.

3. During an event like Summerlicious where you’re losing money on the meal, it’s a good idea to upsell items that make a profit, such as booze, coffee, beverages in general. This is a good idea all the time, but especially when you’re offering the food at a discount. This being the HOSPITALITY industry, you don’t even have to feel dirty about upselling. “Can I get you another beer?” rolls off the tongue easily, and no customer is foolish enough to believe that the second one is free. Yes, it’s lovely that you brought us water, and that should be a rule that all restaurants adhere to (more on this below), but what you really want is for me to order things that I’ll pay for.

4. When depositing dessert on the table, you’ll find another opportunity to not only upsell, but to improve your tip. “Can I offer you coffee or tea?” See? Easy. Plunking down the chocolate mousse and then stomping away means no coffee for me, and no money for you. Coffee has a huge profit margin – you want me to buy coffee, you really do.

5. When you’ve cleared the plates and the meal is done, now is the time to offer the bill or offer to get the customer something else. Leaving the customer sitting for half an hour waiting for their bill, particularly at lunchtime, with no explanation as to why, gets you a big far donut of a tip.

6. Flipflops are not appropriate footwear for anyone in the city, ever. They’re for the beach or the pool. On a server in a restaurant they are ugly, noisy and dangerous.

And now for the customers:

1. If you happen to get decent service during Summerlicious, it is appropriate that you tip on what the full cost of the meal would have been, not the discounted price that you paid. Stop giving the rest of us a bad reputation.

2. Order a beverage other than water. This applies all the time, not just during discount events, and while I do think all restaurants should offer tap water automatically, order a beverage that you actually pay for. Even if it’s bottled water or a soda that you nurse throughout the meal. Restaurants depend on beverage sales, especially during discount events. Ordering a plain glass of tap water pegs you as a cheap-ass, and you’ll get service reflective of that.

3. Make an effort and dress nicely. No flip-flops, no ball caps, no shorts unless it’s a bazillion degrees outside and they’re pleated like a razor down the front. I’ll even go on a limb and say no t-shirts unless it’s totally suave and you’ve wearing it under a nice jacket. Take you hat off indoors, put your napkin on your lap.

4. Please and thank you. Try it, it’s easy – please and thank you. Acknowledge your server when they bring you something. You don’t have to stop your conversation, but show your server that you appreciate their efforts. This will encourage them to not spit in your food.

5. If you feel the service was sub-par and you choose to lower the tip or not tip at all, find your server and tell them. They might tell you off, they might flip the bird at the back of your departing head, but at least they’ll know why you were unhappy with the meal and have an opportunity to improve. And never, ever stiff on a tip because of the quality of the food, particularly if you didn’t enjoy the food but were a polite Canadian and ate it anyway. Extra-especially if, when the server came to check on you, you smiled and nodded and said it was great, even though you hated it. If your server didn’t come to check on you, at minimum during the main, you are permitted to deduct from the tip for this oversight.

Now go out into the world and dine well, and be sure to demand good service!