General Question

girlofscience's avatar

Why are people given such limited time to make food/drink-related decisions?

Asked by girlofscience (7553points) February 15th, 2009

When I walk into a order-at-the-counter food place, I need a few minutes to decide what I would like to order. I usually stand back, away from the counter, looking up at the menu while I make my decision. But the cashier always asks, immediately upon walking in (if there are no other customers), “Can I help you?” Like, clearly, I only walked in a second ago and am currently looking at the menu.

I run into a similar problem at some sit-down restaurants because the server will frequently ask what we want to drink the moment we are seated! I’ve been so caught off guard by this in the past that I’ve just asked what was on tap because I felt so pressured to make my drink decision at that moment. But then after ordering my beer and having a moment to actually look at the drink menu, I realize that there is a drink special I’d much rather have had than the beer I hastily ordered. I don’t understand why servers would ask people what they want to drink before they have even had a chance to look at the drink menu! Don’t they want people to order the $10 martinis from the drink menu? If the server doesn’t even give you a chance to check out the martini selection, how do they expect to be tipped on it?

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46 Answers

laureth's avatar

From the server’s perspective, they may have a financial self-interest in flipping tables as fast as possible. More parties that use the table = more tips = ability to eat and pay rent.

Secondly, from a customer service standpoint, there are just as many people who are incensed if they don’t receive service RIGHT AWAY!. “OMG, that waitress, she didn’t even come by to ask if I wanted drinks! The nerve!” they might think. If the waitron comes by too soon, you can always ask her to come back later and be pleased at the fast service, but the more needy customer will be angry if not served right this minute, so the risk-reward ratio calculation tells the waitron to err on the side of fast service.

critter1982's avatar

I agree with Laureth.

If I’m not sure what I want when the waiter asks I tell him/her I need a few minutes.

tinyfaery's avatar

I agree with laureth. Just ask for more time to make your decision.

Blondesjon's avatar

You let the waitstaff pressure you? Why not just tell them you need a moment? Is it a matter of being concerned about how they will percieve you for not being immediately forthcoming with your drink order?

they work for you while you’re at the counter/table…be a boss

Adina1968's avatar

I’ve found that if you polietly let the server know that you need a minute to get settled and look over the drink menu they are happy to accomodate. They are just trying to provide you with good service. I agree with laureth. There are many people who would complain if they didn’t ask you if they could bring you a drink right away. Communication is key.

galileogirl's avatar

A lot of people are ready when they walk in the door. Especially whe going for fast food. I can usually decide in the 30 seconds it takes to walk from ihe car to the counter if I want it with or without fries. In a restaurant some of us don’t want to spend a long time waiting to eat and can decide quickly between steak or pasta.

I think it is easier (and brings a better tip) if the server is attentive instead of missing in action.

funkdaddy's avatar

Usually busy servers will work their section as a loop, if you’re there then they at least want to acknowledge you rather than just blazing by. (ignoring people seems to be the fastest way to lose money)

One of the worst things that can happen from a customer service standpoint is for a customer to flag down one of your peers because you haven’t introduced yourself. Honestly that’s all that immediate first visit is, I want you to know who I am, and if I can get you something right then, all the better. If not, no biggie, I’ll see you again in 3–5 minutes.

a note on “being a boss”... at least in a restaurant, your server has about 4 too many official bosses, most of which are in their first management role, and 2–3 customers who are busy being the boss as well. If you see the server as an efficient tool to get food and drink to your table, and you out as quickly as possible, then the management role is in order… if you like interacting at all, need information, or are going to be sitting for a while, something less dominating may be in order unless they show incompetence…

simone54's avatar

FAST food.

elijah's avatar

You could just order a glass of water until you decide what you want to drink. Sometimes managers mistake a customers lack of beverage as the result of poor service, and the server may get reprimanded.

Darwin's avatar

I agree with several folks here. It is always important for a server to notice new customers in their section. The quickest way, and the one that covers the most bases, is to go introduce themselves to the customers and say “May I get your drink orders?” As the customer you can then respond with your order if you know what you want, say “Please bring me a glass of water. I’ll order something else in a few minutes” or simply say “We’re not quite ready. Can you give us a minute, please?” You can even say “I don’t know what I want. What do you have?”

The server is there to serve the customer. The very best ones keep an unobtrusive eye on you so as soon as your glass gets low they come over and ask if you would like more, or when you close the menu and lay it down, they come over to take your order. Not all servers are the very best. They are only human and some are more intuitive or experienced than others.

artificialard's avatar

Echo above, servers are typically very happy to come back but many people actually want to order rightaway.

For fast food though I’ve had the same experience, what I do is simply stand off to the side and let other people order and then join the line when I’ve decided. i.e. The eternal “do I order the diet soda i’m already getting a Big Mac anyways” struggle.

fireside's avatar

I say it is probably because more people will complain about not being waited on fast enough than will complain about being addressed before they were ready.

eponymoushipster's avatar

a lot hinges on turnover. if you ever watch Hell’s Kitchen (or like shows) they discuss how many seatings are handled per night, etc. In a sitdown place, they need X seats filled Y times to make a buck and cover expenses.

As for Starbucks, McDs,etc. it is (as stated above) a fact that some people are the ”i want it NOW!” types and demand immediate service. Also, too, it’s a point of pride for some places (i.e. – Starbucks) to a) never have a line (or rarely) and b) to announce that you will be served in Z seconds. I think the ideal for Starbucks is for you to walk in and walk out in 30sec-1min.

fireside's avatar

lol, you’ve never been to a Starbucks in Manhattan.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@fireside no i know, that’s why i said “rarely”. I’ve been to quite a few Starbucks in Manhattan, and yeah, i know. I used to go to one in the shadow of the Sears Tower in Chicago, which, at 8:00am had so many people they had a person who took orders from you down the line and you simply paid when you got up there and took your drink. But even that shows a desire to quickly move people along.

they could just say “tough” and make you wait. but they’re trying to turn over as quickly as possible.

asmonet's avatar

Would you rather they seat you and say I’ll be back in a few for your drink order? By asking you first they can get you something to sip on while you decide. They don’t know how you feel. It’s the best option. If you’re thirsty, you get something immediately. If you’re not, you just say I need a moment.

Why does it have to be a big deal?

And as for fast food, it’s supposed to be in an out. Subway has a goal or every customer in th door and out again in two minutes. I’m not exaggerating. Your three minutes of deciding upset the flow, cashiers aren’t used to it. Mostly you go into Taco Bell because you want a burrito, or McDonald’s because you want a cheeseburger. You’re in, you’re out. It’s the business model.

Next time, decide in the car. Or, don’t get so upset because someone is being a good employee.

I think this is a first world problem that really is ridiculous. I never even thought people would have an issue like this. I think it’s bizarre.

asmonet's avatar

Can you explain why you think it’s their job to anticipate your every possible whim? I don’t get it at all.

funkdaddy's avatar

isn’t it still a legitimate question? Seems a little harsh, the question isn’t hurting anyone… am I missing something?

Darwin's avatar

@asmonet – Because that is what servers do: serve customers. The more expensive the restaurant, the better the server should be at anticipating what you want.

@in general – As I just said, the better the restaurant the better the job the servers should do in anticipating your every whim. In a very top, highest rated Michelin multi-star restaurant, they absolutely should anticipate your every whim and do it unobtrusively so you can concentrate on your food and your conversation.

When servers do a very good job they get a big tip. When they do a good job, they get a smaller tip. When they do a bad job, an even smaller tip, and when they do a dreadful job, the customer complains to the manager, possibly getting part or all of the meal comped, and the server has a problem.

Note, though, that the quality of service is tied to the quality of restaurant. In a fast food joint you should expect only a smile and a “How can I help you?” At which point you say “I’d like a…” or you say “I’m still thinking. Give me a minute.” If you say the latter you step aside and let the next person go. Then you step back up to the counter and order.

eponymoushipster's avatar

i just want that restaurant from Idiocracy that gave out handjobs. they can take all the time they want for all i care.

asmonet's avatar

@Darwin: That’s my point. If a server is serving you and making every effort to please instead of leaving you alone as a default…how can you complain about it? I agree with you. :P

Darwin's avatar

@asmonet – the point is that the very best servers also know when to leave you alone. They figure out what to say when they first seat you so your options remain open and they watch for little signs that you are ready for them to come back. Example: most folks close the menu and/or put it down on the table once they have decided what they want, even though they open it up again when the server comes over.

It is a server’s job to figure out what type of customer you are and anticipate your every whim. While I personally wouldn’t get upset over a server wanting to move too fast, I also am not shy about telling them to slow down and come back in a bit when I am ready.

asmonet's avatar

@Darwin: Right. I’m confused as to why you think I don’t get that? You’re talking generally, and I agree with you. But I was responding specifically to her examples and expectations. Which I think are flawed, and honestly, kind of bratty.

JoshLake's avatar

As a restaurant manager I can tell you with some degree of certainty that the server doesn’t give a damn what you order if he/she just asks what you would like to drink. A competent server makes suggestions, and does not just take orders. If I want to make money off of your table, I suggest a martini or mixed drink, I ask what types of beverages you prefer and list a couple available that suit your interests, I find out why you are out to dinner, what kind of occasion it is, and I tailor my service with that information, and I assist with your selections. However, the fact that a server is prompt in acknowledging your existence is a good sign. It is better to get turned away with a polite, “Can we have a moment” than to have that guest walk out of the restaurant or complain to a manager because of slow service. The most frustrating part about the industry are the people who walk through the door and expect you to know exactly what they want without ever having spoken a word to you. This includes people who don’t know what they want. Many people have a go to drink that they always order, and they want it right away. It irritates them to wait, because they just want their gin and soda. Secondly, after a wait in the lobby, it is better to get a drink in someone pronto than to leave them hanging for another five or ten. Most servers just want you to know that they are there and available. You pay a lot of money for the ones that already know what you want.

Darwin's avatar

@asmonet – you said “Can you explain why you think it’s their job to anticipate your every possible whim?” It is their job to do that. The better they are at doing it the better the service and the bigger the tip you should leave.

What we really need to ask girlofscience is why she is too insecure to tell the server she isn’t ready. Sometimes a more obvious clue such as “I’m not ready yet” is helpful to a server who just may not be the brightest pot in the kitchen.

asmonet's avatar

@Darwin: That’s ridiculous. They are expected to anticipate basics and assist you in any way they can. Not to know how impatient or crabby you are that day. You’re missing my point. She’s expecting things that would piss her off if she was on the other end.

I really do not understand why you’re arguing this point? As far as I’m concerned we agree on most points. But I think yours is a bit much. No big.

JoshLake's avatar

@Darwin What can I get you to drink is the beginning of a conversation. It should be followed by, well, I’d like a glass of wine, or what kind of martinis do you serve? The problem isn’t with the service, its with the dinner. The whole experience is an information exchange. They are not expected to know what you want ahead of time. Thats absurd. They are expected to find out when you get there and bring it to you.

asmonet's avatar

@JoshLake: THANK YOU. They know you wanna eat but they aren’t mind readers people.

Darwin's avatar

@asmonet – a really good server is also an excellent reader of people and so can tell when a person wants to be left alone or at least figures out how to ask if they want to order right away or not.

A good customer should help the server give them the service they want by giving the server some guidance.

Have you ever eaten in a really top-notch restaurant? Trust me, the servers there are almost telepathic in their ability to read your mind. Some of them do seem to be mind readers.

Darwin's avatar

@JoshLake – However, “Can I get you something to drink or do you wish me to come back shortly?” is a much better conversation starter.

JoshLake's avatar

@Darwin They just open up with “How are you doing tonight?” rather than “what can I get you to drink.” Its a better question because it doesn’t force an immediate choice and it opens a dialogue. That is when you find out what kind of people you are dealing with.

asmonet's avatar

@Darwin: You’re missing the point entirely, I’m beginning to think you’re the same as GoS.

fireside's avatar

I’m confused as to how this is any different from Darwin saying that they should be able to anticipate your needs. Of course they aren’t suppose to guess what you want to eat or drink, but they should know how to read when you are ready to order and asking when you first get there is a good way to begin that process. It is the same as a good restaurant always keeping the water glasses full enough to sip out of or making sure the empty plates don’t linger on the table.

fireside's avatar

@JoshLake – the question specifically said that the server asks you for your drink order right away.

JoshLake's avatar

@fireside We got off topic.

laureth's avatar

For what it’s worth: I used to work at a pretty elite grocery store as a cashier. Just in my job as “the person ringing you up,” part of my job was to judge the customer’s mood and either be respectfully quiet or chat them up where appropriate. We were even trained to wait for them to pay (once all the groceries were bagged, of course) by holding our hands behind our back. “Customers love that!” said the trainer.

That was just for being a cashier. I can see where a fancy waitron in a fancy establishment would be trained for so much more. Waitrons are supposed to be your confidante, your therapist, your servant, your psychic and your best friend. It’s a lot to expect from the person who brings the food from the kitchen and takes away the plates, but, as they say, “the customers love that.”

asmonet's avatar

Why would it ever matter? The most you ever have to do is say I need a minute. This is a bullshit spoiled person problem.

shilolo's avatar

@asmonet Perhaps this is a good opportunity to take a moment yourself? :-)

The question is a legitimate expression of someone who feels a bit harried and hurried at a restaurant. I take no issue with that. On the continuum of people who frequent restaurants, some want (demand) immediate attention or they feel undervalued, and others, at the opposite end, who feel like they need a few minutes to settle in before making any decisions. Simple as that.

Now, if she said, “why do people give me dirty looks when, after standing in a 5 minute line at Fast Food establishment X, I get to the register and can’t make up my mind?”, that, I would find annoying.

asmonet's avatar

Nope, I disagree. :)
She said she feels pressured to make a choice, I mean, really? This entire problem could be avoided by her saying I need a few and an attitude adjustment.

girlofscience's avatar

Haha, wow.

My question has been sufficiently answered; thank you.

It makes sense that it is used to best accommodate the patrons and that it is not necessary to order at that second.

I don’t know why I always felt pressured. I guess I was just caught off guard, as I was not typically expecting to be asked what I wanted before viewing the drink menu.

From now on, I will either ask for a water while I make up my mind or ask the server to come back.

breedmitch's avatar

Side note: There is nothing worse than a table who sits down and ignores the fact that someone is coming to take their order soon. I hate when you give guests sufficient time to decide on a drink (3–5 minutes) and when approached the say something like “Oh, we haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”
Really?
Can you not see that it’s a busy Saturday night and there are people lined up out the door? Even 5 minutes faster will make a big difference in the flow of this busy night, and those barstools you’re in are valuable real estate.
Thanks for letting me vent.

asmonet's avatar

@girlofscience: Haha, good answer. I guess you just never thought about the actual moment outside of when it happened. Sorry if I sounded a bit harsh. ;P

laureth's avatar

@breedmitch – My spouse is the guy that hasn’t looked at the menu yet. I’m the one who shoves the menu in his face as soon as we sit down and won’t converse until he’s picked something out. I hope to make life easier for people like you.

breedmitch's avatar

Of course I’m just venting here. The customer would never sense my frustration. When they say they haven’t even looked at the menu my response is always, “No problem. I’ll give you a minute. And if you need any help with the wine list or suggestions that’s what I’m here for.” And this usually leads to me suggesting something tasty for them and, voila, we’ve sped this transaction right along and hooray!

@Blondesjon: I’m the boss. I’m always the boss. Your experience at my bar is going to happen exactly as I want it to and you’re going to love it and have a wonderful time and you’ll thank me for it and also leave a large tip, but I’m in control. Not you. sorry.

Dutchess12's avatar

What drives me nuts is when you’re at a fast food place and the line is really long. You have 5 minutes to look at the menu to decide what you want….and INVARIABLY there is at least one person who doesn’t start deciding what they want until it’s finally their turn to be waited on!

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Adding my echo to @laureth . I’ve never worked in the food industry, but it seems like at a fasr food place, the menu is pretty basic and most customers know exactly what they want when they walk in the door. At a quality restaurant where the menu items are changing, you certainly do need time to make your selection. If I’m not familiar with the place, I involve the server in the drink choice. “What’s the best microbrewery ale you have on tap?” I’m often the type that the servers hate; detailed questions about the food, sometimes they have to go to the kitchen to get the answer. Once I pay the bill and leave a 50–100% tip if the service is very helpful, I’m no longer considered an irritation. On return trips I’ll ask for that server again.

I think the basic answer to your question is to politely ask for more time and in quality restaurants ask for the servers input; you must remember of course that they may be under instructions to “push” certain items regardless of actual quality. But if you are an established high-tipping customer, they will never pull that on you. If I want a certain table and/or server, I let the maitre d’ hotel know that when making my reservations and tip accordingly. As I’m known to be very prompt, often my drink is on the table by the time I’m seated (the places I’m a regular). Good relations with the staff= great dining experience.

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