December 2, 2023

Here’s how to be a better cafe buyer when dining

Brandie Smith, a manager and server at Joule restaurant in Seattle, talked to McClatchy on Oct. 11, 2023, about ways restaurant patrons can have a better experience when dining out.

Brandie Smith, a supervisor and server at Joule cafe in Seattle, talked to McClatchy on Oct. 11, 2023, about strategies restaurant patrons can have a better practical experience when dining out.

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Ever wondered if you make a good guest while you’re dining out?

From getting reservations to communicating with your server, there are several steps guests can take to make the experience a good one for themselves and for the staff serving them, according to industry experts.

First things first: make your reservation and show up on time, said Crystal L. Bailey, the director at The Etiquette Institute of Washington. The institute provides fine dining and business etiquette training for adults and children in Washington D.C.

Bailey added that knowing what the expectations are at a restaurant is important too, such as having your whole party together when you check in. And, knowing if the place you’re visiting has a dress code or not.

“But still also just be thoughtful about the fact that you’re not rolling out of bed to go dine,” Bailey said. “So just keep that aspect in mind — what is the energy or kind of vibe of a restaurant? And then making sure that you’re dressed for that purpose.”

And then there is something diners may not realize they shouldn’t do: customize dishes created by chefs.

It’s one thing if a guest has an allergy or dietary restrictions, Bailey said, but guests should simply order something different “if it’s that much of an issue with what the actual dish is composed of.”

Brandie Smith, a manager and server, has worked at the Korean-fusion steakhouse Joule in Seattle for 11 years. Joule, owned and operated by James Beard award nominee Rachel Yang, has been a staple in the city for 16 years.

Just this month The New York Times listed Joule as one of the best 25 restaurants in Seattle.

Smith agreed that guests should refrain from altering dishes if possible.

She explained that it is especially important for younger chefs who are coming up through the kitchen ranks.

“They put a lot of their own creativity and thought and ideas into a comprised dish that they’re doing with all the different level of flavors,” Smith said. “So when they have to start taking components out of it it’s almost like ripping up a painting and putting it back together without some of those pieces.”

Mutual respect between servers and guests goes a long way too, said both Bailey and Smith.

The basics of using “please” and “thank you” are important too as are other courtesies. “May I have” sounds better and “a little less snappy” than “can I get,” for example, said Bailey.

Positive interactions are a two-way road, of course.

Smith told McClatchy that her favorite part of working at the restaurant are the guests and that she believes it is essential to make them feel seen and respected. She also believes that approach is what keeps guests coming back.

“What I really love doing the most is just helping them feel cared for, helping them feel seen, heard, and giving them an experience that they wouldn’t necessarily have if they had not chosen to come visit us,” she said.

While Smith said honoring time restrictions is an important component to guest and server’s experience, she also said there are ways guests can make their own experience enjoyable.

“One, at least entertain the idea that their servers will be able to offer them guidance to what we know could be the best experience, but then two, kindly communicate the experience that they would like to have, so that we can kind of build that experience around those needs,” she added.

And don’t forget: be sure to tip 18%-20%, which is currently the national average, said Bailey.

“You know, there’s so many little small dining etiquette rules, but at the end of the day, the most important is being considerate about the other people around you,” Bailey added.

This tale was at first printed Oct 21, 2023, 5:00 AM.

Shauna Sowersby was a freelancer for various nearby and nationwide publications prior to becoming a member of McClatchy’s northwest newspapers covering the Legislature.