People Don't Know How to Order in Restaurants Anymore

The art of politely and intelligently ordering food is as lost an art as the notion of manners in our modern era.

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Apr 16 2014, 4:30pm

Photo via Flickr user Ian T. McFarland

The art of politely and intelligently ordering food is as lost an art as the notion of manners in our modern era. It's as if when restaurant guests are inside any kind of public eating establishment, the human interaction program is reset. You're not going to put your elbows on the table because it's considered rude, but you are OK with taking your shoes off inside of a restaurant? It's utterly baffling to me.

While many chefs prefer to stay hidden behind the doors of the kitchen, freely cursing and threatening harm to strangers' families as they plate their food, other chefs like to work the front-of-house, chatting up customers like they're local celebrities. Even though most of my life as a cook has been working on the line, I've logged many face-to-face hours as a restaurant waiter, on food trucks, private events, and catering ad nauseam. I've worked close to seventeen years in this business, which has allowed me to observe the varied (and strange) approaches to ordering plates of food. When it's time to speak up and order, people try to reinvent the wheel. Ordering is as simple as using your eyeballs to read words, letting your brain use your history of likes and dislikes to pick some phrases, and then allow those words to gently tumble out of your mouth. If it's bookended with a 'please' and 'thank you,' then you win the ordering gold medal...which will promptly be stripped from you if you poorly tip.

Not unlike a mating dance, the server and guest are feeling one another out. Yes, you two are complete strangers, so the order won't go perfectly. But the erratic behavior and incoherent ordering is not going to help you get food any faster. God help us all. I've come up with a prognosis of diners to help us all figure out if we need to change our ordering game or just need a nice long visit to the shrinks office.

The Change-Up Communication is king in the harried chef-server relationship. That precious little indirect message with your order on it, a.k.a. the ticket, has things other than your empty belly weighing on it. For the kitchen, it's food cost, labor, and expediting. For the front-of-house, it's organization, timing, and service. Chefs see things in dollar signs, so when we have to scrap something perfectly good because you spoke before you thought things out, it makes our heads explode and fucks up service. "I'll take the chicken." You got it, be back with your drinks! (The server proceeds to put the order in, gets drinks, and shows another guest to the bathroom. Five minutes go by.) Here are your drinks, food will be out soon. "Hey did you put that chicken order in?" Yes. "I'd really rather the flat iron steak instead, that cool?" And just like that, you helped murder a server.

The Stutterer I get it. Some people have issues with human interaction. There are restaurant servers who go over the top with their enthusiasm about a steak dinner, which makes things super awkward. But all you have to do is take a breather, get your indecisive shit in order, and then in a coherent sentence or two explain what you want. In some far corner of the restaurant, a high maintenance table is burning holes in the back of the waiter's head because you just simply don't know what you want. The stutterer has a tendency to listing parts of the item they want as slowly as possible in reverse format: "Spinach…peppers…peppers and onions…you got feta? yea? ok then feta….you know…..in an omelette. Gun. Head.

The Clueless When it comes to understanding food, some people just can't compute. They view it as sustenance and nothing else. Their culinary vocabulary is terrifyingly misguided and when they try to creatively cook at home, Buzzfeed's food 'fail' list is notified.

The Interrogator This is that person who is always very opinionated at every party and obnoxiously smug. They don't normally welcome dialogue as another person's input would mess with the tempo of their important thoughts. It's rapid fire without pause: "How long have you guys been in this location?" Three years. "Only sandwiches and pizza?" Yes. "So is this all part of one menu?" It is. "Ok, so you're open past six, right?" Yes. "Great I can get here after work? I see you have some veggie focused stuff...and your meats, hormone free?"

The Passive Aggressive This person probably isn't hungry, but they like to push buttons in order to get their way. It's a sad attempt at displaced control to overcompensate for some other part of their life that isn't working out. They are akin to The Allergic (see below) because they feel if a problem is presented—that you the service person can't solve—they are owed something. "You guys got corned beef?" No, sorry. "Man…corned beef is my favorite." Sorry. "So, no corned beef at all, eh?" May I suggest something else? "Hey, maybe check with your kitchen, they may have some back there…"

The Reference Guy You know this guy, he's your very well-read friend who pours over food news, shops organic, and labels himself as a (sigh) foodie. When attempting to order, he feels compelled to let the server know this about himself as if their informative intro paragraph projects a level of food understanding reserved for the elite: "Time Out says that you guys have a really great cheese plate." Yea, we've been getting some great press. "I also read your chef worked in NYC?" Yep, she has worked all over the country. Would you like to order? "No, no we need a minute."

The Allergic This is the neurotic diner who quickly asserts that they are allergic to everything, when in fact, they just prefer one thing over another. But their aim is to make the server feel sorry for them. "Do this have artichokes in it? I'm allergic." Yes, it sure does. "Last time I had it, it made my throat swell up." So you ordered and ate the artichoke frittata? "Yes, well I didn't know it had artichokes in it." Well, it's listed right there. Are you sure it wasn't something else? "No it was absolutely this. And a day earlier, I was in the hospital with food poisoning from another restaurant." Three things are happening here. You're falsely accusing someone or the place of poisoning you and that could have dire repercussions. Your atrocious and selfish behavior is taking up this restaurant's time and man power. You're looking for a free handout and special attention from management when you simply don't like a lot of artichokes in your food. We'd rather you be picky than a liar.

The next time you're out at a dining establishment, whether it's at a taco truck, a steakhouse, or a Michelin-starred establishment, exercise the phrase, "Treat unto your staff like the food delivering gods they are." It's close enough; let's not split hairs. We're all freaky in our own regard. But if we can be smarter weirdos, more empathetic when dining out—empathy being one of the highest levels of intelligence—well then we've changed the game completely.