Friday, July 24, 2009

Advice to customers: when you're a camper.

On my "Days that make you hate your job" posted, Anonymous left an interesting comment:

I'm not a server or in the business, but feel for all of you who are, and love all your blogs. I'm not sure how to say this right, but please don't hate all of us "campers" before you've even had a chance to find out whether we'll leave a generous tip or not. There are times on my job when I have to wait out storms and don't like to do it in my truck, and am not allowed to go shopping. I usually will find a restaurant, order food and wait out the rain reading a book. I ALWAYS ALWAYS tip at least 100 percent and usually more for taking up someones table for so long even if I get the stink-eye from my server for "camping". I usually try to explain that I might be there a while, but I've never found a way to ensure the server that I'll compensate them well. How should I do that so they aren't so upset with me before I even get my bill? Maybe you could post a blog to let customers know how to go about this.

First, I think it's great that you even care--most people are just utterly oblivious, or they think "I'm the customer, I have a right to stay here as long as I want!" And the thing with campers is that it's all about context. I don't hate all of them, and I've been known to go to a restaurant for several hours too--but never during the prime hours.

(I'm going to use "you" throughout this, but I mean it in the general sense, not the personal.)

There are a couple of situations where you're going to be pissing someone off regardless. If it's prime rush time, say 11-2 or 5-8ish, you're significantly cutting into a server's profits if you're there more than fifteen minutes after you finish your food. Also, if you stay more than fifteen minutes after closing time, every employee in the place is pretty much thinking you're a douchebag.

Mitigating circumstances: a single person at a two-seater table who's polite and friendly is not going to be nearly as upsetting as a single person who's rude and bitchy, taking up a table that could seat four or more. After closing time, if there are multiple tables, we're going to be annoyed in general instead of at you in particular.

If you are going to be there during the dinner rush, ask for a closer's section. They have a lot more time to make money, so they'll be less annoyed. Don't take up a table bigger than you need unless there's a reason (like the chairs hurt your back but the booths are okay). During later hours, and if you see lots of open tables, it's not such a big deal. I don't care if somebody camps out at a booth the entire time from second cuts to close, generally speaking.

In general, be polite; and instead of trying to tell your server you'll be generous at the beginning, pay your bill promptly and let them take the credit slip/change right away. If you're worried about them ignoring you after that, just politely tell them you'll probably want a refill and to please check back. This also allows your sever to leave if they're supposed to be off the clock, instead of having to wait around making $2 an hour waiting to pick up your credit slip. They'll ask another server to keep an eye on you if that's the case.

We don't automatically hate all campers; a lot of it is about attitude. For example if the people who made me so angry on Tuesday would've sat at the bar for the first 2.5 hours they were waiting for the rest of their party, I could've run three groups of customers through that table and made some money. Instead, they took up my table and were rude to me to boot. The people having the meeting showed up during the dinner rush, knowing they weren't going to eat--so why go to a restaurant? It was also the combination of both of them sitting there at the same time that made me so mad, so some of it was just bad luck.

Any additional suggestions from fellow servers?


LW said...

Very good advice.

JumpIt said...

PLEAS PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT come into a restaurant with a work buddy or your SO to do paperwork and only order "water with lemon". That pisses me off more than anything else, and we've had quite a few campers who have done that. The water is free, and you're taking up my table and I'm not going to see anything from it. That is ridiculous and should never happen. At least order drinks so that way you have a bill to pay.

And just for shits and giggles, we did kick out potential campers the other day. They came into the restaurant carrying McDonald's food, and they wanted to sit and eat in our restaurant. No fucking way.

purplegirl said...

I love the balls on people who think that kind of bullshit is okay. Or the ones who think they're being clever by having four of them at the table, three ordering water, and one ordering a drink--then they're technically paying customers, so we can't kick them out, right? Fuckers.

eternalcarryoutgirl said...

I have to fully agree with the "don't take up a table bigger than you need" part. I am so tired of opening the back room because 3 of our 4 booths are taken up by single people. Especially the ones who read.


Masquerade said...

I don't have an opinion right now, just a bloody splitting headache and unease about another 13 hour shift tomorrow. Just wanted to let you know that your cat picture still makes me giggle like a giddy schoolgirl. :P

AK said...

I agree with everything you've said (and would advise the same), but from a pure customer point of view it seems like a lot to remember/gauge. Maybe not worth it?

If it's not, my advice would be to come, eat your food and read, and then migrate to a coffeeshop if you're going to linger somewhere for a few hours.

Pademelon said...

I used to be a server so I totally understand the frustration most campers cause. But at the same time, I am occasionally a camper. I don't hit too many problems with it but I'm really upfront about it. The servers I've encountered have always seemed to have appreciated it.

If I'm alone, I always sit at a 2-top or the counter/bar if there is one. I almost always let them know I'll be there for a bit and that I've been a server so I will compensate for taking up the table. I always order at least an appetizer (but often a full meal) and a drink that has to be paid for (none of this water-with-lemon and free bread sticks BS) even if I'm not terribly hungry or thirsty. I then eat my meal promptly or, if I feel like taking an hour to munch a few spring rolls, just order another drink or refill and ask for the check. There's no point in making the server wait for me to finish before paying. If there ends up being some problem after you've paid, it can be taken care of by the server you just tipped or another server or a manager so I pay it immediately, tip (with cash even if I'm paying with a card) based on the amount of time I might be there. I even give most servers a chance to move me to another table if they're going to be cut soon, though I've never had anyone take me up on it. All of this is moot if it's during a lunch or dinner rush. Then I eat and go find a coffee shop since there's a Starbucks with comfy chairs on damn near every corner nowadays. During one semester at community college, I had a 2.5 hour break between my classes twice a week. I lived 25 minutes away so it wasn't worth it to go home. I started going to a diner up the street and camping out twice a week. After the first week, I was always welcome regardless of who was working because even if I only had a soda (which came with free refills) and an order of fries, I'd still tip on taking up a table for 2 hours instead of on the $7 check.

Sorry this is long (on an older post no less) but for any non-servers wanting to know, there are ways to be a welcome camper. Don't be afraid to tell your server you know you're camping (they'll be impressed you even know the term) and that you intend to take that into account when you pay out and tip. Especially for the non-servers, it pays to think about things from the servers perspective. If you have to sit in a booth because the chairs hurt your back, mention it to the host or the server and they'll probably be very accommodating instead of thinking you're just an asshat like most campers. As long as you're polite, not requesting things that require extra work for no benefit for them (ala just a water with lemon) and aren't actually taking money out of the servers pocket (keeping in mind most servers not only have to claim they've made at least 11% (or whatever it is now) of their sales in tips whether they have or not but also tip out the bar/host/bussers/etc), you'll probably be fine.

There's another important tip I can offer too. If you get a good server, whether you're a group or a lone camper, whether you're only ordering a coke or a full meal, whether you can afford to tip properly or not, TELL THE MANAGER! Most customers only go to a manager to complain. Good servers don't often get recognized and a compliment to a manager can turn a whole day around for some. A customer loses nothing by mentioning to a manager that they had good service and appreciated it. This is especially true if you're camping and your server handles you well. It's one of the "Laws of Being a Good Customer" that no one seems to know about. Aside from tipping, complimenting a server to their manager is the nicest thing you can do for them, especially if your kid ground Cheerios into the booth or you ordered something complex or something.

purplegirl said...

Excellent advice, Stephanie. You're absolutely right that it is possible to be a camper who's not hated. :) And don't worry about writing so much, do so any time you want. :)

Strawz said...

A friend and I actually frequent an all-night diner in town. We're good friends with the managers and, I admit, we're campers. Intensely so. (I hadn't even heard of the term before this blog...)
BUT!! we only show up any time between 1 and 3 in the morning so I never thought it was too bad, even if I start feeling guilty after we've finished our food and try to drag my friend along.
We do leave 100+% tips if we're there for some ridiculous amount of time, and always get craploads of food anyway, so it's not like we're being cheap.

Just wondering whether or not we're the "annoying" type. I never gave it a thought until I stumbled across this blog.

purplegirl said...

Strawz, I think you're golden. You're not cheap, and you're not hogging a table during the dinner rush. I wouldn't worry unless you start to see the place filling up, but I can't imagine that happens at the hours you describe. :)