Sunday, May 06, 2001

Dining out prom night should be fun for all

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Not only are proms fun and momentous rites of passage, they should be — yes — learning experiences. High school dating was never my specialty, and I still don't dance, but I do know a little something about restaurants.

        Here are tips for young adults planning to go out to dinner before the big event (these suggestions also apply to grown-ups on other occasions) and a few reminders for the restaurant staff serving the prom crowd.

        Tips for the kids:

        • Scout out possible restaurants for your prom dinner. Ask friends — even your parents — about nice places. Call restaurants and request menus, or check Web sites. Look to see what kind of food is offered (make sure it's not too weird, and consider any vegetarians in your group) and how much it costs.

        • Make reservations as early as possible. If the restaurant doesn't accept reservations, ask how long the wait might be on the night of your prom — then figure out when to get there to stand in line. When you call, ask if the restaurant tacks on charges or builds in a gratuity (tip) for large parties. Ask for the non-smoking section. If it's a busy night and the restaurant has trouble seating your group at one table, consider breaking your group into smaller tables. Be flexible.

        • Confirm your reservation the day of the prom. If it looks like you will arrive more than 15 minutes late for your reservation, call to alert the restaurant.

        • Bring a calculator in case you need help figuring out checks or tips.

        • Once you are seated, someone should tell the waiter when you need to leave in order to make the prom. (This helps the waiter and kitchen pace your meal.) After menus are handed out, everyone should narrow their dinner choices quickly.

        • When the waiter comes to take your order, ask if you can have separate checks. (Some restaurants may not allow separate checks for parties of six or more people.) If you do order on separate checks, make sure the waiter understands who's on your tab.

        • Don't be afraid to ask questions about the menu, and if the waiter pitches a nightly special, listen carefully and ask how much it costs. When you order, help the waiter by giving him or her as much information as possible: Do you need ketchup, steak sauce or salad dressing on the side?

        • Have a good time, but respect other guests. Keep the noise down (although there's no need to whisper) and limit trips to the restroom.

        • Once your food arrives, the waiter will return to make sure everything is OK. Speak up immediately if you didn't get what you ordered. It's fine to send back a steak if it's not cooked the way you ordered it, but it's not cool to send back food simply because you don't like it. You ordered it, you eat it.

        • Your waiter depends on tips to make a living. Generally, if the service is satisfactory, a good tip is at least 15 percent of the total bill. If you feel the service is extraordinary, your waiter will appreciate a tip upwards to 20 percent. Don't forget: The restaurant may have added a gratuity (usually 18 percent) to your bill already if you're seated as a large party. Ask the waiter if a gratuity is included.

        • If your service is less than satisfactory (the drinks and food come out slowly, the waiter forgets things or the food is cold, for instance) or you don't think you were otherwise treated properly, express these concerns politely to the manager. If the manager won't help — or at least apologize — send a letter of complaint to the restaurant later. You might also tell your parents.

        Now, some reminders for waiters and servers:

        • Treat promsters like paying customers, because they are.

        • Be patient and helpful if they're confused when ordering.

        • Don't embarrass the kids with put-down looks or comments.

        • Suggest menu items you think the young customers might like. Don't talk them into ordering something expensive they won't like.

        • Don't assume you won't make a decent tip. The kids may be more sophisticated than you think.

        • Work hard and you may be rewarded. These customers may return — for next year's prom — or someday as adults. And they just might recommend your restaurant (and maybe you as a server) to their parents.


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