A Proposal for A New Course: Customer 101 (originally written for

I believe most server-customer tensions are simply due to the fact most people don't know how a restaurant works. In order to make the dining experience for the public as well as to improve the working conditions for those who toil in America's eateries, I propose that in order to be allowed to eat out, one must attend a seminar in which he or she will experience what it is like to work in a restaurant.

This seminar would be required (kind of like jury duty except there is no getting out of it, unless people want to stay home for the rest of their lives.) At the end of the seminar, participants will receive a card that they would present upon arrival at the restaurant of choice. No card, no service. And remember, this card can be revoked.

This class would be about two-weeks long and take participants through the typical day of a waiter. You know, the whole mile-in-someone-else's-rubber-soled-black-server-shoes-idea. Role playing would be an important part of all classes. Those playing the role of customers would be real servers who would for the purposes of our class pretend to be terrible, cheap, demanding people. Occasionally someone will play the role of a good customer to show how uplifting it is for the server and customer alike to wait on someone pleasant.

Of course, the first several days would focus on tipping etiquette since I feel this is the area where customers' failure to understand the mechanics of the restaurant biz can cause the most damage.

Few are aware of the fact servers are paid roughly $2 an hour by their employers and that that is amount is allowed by federal and state law. Therefore, tipping is really not optional, it is a covenant you make with the server the minute she walks to your table. Many believe it is unfair diners must supplement the restaurant employee's income. Whether they are right or not, taking their frustration out on the server will not change the law. If you want to change the mandates, take a real stand. Stop eating out. Lobby the government. Don't penalize the poor student or single mother making slave wages to serve you.

The amount of the tip is determined by the total on the bill. The myth that one only tips on the amount of the food and subtract drinks and tax was concocted by a cheap person who obviously did not realize that the server gives a percentage of what what a table leaves her to the bartender, the busser and sometimes up to three other people, depending on the restaurant.

Verbal tipping should not be a substitute for cash. While complements are appreciated, one cannot go to her landlord and tell him, "Ten people told me I was the best waitress they ever had," and have that pay the rent for the month.

Ten percent is not an adequate tip. Not at breakfast, not at lunch, never. Fifteen to 20 percent is the acceptable norm.

When to stiff: While I argue that stiffing is cruel and unusual punishment -- and not terribly productive in terms of server-customer relations, I know it is hard to convince people that stiffing should never be done. Therefore, through this seminar, the public will learn to examine the following before deciding to take such extreme measures.

I: Servers have very little control over the time one was forced to wait for a table. (This will be covered in detail in the mini-session, "I only ordered water and a salad, can I sit at my table for three hours when there is a obvious wait in the restaurant?")

II: Refusal to sit at the table the host suggests and insisting on one in a busier section, could mean slower service.

III: In general, servers have very little control over the goings on in the kitchen. One chefs outside smoking, one is hung over and another doesn't know how to read a meat thermometer.  It's not the servers fault. Believe me, she wants the food to be as perfect as possible, because if the customer is not happy, the chef's pay isn't going to be docked, but stiffing a server is cheating  her of her pay.

IV: One's children acting up, boyfriend/girlfriend being a jerk, and/or any other intra-table disputes are not the fault of the server. Every time a kid starts screaming or a couple gets in a fight, it seems the tip goes down. Unless the server antagonized the child or stuck her tongue down your boyfriend's throat, don't take the disharmony out on her.

V: Likewise, inter-table disputes -- the people at the next booth want the heat on and your steaming hot, they are smoking and you agreed to sit in the smoking section, someone mooned you -- are not the server's fault.

Finally, in some restaurants when one orders special items that are not on the menu, the customer is often asking the server to take abuse from the kitchen staff who doesn't give a damn if someone likes sauce on the side and doesn't appreciate someone smearing ketchup on their rack of  lamb. Most servers, however are more than happy to don the flack jacket for their customers because it is their job. In this seminar the public will learn they too have a job -- to remember that extra effort when the bill comes.

With a little understanding the food service industry will become more appealing for prospective employees, alleviating the ballyhooed labor crisis in America's restaurants. Turnover will be reduced and moral will be better, making servers better at their jobs. People will want to eat out more. The world will become a happier place!