Please, thank you, please, thank you...
Interactions between restaurant staff and customers are peppered with this back-and-forth reply. The following is a typical interaction which occurs between the customer and the restaurant staff. As you enter the restaurant, the first person you encounter will be the host/hostess who is usually standing at a tall wooden desk located close to the entrance. This is called the hostess station.
- Host/Hostess = H
- Customer = C
The hostess will guide you to your table.
- H: Hello. Welcome to Joe’s Restaurant. How may I help you?
- C: Table for six, please.
- H. Follow me, please.
The host/hostess leads you to a table and gives each person a food and drinks menu. This can either be two separate menus or one big menu combined.
- H: Your waiter/waitress will be right with you.
- C: Thank you.
Either the waiter/waitress or a busboy/busgirl will arrive at the table, introduce him/herself and deliver glasses of ice water. In some restaurants, you will be asked if you would like to order a drink at this time.
- H: Hello, my name is [Alexandra] and I will be your waitress for this evening. Here is some water for you.
- C: Thank you.
*Note: English often specifies gender when assigning job titles. For the remainder of this article, all restaurant employees will be identified as female.
How to show that you’re ready to order food
The waitress will leave to allow you to look at their menu(s) undisturbed. When you are ready to order, you should close your menu. This is the signal to your waitperson that you are ready to order. Or, you can raise your hand to gesture to a nearby waiter that you’re ready to order.
How to order food
When ordering food, do not say, “I want” or “Give me”. These are interpreted as demands. Remember that restaurants can deny service to you. You are requesting service; you are not demanding service. Your best choices for polite requests are: “I would like” or “May I have”.
- W: May I take your order please?
- C: (First you will order your main course) Yes, I would like the steak please.
- W: How would you like that cooked?
- C: Medium rare please.
- W: And what would you like with that?
Some meals come with paired (or optional) side dishes. Side dishes arrive on the same plate as your main course and can include choice of vegetables, styles of potatoes, bread, beans, etc. Soups and salads can also be side dishes.
- C: I would like the vegetables and baked potato please.
- W: And to drink?
- C: Iced tea with lemon
- W: Thank you for your order.
- C: You’re welcome.
The meals do not arrive one at a time. The meals will be delivered to your table once all the dishes have been prepared for all the people at your table. You do not begin eating until everyone is served. In the cases that the wait staff is unable to carry all the dishes at once, you need to wait until everyone at the table receives food before beginning to eat your own food. There is one exception. The side dishes of salad and soup will arrive before the meal and it is proper to eat these dishes upon their arrival. If you order appetizers, perhaps, to share amongst each other, then this will likely arrive prior to your main course. So enjoy it with whoever you’re eating with while you wait for your meal!
Throughout the meal, your waitress will check on your table and ask if you need anything. You can tell her, “No, thank you”, or “Yes, may I have…….please.” She will also clear emptied plates during her visits. It is the job of the waitstaff to be aware of the customer’s needs. For this reason, it is rarely necessary to get the waitstaff’s attention.
If, however, you do need to get their attention, make eye contact and say “Excuse me”. This is even more effective if you memorize the waitstaff’s name. Most wait staff will wear name tags or tell you their name.
When you have finished your meal, lay the silverware (knife, fork, spoon) next to each other on your plate. This is a signal to the waitress that you are finished. When she sees that you have finished, she will come to your table and ask if you would like to order dessert. After the entire meal is completed, the waitress will bring your bill to the table. You should not have to ask for the bill. After delivering the bill, your waitress will leave the table.
How to pay the bill
The bill (or check) will arrive with the meal price and tax calculated. You may see the word tip and a line on which to add money for a tip. I have included information about the tip at the end of this article.
If the bill arrives in a folder, you place your payment in the folder, close it and move it to the edge of the table. The waitperson will return to receive your payment then bring you any change or bring you a credit card slip to sign.
If the bill does not arrive in a folder, you pay the bill at the hostess station when leaving the restaurant (NOT at your table). Then you say:
- W or H: Thank you. Please come back soon.
- C: You’re welcome! Yes, we might just have to, the food was amazing...
Very important: Tipping is expected in American restaurants. When you dine in restaurants which have wait staff who take your order and deliver your meal, plan to pay 15% to 20% beyond the price of the meal as a tip. The tip is calculated on the price of the meal.
Usually this tip money is split amongst the wait staff. Tip money can be placed on the table or added to your credit card bill. In conclusion, plan to spend 25% to 35% more than the cost of the meal to include tax and tip together. Also, plan to say copious amounts of please and thank yous. Don’t forget about the expression ‘You’re welcome’ as well. You’re welcome can be added into any exchange as a response to ‘Thank you’.