Hello Salty. Here’s something that I’ve always wondered about. Obviously, we all know that when you go to a sit-down restaurant, you have a set waiter/server at your table—they’re the one person who takes your order, asks how you’re doing, all that. And most importantly, they’re the one who you tip at the end.
But when you’re in a busy restaurant, it can often be a challenge to flag down your server if you need something. Say you need a drink refill, or new silverware because yours dropped on the floor, but your server is nowhere to be found or doesn’t see you. Hell, maybe you even want to order another dish.
Should you wait for your table’s server, or is it okay to ask a different server to get things for you? Or is it better to delegate everything the table needs to “your” server, because the other servers are busy with their own customers? Or am I worrying too much?
There are a few steps to answering your question. First, let’s explain how servers’ stations work. In some restaurants, like you said, servers have designated sections of the restaurant that they’re assigned to. It’s like man-to-man defense. You wait on your tables, and you get tips from those tables. Then there are restaurants where though servers might have individual tables that are “theirs,” everyone pitches in where needed and pools tips. It’s like zone defense. I’ve worked in both types of restaurants, and there are pros and cons to both—but that’s probably a topic for a whole other column.
It might not be clear to you which type of restaurant you’re at, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. Because here’s the second part of my answer: If you have an immediate, small request and your server isn’t around, just ask someone else. Small requests are things like needing a new fork because you dropped yours or asking for a napkin because you spilled spaghetti down your shirt. They’re simple enough tasks that even a busser could do, and what’s the alternative? Not eating your food for 10 minutes because your fork is dirty and your server’s AWOL? Just politely catch someone’s eye—no touching or snapping!—and ask for the small thing you need. Likely, the busser or other server will just get the fork or napkin or water refill themselves. If they’re super busy, they might find your table’s server and let them know what you need.
Third part of the answer: For bigger requests, like wanting to order another round of drinks or sending food back, you’ll want to ask your actual server. Usually in restaurants operating on the stations model, they’ll have to be the one to ring your order in. It keeps the orders organized and makes sure tips are going to the right places. Often, bussers aren’t able to take orders, which is why if you ask the person refilling your water for another side of fries, they’ll sometimes respond “Sure, let me send your server right over.” It seems unnecessary, I know, but that’s the restaurant hierarchy. So know that it’s fine to ask the busser or another server to place an order, but also try to understand when they have to go find your server and send that person over anyway.
To recap: For small requests, ask anyone on staff. For orders or more complicated requests, try to find your specific server. If you don’t see them for a few minutes, catch the eye of another server and ask if they can send yours over.
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