If you ever want a really good look at how seriously someone in the restaurant industry takes customer service, try going out to eat alone.
Since I travel quite a bit, and much of that time I am onsite doing training by myself, I have ample opportunities to eat out by myself. I’m not one of those people who feels awkward about eating alone, and with the advent of smartphones and iPads, I can easily keep myself busy while eating out and not look around woefully, so I usually venture out to sample some good eats while I’m out and about.
Of course, as someone who worked in a restaurant for a time in college, I am also acutely aware that as a server, when you get a table for one, your chance of a large tip is greatly diminished. People eating alone don’t generally rack up expensive dinner tabs. (Especially when they are eating out on their company expense account like I am!) Therefore even the 20% you’d get from a good tipper, doesn’t really compare to the money you’d make from 2 or 4 people sitting at that table. Unfortunately, in most places, it shows in the service too. All too frequently, when eating alone, I’ve had the feeling of being almost forgotten by busy waitstaff as they run around trying to please the larger groups. Again, I understand the instinct. I don’t necessarily condone it, but I do understand it.
So, when I’m out by myself, I set my expectations fairly low. I don’t even hold it against servers when it comes to tipping them. I know the larger tables are more work, I know why they are your focus, so I don’t really ask for much. Get my order right, keep my drink from being empty for too long before a refill finds it way to me, and act at least professional, if not friendly, and you’ll probably get a decent tip from me, and consideration for coming back on my next trip to town. (Unless the food sucks, but as a server, you can’t do much about that..) Fail to even meet that minimum, and I won’t be coming back, even when I am sharing a meal with a bunch of students, or fellow trainers, on subsequent trips.
On the other hand, act friendly, be attentive to my needs, treat me the same way you would treat a larger party, and not only will I remember the restaurant and make a beeline back to it on subsequent trips, whether on my own or in a group, but there’s a really good chance that I will even make up the difference for having one person instead of two in your tip. Yes I have been known to leave a certain tip on my company card, and also lay down some of my own cash to reward good service, leaving a 40-50% tip, the equivalent of 20-25% had two people eaten there. Sometimes more. On my last trip I had such good service all the way down the line at one restaurant, from the waitress, the manager, and the busser that I paid $20 between my card and my own cash, for an $11 dinner bill.
My point, however, is not to encourage those of us who work in the service industry to give good service because someone might pay you more money though. My point is that sometimes it’s those unassuming single parties that are the people who actually influence others, and make much larger decisions than you think they do. You may think you’re simply blowing off a small tip in search of short term gain, but you might be losing your business a big deal down the road, because of the bad service you gave one person.
Never let yourself be fooled into thinking you have unimportant customers. They may be much more important than you think.