By BOB MCKINNEY
If you keep up with the local dining scene — and by local, I mean the Nashville area — you are aware we have become known as a foodie destination.
Our big local newspaper periodically covers the openings and closings of area eateries. By my estimation, the openings are outnumbering the closings by a 2-to-1 margin. Don’t quote me on that, but I think anyone would agree new places are popping up at a fast pace.
I suppose the closings are inevitable. There has to be a saturation factor. But the new ones seem to keep on coming.
Although my wife and I tend to visit the places to which we are accustomed, when we feel adventurous, we will try something new. We enjoy the dining out experience, whether it’s just the two of us or we’re with friends.
According to what I read, as this part of the local economy booms, the old adage about good help being hard to find has never been more true. Restaurant managers seem to agree it is difficult to find, train and retain competent employees, which I would think would give these potential staffers a good negotiating position.
Although I have worked retail, I never worked as a server. It must be a stressful job, and I know, in order to make any kind of living wage, the people who do those jobs depend on tips.
For this reason, I try to be generous toward wait staff. I have a standard of 20 percent unless something is terribly wrong, which is seldom the case. That’s for complete table service, where we sit down and someone takes our order and brings the food to us, keeps our glasses filled and periodically checks to see if there is anything we need.
I’m not as inclined to tip as liberally at walk-up places, where I order food at a counter. I’ll add a couple of bucks to the total if I’m using a card, or put a couple in the tip jar. (If someone thinks I’m being stingy here, please let me know).
For table service, in addition to trying to tip well, I try to be polite and respectful toward servers. I try to listen to what they tell me about the menu and be reasonable in questions I ask.
I always find it humorous when folks who are with me ask an abundance of questions when 90 percent of what they ask could be answered by looking at the menu. I understand the server is there to serve, but if you can read, you can see what is being offered.
I also don’t take out frustrations on a seating host. If I am told there is a one-hour wait, and I don’t have a reservation, I either wait the hour or go elsewhere. It always amazes me to hear customers arguing with the person in charge of seating, as if they might be persuaded by the would-be diner that there is in fact a table available.
By the same token, I expect restaurant staff to also be courteous and polite, while not overly attentive. I’m happy for them to tell me what their name is, but I’m not necessarily there to form a relationship.
At an establishment my wife and I used to frequent that is now closed, there was a waiter who insisted on inserting himself into our conversation. He would stand there and listen to what we were saying and then offer his comment or opinion.
It drove us nuts and it was awkward, and for some reason we always seemed to get him as a server. (And of course we were too conflict-avoidant to request to not be seated in his area).
I also don’t want comments about how fast or slow I eat, or what amount. If I happen to clean my plate, I don’t want to hear the server say, “Wow, you didn’t like that at all, did you?” Just take my plate away with a smile, please.
As an aside, it’s kind of the same way in the grocery store. If I happen to be buying beer, which is infrequent, but does happen on occasion, I don’t want a question from the person at the checkout stand pertaining to what kind of party I might be having, or raised eyebrows as if to suggest I have a problem. I understand moderation perfectly, and I don’t feel the need to have to explain anything.
But back to the restaurant situation. In addition to the courtesy and politeness I expect, which will most assuredly ensure a nice gratuity, I don’t care to have things pushed on me. If I say no, I do not wish to start with an appetizer or the cocktail du jour, please, Mr. or Ms. Waitperson, accept that as my final answer and don’t continue encouraging me to branch out and try something new.
I’m sorry that drink and/or app won’t add to the total bill and thus increase the amount of your tip, but because the tip I leave is likely more generous than the one who is ordering those extras, I promise you’re going to be taken care of.
And finally, if there is still food on my plate, please ask if I am done before you whisk it away. The common question is, “Can I get this out of the way?”
While I appreciate the attention, I’m there to eat, so a plate in front of me is hardly in my way. I would rather you err on the side of assuming I’m not yet done.
Following these simple guidelines will assure a pleasant experience and, if the food is good, a return visit from yours truly. In this competitive environment, I am guessing that’s pretty important.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at email@example.com.