Every time you sit down at a restaurant you’re being sized up. It’s called “reading a table” and wait staff at fine dining and chain restaurants alike are trained in the technique, according to the The Wall Street Journal.
Beyond flair, and memorizing specials, a good waiter can anticipate the needs of a customer at a glance. At chain restaurants around the country that's what they're being trained to do. Servers at Denny's, T.G.I Fridays, and Romano's Macaroni Grill are now taught to pay closer attention to the subtle gestures and understated remarks of their customers. The goal for servers is twofold: give the customer a better dining experience by predicting their needs, and ultimately get a bigger tip.
At kid-friendly restaurants child psychology comes into play. If a kid hates greens, the waiter may tell the kitchen to drop the garnish on their burger. Come dessert, they discretely hand the menu to the table's resident mom to avoid any squeals or screams from the littlest diners. Clearly, mom's the "Alpha" at a family table, and "Alpha's" get the best attention from waiters, since they're considered the mood-setters for the group.
Before you think you’re “unreadable,” here’s a question: has anyone ever asked if you want your salad dressing on the side or if you have any allergies? You may be what one table-waiting blogger calls the “control freak”.
“This person has to play waiter, chef, and GM,” writes the restaurant industry insider under the pseudonym Teleburst. “This person can’t let the chef design a recipe without modifying it somehow.” If you look perturbed by the menu or rattle off a lot of requests and questions for your simple order, your waiter may try to soothe you by asking for direction on all aspects of your order. That doesn’t mean he or she really cares or is paying that much attention.
“Reading a table requires that you somehow get into the head of the guest,” writes Teleburst on his blog about the server industry.
Now that you know you’re being read, how can you use it to your advantage? Take a few tips from the pros.
Dress up for a fast service: In waiter-speak, a dress, a pair of slacks and an early reservation mean efficiency is required. Whether or not you’ve got a movie to catch, the signal you’re sending is ‘buttoned-up’.
For special attention at a large table, make the reservation: Servers look for the “alpha” of every table—the one who booked the table, took control of the drinks order, or leads the conversation. He or she is likely, if not to pick up the check, then to have the most sway over how people feel about their meals, and ultimately, the tip.
For the biggest pour of a shared bottle of wine, grab the drinks menu first: That tells your server you’re paying attention to what’s in your glass. and they're likely to pour for you first every time the bottle comes around .
For top-notch service: It all depends on what your looking for from your dining experience. According to the Journal's research, a “moody” customer who isn’t easily won over by server banter will likely get a most timely, detailed oriented service. Telling the waiter the meal was "okay" also suggests a passive-aggressive dissatisfaction that can lead to an "on the house" bonus. On the other hand, a laid-back customer who enjoys a tableside chat with their server may not get the same speediness but according to bloggers, they’re the gold standard. Winning over your server with a little bit of sugar can lock in your table for the long haul during peak hours. It could even translate in a heavier wine pour or a little something extra as a thank you from your server. Psychology aside, good karma goes a long way.