The 28 best things restaurants do for their customers
There's plenty of room for error in the restaurant industry, but when everything goes right, it's like a beautiful symphony of medium-rare cheeseburgers and quickly refilled water glasses.
To give thanks, we've compiled a list of all the amazing little things restaurants do to make you feel at home, while reminding you that you're definitely not at home. Read on, then close your eyes and imagine a wonderful place where the bread is free and the hand soaps smell fantastic.
Split the bill
Nobody carries cash anymore except bartenders, strippers, and grandparents, so paying with multiple cards shouldn't come as a big surprise. Bonus points if the server brings out multiple pens for signing all those merchant copies.
Effortlessly transfer tabs from the bar to your table
The world of POS systems is a rabbit hole that no man should ever have to go too deep into, but it seems likely that if someone's drinking at a restaurant bar, they might be waiting on their table. When a bartender's able to magically transfer it to your server, it makes you feel like they're anticipating your every move.
Have individual unisex bathrooms
All the girls waiting in the line for the bathroom isn't just a lyric from an old Pharrell song. Often, there's a serious gender inequality in bathroom waits, and having individual bathrooms that swing both ways helps relieve everyone way more efficiently.
Direct you to those unisex bathrooms without prompting
Everyone's been there: squirming aimlessly around the restaurant and poking your head into the kitchen and employees-only areas. It's always wonderful when, instead of just letting you wander around like a headless chicken with a dangerously full bladder, a server simply points you in the right direction.
Stock bathrooms with fancy soaps and nice dryers
Sure, a squirt of that pink ooze will destroy any bacteria that might be lingering, but it smells like a science lab and makes your hands feel rough as a stray cat's paws. A small investment in nice soap let's the customer know the restaurant cares. Bonus points for hand dryers that actually work well, or paper towels that aren't in a big soggy stack.
Offer up free food
Nothing tastes better than free-dom. While obviously you're not getting free steak dinners, a little goes a long way in this department. A tiny amuse bouche for starters or, even, an Andes mint with the check, goes a long way toward customer satisfaction.
Alert you to any check-in bonuses
Some places give you a free dessert for Yelping, Facebook-liking, or checking-in on Foursquare. Although these can be a total pain, they're often easy and result in the aforementioned free food.
Sincerely tell you that you've made a good choice when ordering
A restaurant meal is largely based on expectations and anticipation, and there's no greater way to raise these than to make the customer feel like they're some menu-whispering genius. A simple affirmation that they're ordering something delicious actually makes a difference... just don't fake it, or they'll lose all faith in your taste and honesty.
Have a staff that knows the menu
It doesn't instill confidence in a diner if the server can't speak about each dish with at least a hint of intelligence. When the server rattles off the ingredient list effortlessly and can give an honest opinion, it shows that everyone in the chain of command cares about your order.
Be kind to animals
Not every restaurant can be dog friendly, but just look how happy this adorable Shih Tzu looks to be hanging out at his owner's feet with a refreshing cup of water at a restaurant. Or maybe that's a look of anger, since he has to drink water while his owner shoves steak down his throat. Luckily, some restaurants also appease Fido with doggy beer.
Send out gifts from the kitchen without hesitation
Any time a server drops the ball, a customer will happily forgive them for a handful of free shishito peppers. This also makes somewhat important people look really cool on dates, which results in tongue kissing and generous tips.
Have a hostess who is happy to see you
Your first impression on entering a restaurant should be a good one. A chipper hostess with grace, charm, and a quick wit starts the evening on the right foot.
Make sure the menu is concise
Nobody wants to read a novel at a restaurant, unless they're dining alone.
Control the temperature
Although you shouldn't expect anyone to adjust the thermostat to your own personal liking, the restaurant staff should know the space well enough to be able to keep it appropriate. Outside on a hot day, that usually means Big Ass Fans (TM!) or misters (that aren't too misty), or, for a cool night, patio heaters.
Make sure the specials are special
People with friends in the restaurant industry -- or who own one of Anthony Bourdain's books -- know that many specials are just attempts to get rid of ingredients. Even if that's the reality, it's important to make the specials feel special, and not fall back on wilted broccoli casserole with day-old ketchup-reduction dressing.
Play decent music
Not every restaurant needs a DJ, but it helps if there's been some consideration put into the noise that the customer listens to for the next 90 minutes. Also, loud music makes you drink more, so there's that.
Keep that water glass full
Drought be damned: if the customer needs a gallon of water with those enchiladas, so be it. This becomes way easier if there's just a carafe of water left at the table.
Alert you that your table is ready via text message
It sucks to wait around a restaurant for an hour, huddled onto the one awkwardly-placed bench while people brush up against your knees to get to the hostess, only to be turned away and then look at you like they hate you because you're sitting on the only bench. Text-alert systems allow you to go drink elsewhere and return full of merriment and cheer.
Be on the scene of accidents faster than Batman
The fragile ecosystem of a dining room goes to hell when someone breaks a glass. When the server is there in a heartbeat, everyone feels a lot less awkward.
Give a consolation prize for having to use the ATM
Cash-only restaurants exist. They suck, but so do ATM fees. If you're obviously taking a $3 hit for pulling cash, anything the restaurant can do to make you feel like less of an idiot really helps. Bonus points if it involves a free beer.
Everybody might not know your name, but they've seen you a few times, and even a subtle nod of acknowledgement makes you feel cooler than Ted Danson.
Have a great burger
There are only a few good excuses for not having an amazing burger on your menu, two of which are "we're a sushi restaurant" and "we don't want to succeed". No matter how high-end the place, having an amazing burger on the menu is a boon to everyone involved.
Include great vegetarian options as well
There are a lot of terrible things about being a vegetarian, but going to your restaurant shouldn't be one.
Remind you of the ingredients in what you ordered when it arrives without sounding like a robot
Especially at higher-end joints, the 15 minutes between ordering and receiving food might cloud one's memory of what type of foam tops those diver scallops. A gentle reminder is nice, as long as it doesn't sound like it's being recited by an android.
Use proper glassware
If you don't have stemmed beer glasses, at least offer to pour that can into a shaker pint glass.
Refill soft drinks for free
Iced tea and fountain drinks should always be bottomless.
Deliver drinks in a timely manner
Most people ordering drinks at a restaurant are considering how much time is left in their meal. If they order another beer when their entree arrives and it takes 15 minutes for that beer to make it to the table, the customer feels pressure to drink it too quickly.
An Irish goodbye is great for college parties and networking events, but, at a restaurant, the close of the transaction should be as friendly as the beginning. You shouldn't feel like you're dining and ditching. Unless you are. Which you shouldn't.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He loves going to restaurants, especially when they have fancy soap. Follow him to the pleasant smell of cilantro and peppermint at @Dannosphere.