Author Topic: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!  (Read 6678 times)

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Drunken Housewife

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Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« on: December 28, 2013, 01:23:14 PM »
I had an unpleasant interaction with a waiter the other day, and I could use some suggestions.

At some kinds of restaurants, there is pressure put on the patrons to order "for the table" and eat family style.  I used to always acquiesce to that and HATED it, because I'm a vegetarian.  What inevitably happened was that everyone would dig into the few things I could eat, so they'd all have lots of things to eat and I'd have very little.  Also, the waiters tend to shape the order in those settings, so if there are 2 similar things (one without meat and one with), the waiter will often push not to order both, and somehow the vegetarian version is always the one to go. 

Anyway, I'm over going along with this.  It just doesn't work for me; the only way it would work would be if everyone ordered vegetarian, and I'm not going to ask people to do that.  They should get whatever they want (but let me have my own food unbothered  ;) ).   I just say that I'd rather order separately when the order is taken.

Well, the other night the waiter didn't want to let that happen.  It was at a tapas restaurant, and my husband and I were eating with another couple.  The waiter asked when taking our order if we'd be ordering for the table, and I said no.  He suggested we should, and I said, "I'm a vegetarian, so that doesn't work for me."  The waiter then said, as though explaining to an idiot, that what I was ordering was vegetarian, so I should order it for the whole table.  He used a lot of hand gestures and words, as though I wouldn't understand the concept that a group of people can eat communally in a restaurant.   I said something to the effect of (I don't remember my precise words), "Of course what I'm ordering is vegetarian, because I'm a vegetarian, but that doesn't mean I need to order it for the  whole table."  I promise I used a regular voice (not raised, not making a mean expression, not with a snarky intonation), but the waiter recoiled like I'd slapped him.  His facial expression looked like a small child who has just been told off. 

Right after that the waiter called us out that my husband and I only ordered 2 things, which he said wasn't enough, and he also remarked that I ordered a full carafe of sangria, asking me if I really was sure I wanted that much for me & my husband, so really this waiter was a bit more judgmental and controlling than I think a waiter should be, but my etiquette question is just about the not wanting to order "for the table."  In this case, I'm glad I didn't, because the other couple ordered things with meat in them, and my husband and I had just enough food for the two of us.  If they were eating my patatas bravas, I would have been hungry, since I couldn't eat any of their ham croquettes.

It's funny because we've been eating at that restaurant ever since it opened a few years ago, and I've never had a bad experience before. 

So:  is it reasonable for me not to opt into ordering for the table, or should I just go along with the flow of certain cuisines  and resign myself to it (even though I won't be able to eat most of the food and won't be able to ensure I'll get much of any vegetarian things)?  How should I word it?  Or was this waiter just off?   Another option is to not go to Chinese or tapas restaurants, but I love Spanish food (I lived in Spain for a while).
« Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 01:26:04 PM by Drunken Housewife »
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squeakers

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2013, 01:39:41 PM »
The waiter was off and I would have spoken to a manager about him then and there.
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gramma dishes

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2013, 01:43:39 PM »
The waiter was off and I would have spoken to a manager about him then and there.

Of course you can and should order food you want (and can eat) at any restaurant, including this one.  It sounds like the waiter hadn't been well trained.

doodlemor

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2013, 01:44:43 PM »
The waiter was off and I would have spoken to a manager about him then and there.

Absolutely.   The waiter was way out of line.  You handled him just fine. 

Stick up for yourself in any similar encounters in the future.  This business of wait staff being directive about choices, and assumptive about dessert sharing [another thread] is just ridiculous. 

Tea Drinker

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2013, 01:57:47 PM »
You're not being rude--the waiter was.

That sort of family-style only works if people are willing to take everyone's preferences into account--in your case that would have required, if not everyone ordering vegetarian, at least getting mostly vegetarian dishes and the omnivores accepting that they would be eating all the meat and fish, and leave you plenty of vegetarian food. Last week I was with several people sharing a Chinese meal, and we did it in that direction--three of the six of us liked spicy food, so there was one spicy dish and four mild, and the spice-eaters took all of the spicy lamb and a bit less of other things. Someone in the group is allergic to shrimp, so we didn't get any. This worked in part because there were enough tasty-looking choices that we could do that and still put together a mutually agreeable meal.

But that is and should be optional: I've also been with groups where one person noted that he wasn't happy sharing, so he got a specific dish and the other n of us shared things. Not a problem.

It sounds as though the other problem is that your friends don't understand that part of the point is that everyone get enough to eat, and that if they want to eat half of what you order, they have to order things that you can and will eat in return. Not order things you can't eat and expect to also eat half your meal. If they ask for a taste and love your patatas bravas, they should flag the waiter down and order another serving.

My brother-out-law was surprised when he started dating my sister, and eating with her and us, and people would make sure he got his fair share when we ordered family style. He eats more slowly than many people, and had been socializing with people who treated the family style meal as first come, first served, and didn't seem to care if he went hungry or had to fill up on plain rice after they finished the duck and the interesting green beans. We'll look around and say things like "has everyone had some duck?" before taking seconds, which strikes me as basic good manners that adults ought to know, and a level of kindness that you ought to show your partners, family, and friends. Yes, I may tell someone else to have the seconds of the beef if they seem to really like that one, but everyone gets a chance at firsts, and the person who takes more of the beef may have less of the chicken or the dry sauteed string beans.
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Raintree

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2013, 03:06:05 PM »
It sounds as though the other problem is that your friends don't understand that part of the point is that everyone get enough to eat, and that if they want to eat half of what you order, they have to order things that you can and will eat in return. Not order things you can't eat and expect to also eat half your meal. If they ask for a taste and love your patatas bravas, they should flag the waiter down and order another serving.

I agree; there must be some way to convey this to the people you eat with. However, it sounds as though the OP has tried and ended up going hungry too many times, so it makes sense to order her own dish, explaining to friends, "I can't eat the meat dishes, and I don't want to stop you from ordering them, so I will order my own dish for myself and not partake in the shared dishes."

With the rude and pushy waiter, perhaps, "No, I am not ordering for the table. I wish to order this dish for myself only." Lather, rinse, repeat, same words. If he pushed further? "Are you saying it's not possible for me to order a dish for myself?"

By the way, I could easily plow through a full carafe of sangria with one other person, and if told that was "a lot" I would cheerfully say, "That's ok!" I do think that sometimes servers will explain that a particular dish is "a lot" if it's questionable whether or not the customer has an idea what they are ordering, so there are no surprises and complaints (as in, "I thought this would be appetizer sized! I didn't know it was meant to feed four!!"). Nice to have an idea of the size of the dish. But a carafe is a carafe.

Zizi-K

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2013, 03:15:57 PM »
I agree that you got a terrible waiter.

If this restaurant has been around for a little while, I guarantee that you are not the first person to walk in who prefers to order and eat their own dishes. This has nothing to do with being a vegetarian or having other dietary restrictions. Some people just really like to have their own plates. You owe the waiter no explanation.

I wondered if you had discussed your ordering plans with your dining companions? In that case, it really wouldn't matter if the waiter thought your food for 'for the table' or not. Did you feel you had to simultaneously explain both to the waiter and your friends?

In any case, the waiter should have stopped when you said "no." He got his answer, and it was extremely rude to explain slowly and with big gestures how family-style dining works. I think your response to him was fine, and I would imagine that he will not make it as a waiter if he expects every table to fit into some predetermined pattern.

There are a couple of restaurants in my town that explain that their food is served 'tapas style', by which they mean that the food will come out as it is prepared and that they *recommend* sharing, you cannot say that you want one thing first or second. But what you do with the food is up to you when it arrives to your table.

Pen^2

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2013, 03:24:07 PM »
You were fine. Your waiter was very rude (judging what you ordered? Arguing about how you want to order? Patronising you when he is refusing to understand something? Really?) I would have spoken to his superior, explained the rudeness, and requested a different waiter. I suspect he was being lazy and didn't want to have to write down/recall which food item was whose.

In future, though, I wouldn't bother explaining why you want to order individually. It opens it up into a discussion, which isn't what's wanted. By giving reasons, you're giving him a chance to try to 'solve' the situation or otherwise invalidate your needs/wants. You don't have to give reasons for a very standard part of a business transaction, and I would put forward that it can, at times, be inappropriate to do so. It would be faster and smoother like this:

Him: "Will you be ordering for the whole table?"
You: "No, I'll be ordering individually. Now, I'd like..."
Him: "Well, I really think you should order for the table. That's how family dining works."
You: "Yes, but all the same, we'll be ordering individually. As I was saying..."

Any further arguments mean you should get a manager. Once can mean that he was confirming things, which is fine. Twice or more is an argument over something very reasonable.

nayberry

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2013, 03:43:21 PM »
i had something similar a few years ago, in a tapas place,  when the waiter tried to push us into sharing, which as there were vegetarians with us, we couldn't share everything.  i asked him if he was paying for our meal?  he looked puzzled and said no, to which i replied, "then let us order how & what we want."   
after that he was ok-ish, still took ages to bring drinks, but as tips are less expected in the UK, we left nothing on an over 100 bill, as i handed him the payment i did mention that if he hadn't tried to take over that he would have had a tip. he did apologise at that point but it was too little too late.

MrTango

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2013, 04:38:44 PM »
If a waiter tried to convince me that I should order differently from how I intended to order, my response would be "As I indicated, I'll be having [whatever I was ordering]."

If they persisted further, I would ask to speak with a manager.  If the waiter balked at sending the manager over, I'd leave.

Also in that situation, I would request a new server for the remainder of the meal, and I would decline to order from or accept anything from the original server who refused to do their job properly to begin with.

The only exception to this is if the server says that something is not possible (in which case, they better be able to give me a good reason).

kherbert05

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2013, 06:26:34 PM »
It sounds as though the other problem is that your friends don't understand that part of the point is that everyone get enough to eat, and that if they want to eat half of what you order, they have to order things that you can and will eat in return. Not order things you can't eat and expect to also eat half your meal. If they ask for a taste and love your patatas bravas, they should flag the waiter down and order another serving.

I agree; there must be some way to convey this to the people you eat with. However, it sounds as though the OP has tried and ended up going hungry too many times, so it makes sense to order her own dish, explaining to friends, "I can't eat the meat dishes, and I don't want to stop you from ordering them, so I will order my own dish for myself and not partake in the shared dishes."

With the rude and pushy waiter, perhaps, "No, I am not ordering for the table. I wish to order this dish for myself only." Lather, rinse, repeat, same words. If he pushed further? "Are you saying it's not possible for me to order a dish for myself?"

By the way, I could easily plow through a full carafe of sangria with one other person, and if told that was "a lot" I would cheerfully say, "That's ok!" I do think that sometimes servers will explain that a particular dish is "a lot" if it's questionable whether or not the customer has an idea what they are ordering, so there are no surprises and complaints (as in, "I thought this would be appetizer sized! I didn't know it was meant to feed four!!"). Nice to have an idea of the size of the dish. But a carafe is a carafe.
From personal experince - some places that do family style do either or. It is not permitted under most circumstances for 1 person at the table to opt out unless that person is a small child.


I've run into this situation and explained to the manager that due to my food allergies (shell fish and a few other things that will blister in inside of my mouth or make me itch for the next 6 months but not kill me) I can't do the family thing.


They usually allow me to order my own food. If they don't then my companions and I have order safe for me things "for the table" but been aware I was going to get the lions share of X but not eat A, B, C. (Usually this is per person charge not per item charge). THat only works with people, who you are comfortable perposing the idea to and who  will respect the "rule" once established.


I see two options


1. You could say Because of the restrictive nature of my diet, it is better that I don't share food for medical reason. From what I understand vegetarians can have a nasty reaction to meat after not eating it for an extended time. So that would be true.


2.  Plot out with your companions what all y'all are going to order and how it will be shared.


Since this was a favorite restuarant that previously had not had a problem with the way you order. I would definately speak to a manager about the breakdown in training.


I wonder if people don't tend to order more when ordering family style therefore upping the tip. If that info plus the introduce people to the family style sampling got mixed together in training it might explain the new pushyness. Oddly enough I started looking at reviews of Tappas restaurants here in Houston after reading your post. (getting more adventurous with food) Poor training/pushyness of the wait staff was a frequent complaint. 



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chibichan

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2013, 06:43:24 PM »
I remember going out to dinner with my friend and her family in Japan . Family style dining is common here . In this case we were at a Mexican restaurant ( I had eaten there many times but this was their first visit ) . There were 12 of us all together .

I suggested everyone order their own dishes but was told that they wanted to "share " so that they could all try everything . OK , fine ....they ordered one plate each of several different dishes , I ordered my favorite meal . They each got one nacho , half a slice of quesedilla , one chip with salsa...then my dinner arrived . Cue 11 heads swiveling expectedly in my direction  ::) .

Nope . I warned you . This is MINE . ( I had not taken any of the food they ordered - truthfully , it would have been darn near impossible to split it up into any smaller of a portion .)

I had a full and satisfying meal while they were still trying to cut a chicken breast into 11 pieces and portion out a tablespoon of sour cream .  >:D
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sweetonsno

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2013, 10:32:17 PM »
The waiter was definitely off. I do suspect that it was a training problem. My suspicion is that servers are trained to explain/offer (or even push) family-style ordering and he somehow missed that it was okay to order individually. It also sounds like in this case, it wasn't connecting for him that your choice to order for yourself wasn't about you not being able to order for yourself. (He thought for some reason you were worried that the others at your table couldn't eat vegetarian.) I think a good way of clarifying would have been to emphasize that. "I'll need to order mine as an individual entree because I can't partake of the other dishes. They'll be sharing the three, though."

I don't think you are under any obligation to order "for the table" if you don't want to so long as you are willing to accept the lack of variety or any extra costs that might be associated with it. (It sounds like you are.) In this case, it should be between you and your dining companions rather than you and your waiter. Because it is a bit unusual to order individually at a family-style restaurant, where part of the appeal is ordering and eating from a variety of dishes, I think it's wise to give people a heads-up before you go out to eat. That way, you can all decide whether to pick a different eatery, go with the "Drunken Housewife orders her own and we share the rest" plan, or (awesomely) the other couple says, "We're down with eating vegetarian that night if you'd like to try more than one dish."


Thipu1

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2013, 10:54:33 AM »
Among many Asians, family-style dining is pretty much a given.  MIL is almost fanatical about this.

No matter where we eat, everybody has to take a little of everything.  Because that can be difficult at restaurants that aren't Chinese,  she doesn't really like eating at Mexican, French or American places.

Unless everyone at the table is an omnivore ordering family-style can involve some delicate orchestration. 

The waiter in the OP was definitely off.  It's one thing to suggest ordering for the table.  Pushing it is quite another and can ruin the dining experience. 

 


drzim

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Re: Don't make me order "for the table", waiter!
« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2013, 02:46:22 PM »
The timing of cooking/serving is different in a tapas style restaurant.   In a regular restaurant, everyone orders a single dish and all the plates are served together at the same time.  In a tapas place, the dishes are served one or maybe two at a time.  Usually, the server will wait for one plate to be finished before serving the next, and the service is continuous throughout the meal. 

Often, the server will not have a lot of control which dish is served in which order.   Example, the chef will prepare a batch of patatas bravas, and then portion it out into several plates which will be served to those tables which have ordered it. 

I can see why the waiter would push for table ordering--because the service is set up for that.  I can imagine diners not being pleased to sit and wait for their dish to arrive while their companion is eating.  Or having to sit and eat an entire dish first, then sitting and watching a companion eat.  On the flip side, as a server trying to coordinate and have the separate plates all arrive at the table together would be difficult.

That being said, I think it is fine to request separate non-family style ordering as long as you don't penalize the server.