Dear high school sports team spotted at breakfast last weekend,
What a nice tradition you ladies have of gathering after a grueling practice (or was it an early morning game?).
With tables pushed together in a long row, the 16 of you ordered, or shared food. Mindful to rehydrate after physical exertion, and of saving money, most of you drank water. Not-so-dainty laughter and bubbly conversation meant you were having a good time, and with a line out the door, the little breakfast joint was bursting at the seams.
Your server, the aptly named Ace, was maxed out and had other tables as well. From the way she was ping-ponging from one end of the dining room to the other, it was apparent the serving system was rotation-style and not tidily-predetermined sections.
Table rotation is fine if the physical layout of the place is operationally friendly and if all servers working are created equal. Better yet is when there’s support in the form of food runners and busers. But the jackpot in Ace’s situation would have been a designated cashier (think Sunday high noon at Hot Suppa’, where more people are outside waiting than inside eating). Payroll doesn’t always allow for such luxuries, and some short-sighted servers poo-poo the thought of tipping out helpers for crunches that may not happen.
Sitting at the end of the counter with my coffee and big-city newspaper, I glanced up from yet another “Opinion,” to see Ace struggling, yet calm under pressure. Even with her secret, initial-coded system determining whom of you ordered what, I could have finished the crossword puzzle (OK, that’s a lie) before she was able to split and print out your 16 individual checks.
As all this was going on, I heard her ask a second time for a side of bacon that was an “add-on” for a different table that had already been served.
“The kitchen thinks I forgot to order it,” she said while multi-tasking. “They’ll mess with me because they’re busy and think I messed up.” Having been there, I shook my head as some of you approached Ace’s little cash-strewn work area, all with twenty-dollar bills in hands and mild impatience on your faces.
“Separate checks, all requiring change, and few credit cards, too?” I thought to myself as many of you unknowingly blocked the aisle. “What about her other tables? Where’s that side of bacon?”
Many restaurants have policies about separate checks, automatic gratuities and/or service charges for large parties (the service charge issue is a murky column for another day), but Ace’s eyes widened with “Don’t go there!” when I asked her about it. So, instead, I’d like to give the team (and unaware adults, too) a few drills to practice next time the whole roster goes out to eat.
1) You all have cell phones. Someone call ahead and give the restaurant a head count, and ETA. You girls are bright, so I don’t have to explain why this is key.
2) Bring cash money broken down into fives and one-dollar bills, along with a buck in coins. That way you can leave exact change and expedite the process, ideally with one check for the whole table. I know you can do the math. After all, you’re on the team, and once again, you all have cell phones with calculators.
3) Refrain, if you can, from tossing credit or debit cards into the mix.
4) If you need one, ask for a take-out container before cashing out.
5) Clean up your area a little. I’m not saying you have to do Ace’s job, but don’t be slobs either.
6) Your server is someone’s mom, sister, daughter or BFF. Treat her with respect. Money comes hard to high school kids (or any of us for that matter), but your large table was challenging and if you received good service, tip generously.
7) Say “thank you.” It goes a long way and your coach would be proud.
Lastly, like all paying customers, your presence should be highly valued with no hint of age discrimination. As high school kids, you have just as much a right as a family of four to top-notch service. Restaurants are well aware that you have dining choices, and anything less should be brought to the manager’s attention.
So ladies, keep enjoying those team-bonding, giggle-filled breakfasts. Hopefully, you’ll have a winning season deserving of whipped cream on your pancakes and extra marshmallows in your hot chocolate.
Ps. Please, pass this on to the boys team, too.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to email@example.com, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.