Why you may not be able to trust your waiter

Feb. 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM ET

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Should you trust your server? The New York Post says “no.”

The newspaper interviewed waiters who dished on some of the tricks used to get restaurant patrons to keep their mouths – and their wallets – open.

The highlights:

  • If you ask your server to help you decide between two dishes, he or she will usually tell you the more expensive one is better (whoa, my brain just exploded).
  • Waiters often bluff their way through dish descriptions. One server interviewed by the Post even compared her food-talk to phone sex.
  • They do the same thing for wine recommendations, and do whatever they can to keep you drinking.
  • Servers haven’t often tasted the menu options that they are pushing on you; they’re only recommending them because management instructs them to do so.

To most customers, none of this is surprising. But as someone who has worked in a mid-scale restaurant, I AM surprised to hear that some servers haven’t eaten off their restaurant’s menus. Yes, “family meal” for the staff usually consisted of mashed potatoes and some meat that I wouldn’t touch. But at the end of our shifts or on off-days, the staff discount was enough to get us to grab a table and chow down, so what we told patrons was usually something close to the truth. And wine recommendations were genuine too – we’d have quarterly wine tastings with an expert sommelier answering all of our questions about the wines we offered.

Of course, this all depends on the quality of the food and restaurant in question.

The article goes on to cite other psychological tactics used to get you to spend, including “decoy” items and name-dropping on menus.

Ultimately, if the restaurant is pushing you food that isn’t what you want, you aren’t going to go back and you aren’t going to do them the priceless service of loyalty and word-of-mouth. With so many dining options out there (and food blogs to inform you of what’s hot and what’s not) gimmicks are a short-term solution that can’t really beat out good food and a server who listens to what you want.

B.W., the blogger who created The Bitchy Waiter, shares this advice with the Post:  

“You shouldn’t be embarrassed to order exactly what you want to order — as long as it’s on the menu. Don’t be intimidated by a waiter who’s trying to up their check average with a condescending sneer. Don’t be embarrassed that you just want to share an appetizer. Know what you want, and don’t worry about what the waiter is thinking.”

Have you had a stomach-turning experience with a bad waiter? An appetizing experience with a great waiter? Are you a waiter who has used some of these tricks? Share your stories!