Sunday, February 14, 2010

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The Top Three Ways to Prevent Servers from Messing with Your Food

As a five-year veteran of the Olive Garden, I can say that the stories are true; well, some of them anyway. Under the wrong circumstances a server will do anything from spit to—yes— place shit in your food. I have seen it and, frankly, I have done it. While a server is a servant they have a surprising amount of power when it comes to the cleanliness of food. Between the kitchen and the table it is easy to spit in a soda or rub utensils against bare genitals. Most restaurant goers don’t even consider the possibility that someone might tamper with their food, and the few that do think about it, their assumptions of what might cause the tampering are way off. Now keep in mind that this is not something that happens all the time. In the five years that I waited tables I spit in three meals and five beverages. (No… I never put poop in someone’s food, but I thought about it, and I knew people that claimed to.) The last thing I am trying to do is condone this type of behavior but the fact is, it happens. My goal is to help the average restaurant patron avoid the dreaded poop finger in their pasta. Below is what I feel are the three biggest causes of food tampering.


Tip 1. Sending food back. People always ask me if it is safe to send food back to the kitchen. Yes, of course it is. The threat is not in sending the food back, but in how you send it back. We are servers, but we are patrons too. We eat out and we understand how frustrating it is to get undercooked food or peppers when you asked for no peppers. If you explain the problem to the server politely most will understand. If you question the server’s intelligence or use childish name calling (all actions that I have seen done) you up your risk of receiving tampered food. Some people feel that by making a big stink when their meal is not satisfactory will result in a free meal. In most cases this is true. Generally, the angriest patrons get the most discounts, but they also place themselves in the booger zone.


Tip 2. Tipping. If a server has been waiting tables long enough they can tell if the service is going well by the pace of the meal and the reactions of the patrons. Therefore, most servers can anticipate a poor tip. If you feel that the service was truly substandard (your drinks were not full, missing meals, or the server was rude), then do not fear tipping less than twenty percent. Chances are the server is expecting it and probably deserves it. But if you are the type of person that always tips less than twenty percent and frequents the same restaurant, then this message is for you. The tip comes at the end of the meal, this is true, and so it is hard to tamper with someone’s food after they have eaten it. And yes, servers see lots of faces everyday. But rest assured, we remember the poor tippers. If you have tipped less than 20% in the same restaurant more than three consecutive times, most likely you have consumed bodily fluid. Before you poor tippers get up in arms about this (“You paid for your meal, what do you owe the server?”), keep in mind that most servers fit two demographics: college students attempting to better their situation and single mothers with little education. I personally was a father and student while waiting tables. These single mothers and college students could be asking for government handouts, but instead they are working for your generosity.


Tip 3. Coming in right before close. A lot of people don’t think about coming in right before close. Most patrons are just happy that they got in before the doors were locked. There are many factors working against the patron during those final moments. Servers never really know when they will be sent home or if they will receive a break. Restaurants work around the flow of business. On a busy Saturday, a server working a double shift might put in thirteen hours or more without a break. This can make anyone working with the public irritable and one more table might be enough to make him or her crack. The kitchen works a similar schedule and one more order might enrage them enough to place a booger on your plate. Bartenders and bussers also work under these same conditions. If you walk in at close nearly the whole restaurant staff will hate you until you leave.

So should you fear entering a restaurant during the final moments?  Probably. Just entering the doors at two minutes before close places you in a bad position, but there are two ways that can significantly improve your odds. One: explain your situation. Once again, servers understand if you have been on the road or you just left a loved one at the hospital and everything else is closed in that part of town. If you do not have a good excuse for coming in right at close then make something up. The better the story the more likely it is that the server will explain your circumstances to the kitchen. Two: Ask what the quickest and easiest thing is on the menu, order it, and don’t get dessert. Some things take longer than others. The restaurant staff will be aching for you to leave so that they can clean up and go.  The quicker you get your food the better. A person that orders soup at close is less likely to get tampered food than a person that orders a swordfish. Also, this will give you a chance to reassure the server that you will not be there long. Above all, be kind to the server. The nicest girl I ever worked with poured garbage juice over an appetizer because a table came in at close and called her a bitch because their chicken fingers were overcooked.


What it really comes down to is the simple cliché of treating people with respect. If you follow these tips and are kind and respectful to your server they will have no reason to tamper with your food. And don’t keep these tips a secret. Most of the time it is not the actions of the whole table, but the spouting off of one rowdy jackass that results in garbage juice on your calamari. So follow these tips, order yourself a steak accompanied by your favorite soda, and rest easy because the food is clean.