The Fine Art of Becoming Your Server's Favorite Customer
Growing up, it was always my not-so-subtle goal to be every teacher's favorite. Good manners and good grades were some of the tools I used to get there. In fifth grade I tried to be Mrs. Weaver's favorite student by sharing knowing glances with her when other students said something I thought deserved judgment. One time, she winked at me after one of those fleeting looks and I knew then that I was her favorite. We all want to be liked, but sometimes we want to be liked the most. If you go to a restaurant and want to be your server's favorite customer, you need to make some real effort for it to happen. Good manners will help, but grades won't matter since your server cares about SAT scores about as much as they care about the freshness of decaf coffee. Ann and Jerry were my favorite customers to serve for over seven years and I know exactly what they did to earn that spot. Be like Ann and Jerry.
Become a regular.
If you go to the restaurant once every four or five months and expect your server to fall in love with you, prepare yourself for a broken heart. Consistency is key. Ann and Jerry came in every Thursday at 5 p.m.. They were more regular than my grandpa who worshiped at the altar of prunes and fiber. A relationship has to grow and you have to woo your server like a Montague courts a Capulet. "But, soft, what light through yonder restaurant breaks? It is the East and my server is the sun." Regularity is a must if you want to cultivate a relationship with your server.
Remember our name.
This shows that you see us as more than a piece of meat who brings you a piece of meat with a side of fries. When Ann and Jerry asked my name the first time, I could tell it was because they wanted to know me, not that they wanted to bark out orders to me. I watched Ann actively memorize my name and I knew she would remember it the next time they came in. When I asked their names, I wrote them down in my server book because it's the only way I can remember anything that happens in the black hole of a restaurant.
RELATED: The New Rules of Dining Out
A customer recognizing that I am so far in the weeds that I need a lawnmower and a machete to get out of them is going to jump up a couple of pegs on my favorite board. A simple "You're so busy, but you're doing great" can shift my mood quicker than the overhead lights get turned fully up at closing time. Ann and Jerry gave me a look once when there were three reprehensible kids at a nearby table who were doing "mouth farts" and playing loud video games with disinterested parents. The knowing glance from Ann and Jerry told me they were on my side and they understood what I was dealing with. The look wasn't unlike the one I gave to Mrs. Weaver back in the fifth grade. I may or may not have winked back at them.
Have good conversations.
Depending on the situation, chatting it up with your server helps you get in their good graces. If your server is running around the restaurant with hardly any time to breathe, it's probably best to not ask them where they grew up, but feel it out. Ann and Jerry once asked me if I'd seen any good movies lately and we learned we liked the same kinds of films and TV shows. Every Thursday, we talked about what new releases we'd seen and they would eagerly jot down my suggestions and I would do the same. The next week we'd talk about it. The point is, we found something we could discuss other than salmon temperatures and types of wine by the glass. The more you talk about non-restaurant topics, the more likely it is that your server/customer relationship will grow stronger. (My apologies to Ann and Jerry for still not watching Deadwood even though they know I would love it.)
You might think this is the easiest way to a server's heart. After all, we do work for tips and a customer who pads the pocketbook is definitely going to get our attention. But we need more than that for someone to become our favorite customer. Some people tip 25% because they know they're horrible human beings and they think money makes up for rudeness. Don't get me wrong, money helps, but it doesn't automatically make you our favorite. Ann and Jerry always tipped very generously, but it always seemed out of gratitude and appreciation.
RELATED: The New Rules of Dining Out
Looking back over my decades of serving experience, all of my favorite customers did at least four of the five things suggested above. Take 89-year-old Naomi. She didn't tip all that well, but she did every other thing on the list proving that money is the least important thing when it comes to building a relationship with your server.
Naomi came in every week, she knew my name, she cared about me as was evidenced by her yearly Christmas card, and our conversations taught me so much. It's incredible what you can learn from an octogenarian when you take the time to listen. Our talks spilled over into life outside the restaurant and when she was sick, I made chicken soup and took it to her house. I mean, you know you've reached peak favoritism when your waiter serves you food at your own home. When Naomi died, I cried.
When I served Ann and Jerry for the last time before leaving my restaurant, I cried again. That's how I know these people were my favorite customers. I can only hope that I was their favorite server.