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England is expensive enough to make eating out an occasion reserved for special events and those times when needs must. The United States has restaurants so numerous and so cheap that the question of 'when' becomes the question of 'which'.
So how come so many Americans still have no clue how to behave in restaurants? There is a code, folks, an unwritten code that might seem so close to common sense as to make it unrequired, but sadly, no.
Common sense does apply in restaurants. There's no sign at the entrance asking you to leave your common sense at the door.
For instance, if you're absolutely determined to eat with the sole purpose of screwing the restaurant out of paying your bill, just walk out. The staff can't be sure that you're not going to wave a gun in their face if they stop you, so they'll let you go. They may call the police, but they won't follow. Don't wolf down most of your meal, package the rest of it up and then run round the restaurant pointing out to all and sundry that there's a pubic hair in your to go box! This isn't Broadway, after all.
If you're an unashamedly cheap customer, you will probably be able to ask a waitress to let you test a bottled foreign beer. Many do, as they are specialist items in the United States and you may not have tried them before. Common sense does decree, however, that if you ask for a tester glass of Miller Lite, then you are obviously a cheapskate. Try standing up in a public place, screaming 'I am a cheapskate' at the top of your lungs and watch for the reaction. Think about it.
So, in the interests of public education, and in collaboration with the best waitress in Michigan, I can pass on from inside information, the ten unwritten rules of eating in restaurants. Yes, all these examples are real.
First of all, wait. If you're not happy with waiting for a seat to become available, or for your custom ordered fresh food to be cooked exactly to your liking, then go to Burger King. 'Fast food' means something, after all. Restaurants offer you choice, quality and service. If you honestly think that salmon steaks would keep on a hotplate for the next required table, then you don't deserve to be in a restaurant anyway. You're a heathen and you should probably forget Burger King and go to Macdonald's.
Secondly, make your mind up. There's probably someone else waiting to use your table too, so don't waste the privilege. Decide what you want to eat and order it. Don't ask for recommendations either, unless you're going to eat them regardless. Just because the waitress happens to love rocky mountain oysters with a passion doesn't mean that you're going to be particularly happy to eat bull testicles. If you don't like it, don't forget that you ordered it in the first place, bozo. It's your fault: bitch at yourself.
Thirdly, 'can't guarantee' means just that. If you ask whether the fresh fish is totally one hundred per cent deboned and the waitress answers that it's very likely but she can't guarantee it, then guess what? You might just find a bone. Live with it, dammit. Don't rush around squeaking like a mouse on helium because the laws of probability decided to hate you too. Especially don't jut your jaw out at the neighbouring table and waggle the bone stuck between your front teeth. You'll scare the children.
Fourth: don't complain after the fact. Your waitress will come around regularly to ask if everything is to your satisfaction. If something isn't, then say so, you dimwit. Don't confirm to her that everything is fine and dandy two minutes before finishing your meal, and then complain that it was undercooked, overcooked or even uncooked. She may admire the size of your cojones but will understand, quite implicitly, that you are a blatant liar. If she wasn't so professional, she'd laugh in your face.
Fifth: your waitress will not prejudge you, so don't prejudge her back. The laws of statistics apply in any field of work, and serving is no exception. North of Michigan, blacks bitch and run more than whites and businessmen are more likely to be cheap. Women tip better than men do; younger men better than old; manual workers better than the white collar sector. This is what statistics tell us, regardless of how politically incorrect it may seem. Feel free to buck the trends! It doesn't mean that the bleached goth girl and the mohawked punk dude aren't going to tip more than the cheque is worth, because they may well do. It's happened before and it'll happen again.
Sixth: follow the code on tipping. This is flexible, folks, but be fair. Your waitress is likely to be earning far less than minimum wage and tips pay her bills. Do you want to work for $2.65 per hour? With your attitude, you'd be on the streets in a week. Fifteen per cent is the standard tip, but up it or lower it depending on the service. If your waitress was truly wonderful, then give her twenty per cent or more because she deserves it; if she was truly, honestly, unashamedly terrible, then she needs a wake up call so don't leave her anything. Don't forget too, that you're tipping her service, not the meal. The cook may suck, but if the waitress made up for it, then tip her well.
Seventh: don't stop your waitress from going home. If a restaurant opens till eleven o'clock, then they're obliged to serve you even if you walk in a minute before. Have some courtesy though, and be quick. She has a home to go to, even if you don't, and she'd like to rest those legs that have been chasing this way and that for idiots like you all day long. You'd probably take the truck from the television to the bathroom if you could; she may well have been run off her feet for ten hours solid. She doesn't need to sit over there waiting for you to finish; she needs her foot spa and she needs it now.
Eighth: your waitress is not psychic. If you want something, bloody well ask for it. She's got five other tables to wait on too, meaning that she can't keep her eyes on yours for the entire time you're eating. If something isn't to your satisfaction, she'll be happy to do something about it; but she needs to know about it first. If you want something extra or special, she'll be happy to get it for you; but she needs you to tell her. Don't sit there and seethe because you want ketchup to go with your swordfish steak, ask for some instead of assuming that your waitress knows how much of a heathen you are.
Ninth: accidents happen. Suing people is for when they're either deliberately out to get you or they're so incompetent that they put you in danger. Have a little reality about the situation. If your waitress drops shrimp cocktail sauce right in your lap, it was probably because you hid it under the lettuce right at the edge of your plate and then kicked her in the shin while she was collecting it. If you spill your own tea on yourself, the teapot is not defective; you're just a clumsy idiot who shouldn't be allowed near hot objects. Stay at home and grow old and stupid: you don't deserve to be out in public. Moreover, don't ring up three weeks after eating out and complain that your mink got spoiled. If you honestly wore a $15,000 mink coat to Red Lobster, then you deserved it. The entire staff should have teamed up at the door and poured honey, tar and fluorescent green paint all over it before you even came in.
And finally, tenth and most important: be nice. Don't consistently upset your waitress unless you really want to suffer the consequences. If you want your steak cooked a little more, she will be happy to make it so. It's her job and she will not think less of you for having the honesty to open your mouth. If you want it taken back four times then you're really pushing her buttons. The more you scream and bicker and rant, the more likely she is to sneeze in your sauce. After all, your food is not going to be in your sight all the time. Do you honestly expect that waitress that you just swore at won't do something truly disgusting with it? There are more tricks in this book than you could comfortably imagine. Trust me, you wouldn't like any of them. Forget being an asshole and be nice. The words 'please' and 'thank you' cost nothing and are worth more than you could say.
Here endeth the lesson.
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