Archive for Monday, November 30, 2009


Check, please! Negotiating restaurant traffic a delicate art

November 30, 2009


Anne Miller, Kansas University student, finishes her glass of sparkling wine and prepares to pay her check at 715 in downtown Lawrence. Servers at 715 say they try to not rush people out of the restaurant by dropping the check too soon.

Anne Miller, Kansas University student, finishes her glass of sparkling wine and prepares to pay her check at 715 in downtown Lawrence. Servers at 715 say they try to not rush people out of the restaurant by dropping the check too soon.

On the street

Have you ever felt like a restaurant staff tried to rush you?

Yes, there is a restaurant downtown that I felt rushed out of because they needed the seats.

More responses

We’ve all been there before — after finishing a meal out, you and your party are feeling full and convivial. You’d like to stay at the restaurant, soak up the atmosphere and conversation, and maybe polish off another drink or two. But before you can settle in for another hilarious anecdote about that one time so-and-so did that one thing in that one place, the server drops the check like a mood-busting hydrogen bomb.

All of the sudden, panic grips the table. The afterglow of dinner has been replaced with a raging fire of doubt and paranoia. Flop sweat begins to trickle. Should you leave? Do you risk offending the establishment if you linger? How are you going to split the bill? Did the server look mad? What should you leave for tip? What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!?!?

OK, it’s never really that cataclysmic unless you live in an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but there are certain unalienable dos and don’ts to check dropping.

“I was a waiter for 20 years, so I’ve been on both sides of check dropping,” says Charles Ferruzza, the restaurant critic for The Pitch, whose job it is to toast or flambé dining culture in Kansas City and Lawrence. “If a server drops the check just to clear the table, it’s never good form. If you’re a waiter, you’re just going to piss your patrons off. That’s something you learn pretty early in the game. There’s a tasteful way to do it.

“There’s an art to dropping the check that most young waiters don’t get. I always give low points, and a lower tip, to servers who drop a check.”

As the new culinary kid on the block in downtown Lawrence, these are warnings that restaurant 715 takes quite seriously. “Be as neutral and classy as possible,” advises Margie Hogue, head server at 715. “Keep the check down, in case the guest doesn’t want the other guest to see how much it was. You also want them to feel like they can stay as long as they like but also to process their payment as fast as you can. Make sure they leave happy and don’t feel rushed.”

Put less delicately by Ferruzza, “Check dropping is really a hash house attitude. At Denny’s, they don’t give a rat’s (expletive) about if you want coffee or dessert.”

“In my stupid youth when I first started working in restaurants, there were times when I really tried to ease tables out,” says Ferruzza. “I learned it wasn’t worth it. They would leave a dollar instead of 10, and the next table that sat there wasn’t any more appreciative. You just kind of go with the flow.”

Hogue tries to avoid a bad tip by picking up on her customers’ cues.

“There are some obvious clues as to if they want their check and are ready to leave. If they start making that hand gesture of writing in the air, that’s a good sign,” says Hogue. “If they’re going to hang out for a while, I keep my eye on them in case they want anything else, but I don’t want to bother them if they’re deep in conversation. It’s just kind of a game — you also don’t want to leave them stranded if they’re ready to go. You just have to be aware at all times.”

The converse of dropping a check too soon, however, is the paranormal phenomenon of phantom servers — it’s as though they simply evaporated, taking your bill with them as you languish in purgatory.

Michael Wade Smith, a junior at Kansas University who was enjoying a glass of bubbly at 715, shared just such a ghost story: “I was with a friend at a restaurant recently, drinking and talking after dinner, and it came to that time when we clearly were ready to leave. But they would not come by and give us our check. No one was coming to our table. We were sitting there awkwardly trying to get eye contact, but no one was paying any attention.”

Desperate times called for desperate measures. “We ended up with that plan of, ‘Well, I’m going to the restroom, and on the way I’ll stop and tell them we need our check,’” Smith says.

“I was at a restaurant in Kansas City — now mercifully closed — and this waitress we had just vanished out of thin air,” says Ferruzza of another such spectral incident. “We want our check and we want to leave, but she’s nowhere to be found. Suddenly a clumsy busboy knocks over a screen at the waiting station and our waitress is standing there eating out of one of the bus tubs. It was repulsive no matter which way you cut it.”

Wild gesticulations are, in such instances, fair game. “Recently I was at a restaurant and I couldn’t figure out which waitress was ours,” says KU junior Anne Miller, also enjoying some champagne at 715. “A couple of them started arguing over us. They never brought us our checks and my mom started waving her hands — literally had her hands in the air. She’s Russian, so she’s extreme. We didn’t give them a tip.”

To avoid either extreme in check dropping — too soon or never — requires a little bit of marriage counseling.

“Establishing a rapport, dialogue and communication are really important between server and customer,” Ferruzza says. “I mean, I’m not talking about sharing each others’ life stories — because no one wants that — but if you get a vibe of what’s going on and they say they’ve got a 2-year-old they need to pick up at 7:30, whatever the game is, you can kind of coordinate both of your schedules and make it work out.”

One thing most foodies can agree on, in the end, is that you shouldn’t chase diners with household appliances.

“One restaurant that I know of likes to start vacuuming as soon as their brunch is over, even if people are still eating. That’s a pretty clear sign,” Hogue says. “We try not to do that here.”


keeb1211 8 years, 4 months ago

I can't stand having a server ask if I would like dessert while I am still eating and if I say no immediately set the check on the table.

Jay_lo 8 years, 4 months ago

Bringing my comment over from "On The Street"

I know I'll be in the minority on this one, but honestly people, if the atmosphere of the place is relaxed and unrushed with several empty tables then yes you can probably be allowed to linger after your lunch for some pleasant conversation.

If it's hectic as all get out with a long line containing families with children and elderly patrons then please have the decency to respect the situation.

A restaurant is in business to serve meals first and foremost. Other paying customers will leave if forced to wait too long as any behavior specialist should be able to tell you.

Stiffing on the tip because you feel rushed is just an excuse to be cheap. You probably find some reason most every time you dine out.

If the place is busy and you've had your food, then you've gotten what you paid for. I'm sure any restaurant will allow your group the time it takes to make arrangements to meet elsewhere for conversation.

I mean how easy is it to try to carry on any kind of meaningful conversation, or for that matter, relax in an overcrowded establishment.

You want the restaurant and servers to respect you, then please do the same and respect their situation.

I've been on both sides, as probably most everyone has. Now be honest, when you're waiting in that line are you really thinking, “Oh how nice that none of those people who are finished eating feel the need to shorten their conversation time so that I can get a table.”?

Bob Burton 8 years, 4 months ago

You are doing it all wrong, if going to eat, then eat & beat-it, if going for conversation & food then go early, drink the good juice first & then eat & beat-it.. Tip appropriately..

kappyblu 8 years, 4 months ago

A particular restaurant downtown is terrible about this.

The food is fantastic there, but everytime we go, the waiters and waitresses always try to rush us out. I don't know about anybody else, but it seems throughout the meal, they are hovering and taking away every little dish as soon as they see it empty. This is what happens: we finish the meal, then want to drink our coffee in peace for a bit and the wait staff keeps coming and picking up every little sugar packet or napkin I lay down. It's quite annoying. I am all for a waiter taking away dishes you don't need, but only once or twice. They are at our table every few minutes. I only go back because the eggs benedict is so awesome. :-)

It's not like we are trying to sit there all day--but I would like a refill on my coffee please before you try to shove me out the door...sheesh.

I have only experienced this type of treatment in downtown Lawrence. The big chain restaurants never do this to us

kmat 8 years, 4 months ago

Some of you in the restaurant industry don't seem to understand that some of us that you consider to be lingering are still spending money at your establishment. I may have finished my meal, but maybe I want another coctail. I have been rushed out of restaurants where my party would have easily dropped a lot more money on drinks. Instead, we took our dollars elsewhere because the waiter decided to drop the check instead of asking if we wanted anything else. This looks so bad when you take clients to lunch and the waiter just dumps the check.

I've also had such terrible service that I've been forced to go to the bar with my credit card because the waiter could never be found after serving our food. Literally, did that after at least 20 minutes of having a no show waiter (for a table of 4 spending good money on a work lunch). That waiter got zero tip - the bartender that took care of us got the entire tip. Maybe the waiter was eating out of a bus boy tray like the one in the article.

Lawrence is a mecca for bad service. So many college kids that don't care too much about the patrons. Eating in KC is much more enjoyable and the service is so much better. After years of eating out in Lawrence, there are many places that my husband and I avoid because of poor service and others that we only go to because they take great care of their patrons - Free State and Anglers!!

ilovelucy 8 years, 4 months ago

Because I have also been on both sides, if I plan to stay longer, I tip for that. Wait staff only make minimum wage anyway (most do), so I show my appreciation. Also, if you're a good tipper the wait staff will remember that and take extra good care of you the next trip around.

Evan Ridenour 8 years, 4 months ago

Four things I can't believe any server does and happens every time I eat out in one of this towns crappy restaurants.

  1. If a member of my party finishes a course before the rest of the party... DON'T pull the plate! Wait for the rest of us to finish our course... and THEN pull all of our plates. It is rude, PERIOD.

  2. Don't serve the next course while we are still eating the previous course. The fact that this even has to be said is pathetic and speaks to how horrid the restaurants in this town are.

  3. Don't ask if everything is good (this seems to imply that it might not be, the assumption should be everything is okay, if I don't like something I will tell you), don't talk to us about our day, don't tell us about yours, don't walk up every other minute to ask us some completely unimportant question or make small talk. I am there to eat, drink and converse with my party, NOT you.

  4. And as this article states, don't push the check down. It is rude, it will be reflected in your tip (either directly because I will tip you less or indirectly because your rudeness has cost you our continued business and those after dinner drinks and/or dessert we were planning on are going to be had at a different establishment).

I think the comments in the blogs today by Lawrence servers properly reflects why the service is so bad in this town. The attitude being displayed by the servers in their posts is spot on. If the restaurants in this town were even decent, you would be fired for doing the things you seem to believe you are entitled to.

Jay_lo 8 years, 4 months ago

Just to clear up any misconception, when I stated that I had been on both sides, I meant that I had been seated in places with long lines, and have also stood in those same lines.

I have never had the opportunity to wait tables, but I do observe people and it is easy to spot both rude waitstaff and rude patrons. It is never as easy to understand why they may be in the mood that they are in, as I do not have any indications of what may be occurring in their lives.

Some people read entirely too much into other people's actions, as if the entire world revolves around them and every action or inaction is consciously directed at them, and they take offense when none is intended.

If the waiter/waitress asks if there will be anything else and you have told them no, then that is how they see it. If you change your mind and decide you would like an extra drink or dessert, just ask them, don't expect them to read your mind.

Instead of nitpicking, just try to be repectful. Make your requests clear to the waiter/waitress and try to enjoy your dining experience. Respect the situation if they are crowded, and above all else, try to smile, it will make your entire day go better.

mom_of_three 8 years, 4 months ago

Eride - talk about rude! I don't care when they put the check down. I actually like the idea of paying when I want. And if I order something else, then they can add to it. NO biggie to me, but then again, I am not a food or restaurant snob.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 4 months ago

Occasionally I will treat my daughter to a meal at Applebees and we always have a great time. The waiters there are terrific Tuesday night with the balloon man is also nice, and yes, I got my face painted and got a pink panther balloon. The other patrons got a kick out of that. (I am 64). I also gave the balloon guy a five dollar tip and then several other people followed suit. They said they had never thought of it. I feel so comfortable at Applebees, and I have no memory of when or how the waiter gave me my check. Sorry, I only have something positive to report.

puddleglum 8 years, 4 months ago

well, i know there are many people out there that treat wait staff like garbage. and just as many wait staff out there that really should just have a job somewhere not involving person-to-person contact.

so, as far as the check? personally, I'm gonna pay the bill whenever I feel like getting up and leaving-especially if the place is busy and I had to wait for them to serve me, they can wait until i'm good and done. I can't stand the waitress that comes over and says, "here's your bill-please pay quickly cuz I am trying to get off early." That ain't happening.

readit 8 years, 4 months ago

Free State does a great job of saying, "Take your time. Have another beer." They really mean it, and I never feel rushed. Of course, they have more "career" wait staff and not college kids who don't care.

ilovelucy 8 years, 4 months ago

Eride: have you been a member of a wait staff? Just curious, as I find some of your comments unique.

beawolf 8 years, 4 months ago

"“here's your bill-please pay quickly cuz I am trying to get off early.”...

I've eaten out a 1000+ times and I've never heard a waitperson say that. If you hear this often it's probably a more polite version of " You are the biggest a-hole I've ever served and will you please get the hell out."

Back on topic, If the place is busy leave when you are done eating. You are not expected to "rush" but idle chit chat when people are waiting is down right rude.

ilovelucy 8 years, 4 months ago

Did: good post. To not remove a plate when done is horrible. As a waiter for 20+ years, I was taught to remove a plate when the fork is face down on the plate. As far as waiting until everyone is done with the first course, that is wrong. If I were still eating my first course but everyone else was ready for the next, I would either set the first to the side and continue or stick my fork face down. There's nothing more wrong than overdone or cold food. As far as asking about the food, HOW else is a server to determine if everything is to the customer's satisfaction?

I'm still trying to figure out just where Eride is coming from.

Satirical 8 years, 4 months ago

I could care less when a server drops the check. I am going to stay as long as I want regardless of what s/he thinks. Although this typically isn't much longer then it takes me to eat my meal. While I enjoy a good restaurant atmosphere, I dine out for the food, not for the ambiance. Perhaps if I had more money my tastes would change. (And according to basic economic theories, they would. But that is besides the point.)

What does upset me is when I am ready to go and the server ventured into the Land of the Lost. Once, a server left without ever giving us the check. After a while we had to track someone down so we could pay.

So in summary - check too early is fine, check too late is bad.

imastinker 8 years, 4 months ago

I think it depends on why I am there.

I travel frequently for business and eat out while traveling. For breakfast and lunch, I generally want in and out quickly. I generally tip quite high for breakfast, because I drink my coffee fast and like quick service. Lunch I am generally in a hurry also, although I just want my food and go. For dinner I either want to linger or be fast.

Now when the wife and I go out, I expect to sit at dinner for a while. We do not eat out frequently (our budget allows one or two a month) and I expect to sit and talk. Rushing me out would irritate me quite a bit. If they don't like it thats too bad - I have lots of places to pick from and can choose another.

RogueThrill 8 years, 4 months ago

All I ask is, if my drink is on the outside of the table, that it be filled before it is empty. If you do that you are getting at least %30.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 4 months ago

okay, how much $s did 715 slip to the ljworld for this article?

kinda mixes advertising and reporting, IMHO.

and if I ever (never) wanted to read the Pitch, I'd read it...otherwise ...

I've been in restaurants and witnessed servers I knew by first name treated like warmed-over sh*t. Larry is right, you would be shocked if you knew one tenth of what servers face. plus, they get to clear your table after you're done: that napkin you blew your nose, maybe you had a baby with its own special mess, etc.

personally, I think instead of covering this as a subliminal ad for 715, LJWorld oughta do an article on "the real wait staff life of lawrence" or some similar title. yes, there are some here in lawrence who should be selling transmission parts at the auto parts place instead of waiting table. but there are good servers too.

the above described hovering wait staff and the poster loves their Eggs Benedict, wonder if that is Tellers? or Miltons?

the above statement from multi can be generalized, when you get there, if you have a special need, a particular way you wanna be served *tell your server! most times they're pretty good about following your wishes, you tip accordingly, and in this case if you want them to take their time getting you the bill, I bet they typically will.

but remember, if you get good service, your tip starts at 20%. its only fair, and if you want that good service to continue, this is how you do it.

yes, I want the server to come and ask, I'm wondering what planet Eride is on! the restaurants my wife and I go to with our very limited funds, usually the answer I have for the server is quite positive. but if the server doesn't ask, you can't let them know something's wrong, send a dish back to the kitchen, ask for the thick red stuff for your freedom fries, etc.

remove the plate when I'm obviously done, I usually put fork/other silver on the plate and usually move it to the side myself so its really obvious.

eating from the bus bucket: if a restaurant doesn't fire such a server, I'm sure as he|| never going back to that restaurant!! bleck!

kappyblu 8 years, 4 months ago

"the above described hovering wait staff and the poster loves their Eggs Benedict, wonder if that is Tellers? or Miltons?"

The latter. :-)

And I like dirty dishes cleared, too....but they are just ridiculous about it. They hover nearby like "plate vultures." They even clear a couple of sugar packets. I don't sit there for hours or anything...I just want to have a second cup of coffee after I'm done with the meal. With them rushing me...they also ruin their chances of my or my dining partner's ordering dessert.

Viking2 8 years, 4 months ago

Our waitress disappeared. After many minutes, the manager walked by and I flagged him down. I said I was concerned that our waitress had been kidnapped. How long would he recommend we wait before the FBI was called? She was there quickly. And, my wife had a story to add to her journal. Instead of getting angry, show a little humor.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 4 months ago

Kappy, Milton's also can be maniacal about their sidewalk dining know the right-of-way they use that the city lets them use... sheesh.

oh man! Shoney's breakfast bar! bring that back. just have a restaurant that would open from real early until noon, do the shoney's breakfast bar! yeah, that was the best breakfast bar.

I suspect your servers appreciated your honesty about the tip. plus, usually shoneys had real wait staff not punk-@$$ fools who didn't really want to be srvers.

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