Ask The Salty Waitress: I’m sick of all my food arriving at once

Photo: VAKSMANV (iStock), Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio
The Salty WaitressThe Salty WaitressSalty Waitress is The Takeout’s advice column from a real-life waitress that will teach you how not to behave like a garbage person while dining out—and maybe in real life.

Dear Salty Waitress: My family, friends and I are people who really enjoy eating out. This includes us ordering appetizers and/or soup with the regular dinner order. We have drinks, talk and tip the servers accordingly. However, in the last few years I am noticing the most annoying trend of our courses all being served at the same time!

Appetizers are arriving at the same time as the soup and/ or salad and in some instances - with the dinner! I have gotten so frustrated that I have sent the appetizers back—cancelled them out OR had the waitress take the dinner back until we have eaten the other items first. I have gotten to the point of asking the waitresses when we give our food order to PLEASE DO NOT bring the salad or dinners until the appetizers are done. Yet at least one in two dinners will have the dinners being brought out while the other courses are still being eaten. WHY would anyone think that having 3 courses per person on the table at the same time as being good service?

If I wanted to have my entire meal in front of me at the same time I would go to the golden arches and get the stuff wrapped in paper! I was a server myself for 4 years while going through college. One of the things you had to learn was how to time the orders with the kitchen. My old boss would have written me up if I served the entire meal at the same time! HELP! Why is this happening and how can we stop it? Do I have to forgo something I truly enjoy because servers are no longer taught the basics? When did this change and how do we get it back?

Frustrated Diner

Dear Frustrated,

I get it, sweetcakes. Now I’m gonna get you a glass of water while you take a deep breath, and then we’ll work through all of this together.

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Now that we’re in a calmer frame of mind, let’s talk first about why this is happening. Back in the day, more restaurants followed a three-course system: soup or salad, main course, dessert—maybe appetizers before the soup or salad. This has pretty much gone out the window along with pagers and landlines, except at old-school places like steakhouses and country clubs and cruise ships.

Take your pick of who or what to blame: Customers wanting to eat faster. Restaurants wanting to turn tables faster. “Menus designed for sharing.” Small plates. The rise of “fast-casual.” The mainstreaming of global cuisines whose meals don’t follow the soup-salad-entree model. Millennials, probably. Whatever the reason, this less-coursed model is the new reality. “Salads” aren’t necessarily stand-alone courses anymore, but vegetable-heavy side dishes that come out along with your main course.

But that doesn’t mean you have to submit to this, if it bothers you so much. (It clearly does.) My first bit of advice is to choose restaurants that seem to have more standardized three-course menus. You can look at menus online before you go and see how they’re laid out. If appetizers, soups/salads, entrees, and desserts have clear and separate sections, that’s a good sign. If everything’s lumped in vague buckets like “bites” and “for the table,” that’s a sign you’re headed to the culinary Wild West.

Second, you can keep doing what you’re doing and ask the server nicely to give you a break between your apps, salads, and entrees. They should make an effort to respect that—I would give the kitchen a heads up not to fire entrees until I give the go-ahead—but, as you’ve learned, not everybody listens. (Or they have a more pressing demand from their manager to keep turning tables.)

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Third, at many of these small plates-type places, servers don’t need to take your order all at once. You could put in an order for appetizers, then once they’re served, order your next course, then wait to order the bigger plates/entrees. That gives you more control and pretty much guarantees you’ll have breathing room between courses.

I’m not faulting you for ranting, my dove. No one likes to feel rushed through a meal, and you shouldn’t feel like a restaurant is trying to push you out the door 20 minutes after you’ve sat down. Entrees shouldn’t come out until appetizers are done. If you’ve asked for courses to be spaced out, the restaurant should respect that.

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But I also feel like you should resist letting some mistimed salads ruin your whole meal. If the food and company is good, well, try to enjoy the experience regardless?


Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com

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