“Hello, my name is Arline and I will be taking care of you this evening.” Key words: taking care. When you go out to eat, whether it is a quick bite for lunch or a luxury dinner experience, it is crucial to respect that servers are people too. My very first job experience has been in the restaurant business and it is time to make a few things clear about your server’s experience. As many of you don’t realize, we too have human values and emotions.

The server-customer relationship is often quite misunderstood. I find that for those people who enjoy going out to eat but have never actually worked in the restaurant industry, there are often misconceptions. This is not to say that some servers themselves do not place stigmas on their customers wrongfully. While dining at a restaurant may seem a simple leisurely activity, I think that both customers and servers should pay more attention to the process itself. As diners and servers, there is a responsibility to maintain humility during the dining experience.

My years of serving have taught me a wide variety of important life lessons. It is common that when a table of high school or

Photo Illustration by George Amaru / Art Director

Photo Illustration by George Amaru / Art Director

college age kids enter the restaurant the servers instantly see small dollar signs floating above the incoming customers’ heads. Four years of serving experience has taught me that one can never, ever judge a table simply based on their appearance. I always encourage servers to shatter expectations because I have been proven wrong about my judgements of customers too many times. Just this summer I had a table of high school age boys leave me a crisp twenty-dollar bill on the table after finishing up their meal that did not ring up over thirty-five-dollars. The number one thing serving has taught me is to never, ever assume, ever.

Now, in terms of the consumer, there are many things that you should keep in mind, especially as a youngster hitting the downtown restaurant scene here in Keene. Number one on the list is that servers are providing you with a service. This means that your server is very dependent on the tip that you give them, so if you are on a budget perhaps consider hitting a food joint with counter service where you can help yourself. It is highly unfair to go out to eat at a place where you are given exceptional service and then to leave without leaving behind gratuity.

This being said, it is your server’s responsibility to earn that tip. In recent days there has been much discussion about eliminating tips altogether in some restaurants. While the concept offers many pros, I believe that the incentive of earning a generous tip encourages servers to provide the customer with an exceptional experience. It is a give-and-take relationship, so as a diner be sure to hold up your end of the deal. If tips were taken out of the restaurant business I believe that the quality of service would suffer. If a server knew that they would make just as many dollars for bringing you your food quickly as if they forgot your extra side of ranch then there would be no reason for a server to go above and beyond to provide you with an excellent dining experience.

Amongst the many misunderstandings between the server and consumer is the misconception that when a meal comes out wrong, it is the server’s fault. Sometimes maybe there can be miscommunications that lead to inaccurate orders. More often than not it is the kitchen that fails to provide accurate food based on the ticket, or perhaps you, the customer misspoke. In any case, politely explain to your server that the meal is not what you expected or wanted. If the server is doing their job correctly they will happily fix the mistake.

To ensure that I realize servers are human and make mistakes themselves I have a very simple example of a scenario that occurred when I was at fault for bringing a table the wrong dish. This summer I was taking an order. The woman at the table told me her order and then the man with her smiled and said, “same thing.” My mistake. When I brought out two of the same meal I could see he was puzzled.

“Is something wrong?”

“I wanted the salmon.”

Oh dear. Since this happened I always make sure to repeat the customer’s order back to them. Miscommunication is simple human error. The gentleman said that he was fine eating the dish and ended up absolutely loving it even though it had not been what he initially wanted. Mistakes occur and when I brought out the wrong meal I was prepared to go correct my error and return with salmon, but the man was content trying something new. In the end my mistake turned into a wonderful accident. The couple returned a week later and ordered the same dish. This time he did say “Same thing.”

While I have always understood that people make mistakes I am always sure to talk out the problem instead of responding irrationally by getting upset. Your server should approach such mistakes in a similar manner.

Another day years ago at the diner I was working at I had a table leave me exact change. Since my job is to offer you, the customer, a service, I do in fact expect compensation for such work, granted that I provided you with every request in a timely manner.

I did not spend Saturday and Sunday mornings all throughout high school working for the fun of it. There were many Saturdays and Sundays that I really could have used some rest. So on this particular day when a table left without leaving a tip, I followed them into the parking lot.

I told them that they had left exact change and they looked puzzled. My 17-year-old self did not realize it was borderline inappropriate to follow a table outside for questioning.

I followed up by asking whether the customer felt the service was insufficient. They told me that they were sorry and that they simply ran out of money. The man assured me he would be back to pay me a tip. When I went back inside the restaurant my co-worker asked me what was the matter. That was the first and only time I ever cried at work. I never saw that man again.

Know that when you go out to eat it is a mutual understanding that the relationship between server and customer is a give and take.

Respect that this is a profession and as a customer you are responsible for compensating your server for the service they provide.

Besides, you may make a lasting impression on your server. If you plan to dine there again keep in mind whether you want that impression to be a good or bad one.

Arline Votruba can be contacted at avotruba@kscequinox.com