Dear Salty, I generally have a difficult time deciding on what I’d like to have when I go out. (Everything looks so good!) To help me decide, I generally have a few of questions for my poor server: Are your collards made in-house or are they from a can? Are there caraway seeds in your rye bread? (Because let’s be honest, caraway seeds are disgusting.) Describe your home fries, please. Are we talking oven, fried, or skillet potatoes?
I’d also like to add that I always warn them that I am one of “those people,” and I’m sorry for that. I’m always polite, thank them for everything, and start tipping at around 30 percent. (Tips go to 50 percent if I’m at a diner with $7 breakfast plates, and the other patrons are old. I’ve been there. It sucks.) Also, each subsequent visit to a place has fewer and fewer questions.
I’m not asking if this is obnoxious. I know it is. How obnoxious is it? Should I limit myself to one question per meal? I know you have lots to do, but I really do try to compensate you for your time.
-So Many Questions
Dear So Many Questions,
I have a lot of questions, too! Why did I crimp my hair from ’92 to ’93? Does this ruffled apron make me look fat? How long has this whipped cream been in my salad crisper drawer? Tragically, there’s no advice column for these. But your question, unlike mine, actually has an answer.
Servers are there to answer questions. It’s half our job, besides taking orders and bringing food. So questions are perfectly normal, even a string of a few in a row isn’t enough to faze me. As long as you’re asking questions that I could reasonably answer, I’m happy to help. If you start asking me about how much fat is in something, or whether the farm-raised chicken led a happy life, that gets more taxing and I might secretly roll my eyes at you later. But standard-variety, run-of-the-mill questions about how a dish is prepared or how big the portion is or what ingredients are in something are all fair game.
If a server knows their menu well, these shouldn’t be too difficult. I can totally handle an exchange that goes like this:
You: Excuse me, how many sausage links come in the Salty Deluxe Platter?
You: And is there fennel in the sausage?
Me: Nope, it’s a standard pork sausage with some herbs, but no fennel.
You: Okay, and is it possible to get bacon instead?
Me: Sure thing.
That’s a completely reasonable back-and-forth. Tops, it takes a minute? If your server doesn’t have time for that, they need to call in some back-up to their station.
Remember that servers want you to like your meal. It’ll make you happier, maybe lead you to tip a little extra, and will make you more likely to come back to the restaurant. If asking a handful of questions helps you pick a dish that you’re going to like more than something else, then I’m all too happy to oblige. Just keep it within reason.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.