Brunch service at Agora Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Brunch service at Agora Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Take a seat, elite Yelpers and D.C. foodies: Your server and bartender have some advice on how you can be a better customer.

Washington City Paper food editor Laura Hayes and three restaurant professionals sit down with Kojo to talk about the do’s and don’ts of wining and dining. We’ll talk about the quintessential quandaries of going out: splitting the check (how many credit cards is too many?), how to get your server’s attention (here’s a clue: don’t snap at them!) and how much to tip. And, because this is the District: Do patrons’ politics affect the service they receive — and should they?

We want to hear from you. Are you an avid diner? What questions do you have for your local bar or restaurant? Do you work in the industry? What do you think customers can do to make everyone’s experience better? Comment below, or give us a call starting at noon: 800-433-8850.

Produced by Cydney Grannan


  • Laura Hayes Food Editor, Washington City Paper; @LauraHayesDC
  • Andrea Tateosian President, D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild; @AndreaTateosian
  • Matthew Gilchrist Service Manager, Brothers And Sisters, The LINE Hotel
  • Stephanie Hulbert Bartender/Manager, The Tune Inn Restaurant & Bar
  • Gjergj Dollani Owner, Cafe Chocolat; @gjergjdollani


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. When it comes to dining in bars and restaurants, the customer is always right -- or at least that's what we've always been told. But what do the people on the other side of the table have to say about how customers act? Joining me in studio is Laura Hayes. Laura is the Food Editor at Washington City Paper. Laura, good to see you.

  • 12:00:24

    LAURA HAYESHi, Kojo. Thanks.

  • 12:00:25

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Andrea Tateosian. She is the President of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild. Andrea, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:32

    ANDREA TATEOSIANThank you for having me.

  • 12:00:34

    NNAMDIMatthew Gilchrist is the Service Manager at Brothers and Sisters in The LINE Hotel. Matthew, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:40

    MATTHEW GILCHRISTThanks for having me.

  • 12:00:41

    NNAMDIAnd Stephanie Hulbert is a bartender and manager at The Tune Inn Restaurant & Bar on Capitol Hill. Stephanie, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:48

    STEPHANIE HULBERTThank you for having me.

  • 12:00:49

    NNAMDILaura, I'll start with you. Last month you interviewed servers, bartenders and managers across the District and you asked a simple question. What can people do to be better customers in restaurants and bars? I found that intriguing. What inspired the story and what did you find?

  • 12:01:04

    HAYESThanks for reading. Well, you know, in America I believe that 10 percent of the workforce works in the restaurant industry. And in D.C. unscientifically I would think that's an even higher percentage, because the hospitality industry is one of the largest after the federal government. So in my beat I really look at things like labor issues and work culture and mental health and how that affects the people that are serving us our meals and cooking in the kitchen. And I thought that, you know, it'd be interesting to talk to bartenders and servers directly to hear, you know, what can we do to be better when we sit down in their place of work.

  • 12:01:43

    NNAMDIOkay. Let's bring in our guest, Matthew Gilchrist. I'll start with you. Let's take a step back. What is the role of servers and bartenders in a restaurant? What do you think customers do not understand about their jobs? Also you Stephanie Hulbert.

  • 12:01:57

    GILCHRISTWell, I really think it's the job of building a relationship with this stranger that's walked in the room. We're in the business of entertaining and it's across the medium of food and beverage. Really for me looking to build that bridge and give you the best time that I would want to have if I were sitting in your position.

  • 12:02:20

    NNAMDIWhat do you think customers don't understand about that?

  • 12:02:22

    GILCHRISTI think what they miss a lot is whenever they are really needy or come across in a way that's antagonizing it breaks that bond. My job is to build a bridge across from the persons I'm talking to and is sitting across from me. And when you come off with animosity, it breaks that bond.

  • 12:02:46


  • 12:02:47

    HULBERTI think one of the major factors that I'd like to express to customers is just to let them understand that there's a lot of going on in the back of the house as well. I think that's an important thing for them to know. You know, we're putting on a happy face in the front of the house. There's a lot going on. We're trying to get their food out for them. We're trying to serve them, you know, in a timely manner. And I think just something that I like to express to customers is that we're doing everything we can possible to make your experience wonderful. But just know that there's a lot going on in the back of that house as well that we're dealing with.

  • 12:03:16

    NNAMDIYou say respect is a huge part of this. Can you a little bit about what that means from the perspective of someone standing behind the bar?

  • 12:03:24

    HULBERTSure. I think just like Matthew was saying, you know, you want to build a relationship with everyone new that walks into the bar. So having mutual respect just as a human being, you know, looking at that bartender or server or manager for that matter, they're trying to do their best to serve you, like I said, in a timely manner and build a relationship with that person even though you're only going to know them for an hour. So having a mutual respect is extremely important. I think that, you know, we take that to heart. We are people as well, and, you know, we're just trying to serve you the best to our ability.

  • 12:03:56

    NNAMDIWell, one of your pet peeves is this, hey, hey, hey, how people try to get your attention.

  • 12:04:02


  • 12:04:03

    NNAMDIWhat are some examples of ways you should not try to get a server's attention? I think I just demonstrated two.

  • 12:04:09

    HULBERTYou did. You did. The snapping, the clapping in your face, banging an empty bottle or can on the bar is definitely -- or drink glass is definitely not the way to do it. You know, like I said, we're doing everything possible to serve you in a timely manner. So a nice 'excuse me' is always welcomed. You know, we'll be there as soon as we can, but anytime of clapping, snapping, banging on the bar, I think you're going to wait another 20 minutes or so.

  • 12:04:39

    NNAMDIAndrea, what's a respectful or appropriate way to signal a waiter or bartender?

  • 12:04:44

    TATEOSIANI can't express enough how important eye contact is. If you are looking in my direction and I'm behind the bar or I'm your server, my head is supposed to be on a swivel. Part of my job is making sure everyone has what they need at that moment. And so if I see you looking at me, I'm going to come over when I can and see what it is I can do for you. If it's very urgent and you really need attention raising a finger in the air or just a quick wave low and unobtrusively is a good way to get attention if you really need it at that moment.

  • 12:05:29

    NNAMDIWant to weigh in on that, Matthew?

  • 12:05:31

    GILCHRISTProbably the biggest thing that irks me is when customers will interject into a conversation you're having with another guest to ask for a need. That's probably one of the better ways you can get on a server or bartender's bad side.

  • 12:05:44


  • 12:05:45

    HAYESThis is a good question. I think this is -- goes back to respect, which is what everybody is saying. And I think that part of what we need to think about is that people that are working in the restaurant and bar industries in D.C. these are professionals. Stephanie, for example, used to work for the State Department. These are people who have chosen this industry and that this is their career, and so they should be given definitely the same level of respect as anybody else. Yeah, so no snapping, no clapping. I do think about other cultures. Like in Japan, for example, they have those little buzzers you just push at the table to signal when you need something, but that kind of removes the human aspect of bartending. And that's, you know, honestly the best part.

  • 12:06:29

    NNAMDIWell, Andrea. Let's talk about splitting checks. How difficult is it to do and what can customers do to make it easier on the wait staff?

  • 12:06:38

    TATEOSIANSo in this day and age it's not very difficult if it's an even split between a few cards. Most servers or bartenders are going to have a cell phone with a calculator in their pocket and they'll be able to manage that. The important thing to remember is if you want something split by item, it's best to bring that up at the beginning of the interaction with the server or bartender, and start separate tabs or at least set that expectation. If it is more than I would say four or five people, there's a time aspect to that where it's going to take a lot of time to do that especially if it is by item. There's a reason why a lot of restaurants and bars will have printed on their menu, "Checks can't be split more than three ways or four ways." And it's to ensure that the flow of the restaurant can continue the way it should.

  • 12:07:37

    TATEOSIANIf it's a large group, again, starting a tab at the beginning, everybody puts down their own card. It makes the accountability so much easier at the end and makes it a lot faster to close out and get on with your night.

  • 12:07:52

    NNAMDIMatthew, how many is too many credit cards to split a bill at the end of a meal?

  • 12:07:56

    GILCHRISTI don't necessarily think there is too many if you're communicating exactly what's going on at the beginning like Andrea was saying. If it's a busy Friday or Saturday night and you hand me 10 cards, understand that it's going to take a while to get back to you with that. And for us we want to be able to meet your needs as best as possible. And just that open communication helps minimize those issues.

  • 12:08:20


  • 12:08:21

    HULBERTYeah, I think just to add on to that. I agree that letting the server know or bartender know ahead of time, you know, that you're going to have separate checks. But also understand that that does take away time from your other tables and other people that you're trying to also serve. So I think being prepared. I know this day and age it's very -- it's kind of rare to have cash. But be prepared if you're going out with a large group to have cash on hand or to have one person pay. And, you know, there's Venmo. There's other options these days. You know, if you know you're going out with 10 to 15 people just be weary of that. And be ready when you walk in.

  • 12:08:56

    NNAMDICapri emails, I work as a bartender at Reliable Tavern. I believe people should stop asking bartenders to send over anonymous drinks to someone they don't know. You can ask that person yourself if they'd like another drink and then buy it, but have the consent first. What say you, Matthew?

  • 12:09:14

    GILCHRISTI personally think it's not my job to facilitate a relationship you're trying to build with another customer. I'll do my best. At most I might ask the other guest like, hey this person would like to send you a drink. For me, I don't want to put that person on the spot and give them a bad experience based on facilitating some kind of flirting.

  • 12:09:38

    NNAMDIAnd, Laura, what do you do when someone sends you a drink anonymously?

  • 12:09:42

    HAYESIt's been a while, Kojo. I would talk to the bartender who made the drink and just kind of say, you know, who is this from, you know, can you point him out to me or her out to me so I could go and say hello. And, you know, by the way did this drink change hands or did it come directly from, you know, you to me, because there's always safety. I'm laughing, because actually I have talked to Capri about this in the past. And she does a really good job of making sure that people who are in that situation are safe and that everyone's comfortable. So I applaud her for that.

  • 12:10:18

    NNAMDIBut do you ever get drinks like that because you write for City Paper?

  • 12:10:23

    HAYESThose usually aren't --

  • 12:10:26

    NNAMDIBecause people recognize you?

  • 12:10:27

    HAYESThose aren't usually coming from customers. Those are usually coming from staff. And I generally -- since I don't accept complimentary anything, what ends up happening is I tip the amount of the drink. So if you see me come in to a restaurant, you want to be my server, because that's usually what happens.

  • 12:10:45

    NNAMDISpeaking of splitting checks, here's Nellie in Silver Spring, Maryland. Nellie, you're turn.

  • 12:10:50

    NELLIEHi. I used to wait tables, and my question is this. Going out with three or four people, sometimes I like to have my own tab. I have my own business. So sometimes it's helpful for that. But the other is I'm a very good tipper. Seldom do I give less than 20 percent, because I understand what's going on in the back. I can't say that in front of friends. So, you know, I'd like a little guidance, a little less pushback on having a separate tab.

  • 12:11:25

    NNAMDIA little less pushback on having a separate tab, exactly what do you mean by that?

  • 12:11:29

    NELLIEWell, if I want my own tab with my own food and I'm going to tip 20 percent, if it's all -- three of us have a tab or four. You know, they're more apt to end up with 10 percent, because somebody's apt to, you know, parse it up. So if I pay, you're going to get a better tip, if I pay for my meal and drinks.

  • 12:11:52

    NNAMDIIs that an arrangement you can make with your companions before?

  • 12:11:56

    NELLIEI tried. But there's often the waiters and waitresses, you know, they're reluctant, not always. So what is the code language that they'd like to hear from me so they know that it's going to go better?

  • 12:12:10

    NNAMDIPi square over two. No, I'm sorry. Here's Andrea.

  • 12:12:15

    TATEOSIANWell, Nellie, thank you for being a lovely guest and for tipping well. It's difficult when you're in that position as a server or bartender to tell people how much money to give you. There's a power dynamic there, and it's a little uncomfortable when you have to educate people or when people put you on the spot to do so. Honestly, if you're going out with your friends and you're letting the server know that you would like to have a separate tab, you know, that could be a joke that you make with the server in front of your friends. You could say, "I'm going to open my own tab." Wink wink. "Make sure these guys take care of you." You know, something like that to kind of put it out there, and you can publicly shame your friends. I support that.

  • 12:13:07

    HAYESYou could also -- Nellie, you could also if you carry --

  • 12:13:10

    NNAMDIThis is Laura Hayes.

  • 12:13:11

    HAYESOh, sorry. If you carry a little bit of cash, you could always stick a little, you know, extra 5 or an extra 10 in the back of the checkbook. You won't get the, you know, moral credit for, you know, it being attached to your name, but if the goal here is to reward good service then that's another strategy.

  • 12:13:26

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nellie. Stephanie, when it comes to saving seats at the bar or saving a big table when your party isn't there yet, how long is it okay to do that?

  • 12:13:37

    HULBERTI think, you know, in Laura's last article I address something called real estate being all of the bar, stools at the bar when I'm bartending as well as when we're serving. You know, our job is to -- we're running a business essentially. And I think for tables if you make us aware that you have a large party coming, I think, you know, within a half hour to show I think is doable. As far as bar stools go, it might be a little different depending on the evening to be honest. If it's a busy evening I have people waiting to take a bar stool, I think, you know, I'd let them sit. You have about a 15 minute grace period at the bar to hold a seat like that.

  • 12:14:20

    HULBERTYou know, I just think customers need to understand that, you know, like I said, that's how we make our money in the business. We appreciate you brining in people and, you know, wanting to come to our bars and restaurants and have a good time. But at the end of the day, we do need to, you know, we're a first come first serve restaurant, The Tune Inn. So if you're there, you're there. We'll seat you, and then we'll do our best to accommodate you after that.

  • 12:14:43

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation about customers in bars and restaurants. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:15:20

    NNAMDIWelcome back, we're discussing how to be better customers in bars and restaurants with Laura Hayes, Food Editor at Washington City Paper. Andrea Tateosian, she is the President of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild. Matthew Gilchrist is the Service Manager at Brothers and Sisters in The LINE Hotel. And Stephanie Hulbert is a Bartender and Manager at The Tune Inn Restaurant & Bar. Matthew, if I go out to eat late and I know restaurants sometimes close at 9:00 or 10:00 P.M. especially on weeknights, how close to closing time can I walk in and expect to be served?

  • 12:15:53

    GILCHRISTI think about 10 minutes is probably a pretty good gauge. If you're upfront with me and say, hey I want to get food real quick. I'm going to tell you, our kitchen is about to close, let's send an order really quickly, or what have you. I think probably the biggest issue I see is with last call. I think if you're at a bar and you're trying to push back on a last call and, hey, just let me send an order in anyway. I'm not telling you no, because I don't want you here. It's a bigger hassled to deal with the legal repercussion of what that would mean.

  • 12:16:24

    NNAMDIStephanie, Andrea, does this also apply to a bar where I could walk in to a bar with 15 minutes to spare and expect a good drink?

  • 12:16:33

    TATEOSIANWell, different bars have different last call times. Some bars will do last call 30 minutes before they close. Some bars will do it 15 minutes. Some bars will do it five minutes. And sometimes that's not necessarily the bartenders call. Sometimes that's the management's call. And so it just depends. And it's best if you are walking into a bar five minutes before close, maybe don't get a full beer or don't ask for a full beer. If you want just, you know, a quick nip before heading home. That's something more reasonable, because we can reasonable expect you to finish your drink before we have to send you out.

  • 12:17:13


  • 12:17:15

    HULBERTAbsolutely, yeah, I mean, from personal experience The Tune is a late night bar. We do stay open till 2:00 A.M. and 3:00 A.M. on the weekend, so last call is a half hour, typically, before we close, just because it takes a little while to get everybody out. But I think, you know, just from -- to talk to the customers, you know, from a bartender's perspective, it is the law to be out. You know, it's not that I don't want you there, but it is the law at that point. And like Matthew said, you know, the repercussions are a lot worse, you know, at that point if we still have you in the bar drinking a drink. But just understand and be thoughtful of, you know, we're doing our job, and we're, you know, doing our best to serve you in a timely manner, again, but just be respectful of that time that we're trying to get you out of the bar.

  • 12:18:03

    NNAMDIHere's Michael in Alexandria, Virginia. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:07

    MICHAELHi. So I've been in the restaurant industry for, you know, about 15 years. And I've been managing. And throughout that time, you know, the biggest thing I taught my employees when it came to customer service is the customer isn't always right, but you want to make them feel right.

  • 12:18:28

    NNAMDIAnd how do you do that if the customer is wrong?

  • 12:18:32

    MICHAELWell, I mean, if the customer is just blatantly wrong, you know, the first thing is to like, you know, listen to them. You know, hear what they have to say, and, you know, if there anything we can actually do in that situation, you know, do it. And just make them feel good, you know, at the end of the day. So like I don't know -- you order a burger and we don't have honey mustard. You know, explain like that we don't have it, and, you know, if we do have time maybe go make for them. But, you know, it doesn't mean that they're always right.

  • 12:19:14

    NNAMDIYou try to make them right.

  • 12:19:15

    MICHAELPeople need to be reasonable. Yeah.

  • 12:19:17

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay. Thank you very much for your call. A lot of people are weighing in on the issue of tipping. We got an email from Jay from D.C. who says, I really hate the automated billing machine. Every time I've used one sadly the service was not good and the automatic tip was set to the second tier, 25 percent. I'm usually a good tipper. But I want to do it on my terms. I have been a server and I worked very hard to earn my tips. Handing me a machine and standing there while I have to change the tip really ruins the meal. And then here is Chris in Winchester, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:52

    CHRISHi, Kojo. I'm a working professional not in the restaurant business. But I was once upon a time a long time ago for 10 years. I was a server in many different restaurants. And I got to echo what your emailer just said that having a forced tip or a tip imposed upon me by someone else, it really irks me. I'm a great tipper when I get good service. I'm a good tipper when I get bad service. And I don't need somebody else to tell me what I need to be tipping. So I'd like your panel to weigh in on what they think about that.

  • 12:20:26

    NNAMDILaura Hayes, you recently looked in to tipping habits so talk about it.

  • 12:20:30

    HAYESI did. I think what some of our callers and emailers are referring to is it's common these days for when your receive your bill at a restaurant either on a tablet or even on a printed receipt, it will give you two or three options for you to select. I've been studying these over the past couple of months and I've seen options as low as 10 percent. I've seen options as high as 35 percent. But I have not seen a single example of this where you don't have an option to select other and then write in your own custom amount.

  • 12:21:04

    HAYESAnd what's interesting is when I was talking to a couple bar owners about this, you know, some were in favor of it because it kind of shows you. It gives you a guide like, hey, this is what the range in which you should be tipping. But I definitely understand from the customer standpoint that that can feel a little presumptuous. It's interesting to see how common these little guides are becoming. And, you know, you'd think they'd be helpful. If you've had three or four drinks, you don't have to do the math, but, yes, it is a delicate situation.

  • 12:21:35

    NNAMDICare to comment, Andrea?

  • 12:21:37

    TATEOSIANI don't see as many of the tablets in restaurants and bars in D.C. More so in coffee shops where you have to unselect or deselect the 25 percent and then write in your own. Uber operates much the same way as do other rideshare services. Well, something to remember is that it's not the server or barista or the bartender, who created this system. So leaving a lower tip than you would because you're upset at having, you know, that put right in front of your face that's not really fair to the person's, who's been serving you because they didn't have anything a choice in the system that's there. But, as Laura said, you do have the opportunity to write in something else. And if it's a little bit uncomfortable. I think that's just an unfortunate side effect of adding technology to a human interaction.

  • 12:22:39

    NNAMDIWell, since we just mentioned coffee shops, now, might be a good time to bring in Gjergj Dollani. Djergi is the Owner of the Cafe Chocolat. Gjergj, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:49

    GJERGJ DOLLANIThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:22:50

    NNAMDITipping in coffee shops used to be in a jar on the counter, but that's changing. What should we now know about tipping baristas?

  • 12:22:58

    DOLLANIThat's actually a great question. I think I read Laura's article and a couple of things actually just kind of -- from an operator standpoint just kind of struck me. There's two things. So the restaurant industry and I think the bar industry has been really really good at kind of shifting the cost of labor to consumers through tipping, right? Let me make like an example. So you go to a restaurant or a bar, you automatically assume you're going to have to tip about 10, 15, 20 percent, right? Because the bartender or the server doesn't make enough money so he needs the tips or she needs the tips. Whereas in coffee shops --

  • 12:23:42

    NNAMDIYou make at least minimum wage, $14 an hour in D.C.

  • 12:23:46

    DOLLANICorrect. Correct. Absolutely. Whereas in coffee shop you don't have that expectations. For example, it takes a lot of skill and it takes a long time to make you the perfect latte or the perfect, you know, cappuccino or espresso. But what happens is if that latte is let's say $3.75, what you do you just kind of leave the 25 cents and say, here's the tip, right?

  • 12:24:08


  • 12:24:09

    DOLLANIAnd it's just an acceptable behavior in a coffee shop of this setting.

  • 12:24:16

    NNAMDIWell, I think we can agree, coffee shops can be tough business. Orders tend to run under $10, and people will sit with their coffee for hours on their laptops. Perhaps that should figure in, as people consider tipping?

  • 12:24:29

    DOLLANII think it would. I think you should take into consideration, you know, how hard your barista works, how much skill it takes. And, again, it's a different type of industry, because when our customers come to our shops, they're in a hurry. They got a meeting to go to. They need stuff quick, done. So, there's a line and there's, you know, one or two baristas behind the bar, and they're cranking out coffees. And, you know, I think there should be a little bit of a consideration for that.

  • 12:24:56

    DOLLANINow, on my side, I mean, we're very lucky at Café Chocolat. You know, we have a very loyal customer base. And then, you know, they tip very well. But overall, I think from an industry perspective, I don't think the coffee industry kind of gets the same treatment, you know?

  • 12:25:14

    NNAMDIWell, what do you think about customers who get a drip coffee and a muffin, and they're not getting waited on, and the labor to get them that food is pretty minimal? Should customers still be expected to tip 20 percent?

  • 12:25:27

    DOLLANII mean, I think you should tip based on the service that you get, right. You can get bad service in a coffee shop. You can get great service in a coffee shop. So, I don't think there should be a standard as in, you know, hey, I need you guys to tip 20 percent. But I think, you know, if you're getting good service and you really like the work that the barista is providing you, I think you should just, you know, tip what you feel you should be tipping, you know.

  • 12:25:52

    DOLLANII mean, there was a case in point, I think, in Laura's article about beer, right. So, I think -- and Laura you can correct me -- but there was an example there, hey, you know, you're getting a beer for $3. Why don't you throw a $2 tip, right? So, if you look at the percentage value, I mean, you know, you look at a beer, right, your opening a beer with a can opener. I think, you know, in terms of it doesn't take a lot of time, it doesn't take a lot of effort, but the perception of tip value that you're supposed to get on that is a lot higher. Right?

  • 12:26:24

    DOLLANISo, you know, to go back to your example, Kojo, it just depends on, you know, what you feel the service that you're getting is. And I think that's what you should base your tip on.

  • 12:26:35


  • 12:26:35

    HAYESHi, Gjergj, how are you?

  • 12:26:37

    DOLLANIHi, Laura.

  • 12:26:37

    HAYESSee you later for a croissant, buddy. So, yeah, so I think that there are some parallels that could be drawn to, say, a casual or dive bar situation, where you are ordering maybe a 4 or $5 beer, and determining whether or not a dollars suffices as a tip. Things that I think you need to think about is, you know, are these comparable? So, in a bar, you know, what if you sit at the bar for an hour, and you have your $5 beer? What if the bartender goes through a whole bunch of technological troubleshooting to get your favorite sports game on the TV, so you can watch that live? What if they help you discover a new beer you've never heard of, and now it's your new favorite beer? Is that worth a dollar, or is that worth more?

  • 12:27:18

    HAYESAnd I guess my question back at Gjergj would be, are there comparable examples of that in a coffee shop, where a barista would be, you know, as engaged in service for a long period of time? Just like a bartender would, with a beer.

  • 12:27:32

    DOLLANIYeah, that's a great question, Laura. So, I'll actually go back to something that Stephanie said earlier in the show, you know, in terms of, you know, your seats are your real estate, right. At the end of the day, a coffee shop is a business. But, in a coffee shop -- and I think Kojo just mentioned this -- you know, a lot of people will come in. They'll basically just use it as their office. They'll come in. They'll get a drink. They'll sit there for, you know, one, two, three, four hours. And I'm not saying this is what happens every time, all the time. But it's kind of an understood or kind of accepted behavior, right. Hey, I'm going to go work at this coffee shop with a cup of drip coffee, right.

  • 12:28:09

    DOLLANISo, I think that's where you need to kind of have the similar consideration as a bar. You know, that seat is a business, right. If you're going to sit there for three, four hours, I think, you know, it's just good etiquette to just, you know, kind of give back to that store and not just kind of just take that space, right.

  • 12:28:34

    NNAMDIGjergj, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:28:36

    DOLLANIYou're very welcome. Thank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:28:37

    NNAMDIGjergj Dollani is the owner of Café Chocolat. You, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call. Leah tweeted at us: why do some fast casual servers demand 15 or 20 percent tips for carryout service? I find it rather greedy. Andrea?

  • 12:28:54

    TATEOSIANWell, I can't speak too much from personal experience about fast casual restaurants, and I don't know what that server's job actually looks like. If they're doing more behind the scenes than, you know, just bringing a carton of food and handing it to people, I don't know if there's a tip share with the back of the house. And I don't know if that employee is doing more. Unfortunately, I can't provide any more guidance on this one.

  • 12:29:29

    NNAMDIWell, that's fine. Stephanie, I know that when you're in a big group, it's easy to pull up an extra chair or two to a large table. But what should customers know about how restaurants are set up, and when it is not okay to be moving the furniture around?

  • 12:29:44

    HULBERTAbsolutely. Great question. We have this occur often. I think one of the biggest things is that people need to understand, you know, we have fire codes in restaurants. We also have the servers -- and the bartenders, for that matter -- need to be able to get around and do their job. And when you're impeding traffic, not only for other customers, but for us to do our job, it becomes an issue. Especially in a place, you know, that I work so small, it's narrow. You know, so just being wary, ask us first. That's the main thing.

  • 12:30:16

    HULBERTThere's a reason why chairs and tables are in the places that they are. So, just come up and ask us. It's really simple. You know, if you want to move furniture in your living room, that's totally fine, but, you know, this is our business. And come up and ask us, and we'll do the best that we can to accommodate you and let you know that maybe this table's a little bit better for you all to be at, not putting chairs, you know, in the middle of the aisle there for us. So, just ask. We're more than happy to help. You know, if there's one thing I can convey, ask us. We're good people.

  • 12:30:47

    NNAMDII'm setting up my own little mini restaurant in this corner over here, okay. (laugh) A lot of people want to weigh in on this, so here's Phil, in Maryland. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:57

    PHILThank you, Kojo, for taking the call. When I got into a restaurant, my wife and I, I usually get the name of the server, so that you can always address them by their name. And then before they usually ask anything, I say, my wife and I have a tradition, and that is that we'd like an interesting fact about you at the end of the meal. And that gets quite a response. And they'll actually remember you from years past because of that.

  • 12:31:29

    NNAMDIHow do you feel about sharing personal information about yourself, Matthew?

  • 12:31:33

    GILCHRISTI’m really quite open about it, actually. I mean, I consider myself an open book, and I'm in the business of talking to strangers. And being able to just share niceties about yourself, as a customer, or yourself as a server or a bartender, gives people the incentive to return back. And when you are recognized as a server or a customer, it means the world to that person.

  • 12:32:01

    NNAMDIAll right. On to Jake in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Jake, your turn.

  • 12:32:05

    JAKEHi. Thanks, Kojo. I just wanted to comment on the earlier segment about tipping based on how much time you spend at the restaurant, or how needy you are when you're there. It's not often reflected in the dollar amount of your bill, especially if you're taking three to four hours to occupy the space of a business. And I just want customers to take that into consideration when they're dining out.

  • 12:32:32

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. On to Michael in Alexandria, Virginia. Michael, your turn.

  • 12:32:38

    MICHAELSo, I'm calling because I just kind of completely disagree with, you know, the fact that restaurants, you know, even require customers to tip at all. And I know this is, you know, in complete disagreement with everybody, but, you know, I've been in the restaurant industry for years. And, you know, the fact of the matter is, like, most of the servers, most of the cooks and, you know, everybody isn't paid enough for their skill set. And the fact that we're putting it on the customers to complete that paycheck, you know, I don't think that's the right thing to do anymore.

  • 12:33:26

    NNAMDIOkay, Michael. Andrea, D.C. is an international hub. And in a lot of places, like in many countries in Europe, staff are paid good salaries and tipping is not a part of that culture, at all. Michael seems to be suggesting that that's what we should be doing here.

  • 12:33:43

    TATEOSIANWell, my question back to Michael would be, you've been in the restaurant industry for years. Do you own an establishment that does not permit tipping or that operates on a service fee?

  • 12:33:58


  • 12:33:59

    MICHAELWell, I don't own one, but I have managed several. And the thing is, is that, you know, I want to pay the employees, you know, what they deserve per hour, as opposed to them trying to, you know, earn these tips by putting on a show for their customers. Like I, you know, believe in serving them and providing hospitality and having great customer service, but the fact of the matter is, you know, most servers are paid less than $10 an hour. And then they have to, you know, basically, you know, throughout their shift, you know, hope for a tip at the end of the day. And sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn't.

  • 12:34:43


  • 12:34:44

    MICHAELYou know, in fine dining restaurants, you can definitely finish the night, you know, really well. And those fine dining servers are not servers that have just been, like, walking off the street, you know, just, you know, picking up trays. These are people who have trained for years and deserve to be paid, you know, an appropriate salary for the kind of service that they do provide. And, at the end of the day, I strongly feel that, you know, the restaurant owners who have the responsibility to appropriately pay and customers need to become more realistic in how much they're actually paying for their meal. Because...

  • 12:35:20

    NNAMDIOkay. Well, allow me to interrupt, because we're running out of time and we need to go to a break. Tipping is a longstanding tradition in the United States. For us to create a culture in which restaurant workers and bartenders are paid an appropriate minimum wage and, at the same time, for the customers who have been used to this habit of tipping for decades or centuries, it's going to take some time, isn't it?

  • 12:35:51

    TATEOSIANI believe so. Well, there are a few restaurateurs around the country who have attempted to make the switch to a no-tipping system, Danny Meyers being the most well-known of those. And, as you said, it's going to take time, if this is the direction.

  • 12:36:09

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Because I tip even when there's a service charge, especially if the server has been really efficient and polite. Even if there's a service charge, you have this kind of engrained desire to tip, because you've been doing it for such a long time. Laura?

  • 12:36:23

    HAYESYeah. But, for now, this is the system that we have, right. And this was certainly litigated for about a year during the 77 ballot initiative discussion. And it's now kind of on the national platform as part of the raise-the-wage act, which would also kind of get rid of that sub-minimum wage for tip workers. And, you know, I'd rather hear from people who do work for tips who are sitting next to me on their personal thoughts on this.

  • 12:36:50

    HAYESBut, I mean, I would like to see a world where there's both, where people are paid high salaries, because, again, these are career professionals who have educated themselves, go to conferences. They bring a lot to the table. But, yeah, I mean, for now, tipping is a system that we have, and it's going to take time to change to something else, where customers are going to have to make some adjustments, too, in terms of probably having to pay higher prices for their food.

  • 12:37:18

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about how to be a better customer in bars, restaurants, coffee shops. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:38:09

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how to be a better customer in bars and restaurants, and running out of time very rapidly. So, I'm going to go through a few topics pretty quickly. Politics in the service industry. Laura Hayes, you wrote that story about what happened at the National Cathedral when a barista addressed a customer who was wearing a Trump pin and said, it made her feel uncomfortable. Have you seen that there's an increase in politics creating conflict in bars and restaurants? And how should servers and bartenders handle it?

  • 12:38:45

    HAYESSure. One quick thing, I didn't write that story. I edited it, so I just want to give a shout out to the author, Chelsea Cirruzzo.

  • 12:38:51

    NNAMDIThat's true.

  • 12:38:52

    HAYESShe's great. And she actually broke that story that, thank God, picked up all over the place, because...

  • 12:38:56

    NNAMDISure did.

  • 12:38:57

    HAYES...this is what people want to be talking about. So, I think it is a deeply, deeply personal decision as, I think, a restaurant or bar worker, whether you want to kind of have your politics cross the counter. And, I think, what restaurants and bars need to do is really clearly communicate with their staff what the policies are and what kind of work culture you're in, and whether or not that's tolerated. Because as the woman who, you know, had some comments about a customer's Trump 2020 pin found out, you know, she lost her job. And, you know, the company says that's not why, but, you know, the timing is interesting.

  • 12:39:41

    HAYESSo, I think it's up to each individual restaurant, as a business, and then up to each individual service industry worker to decide, you know, how much they want to bring politics into their work life. And it's a question of, you know, can you exist today and think about anything other than the national political climate? You know, if you're just bubbling over with feelings, it can be hard to interface with the public.

  • 12:40:08

    NNAMDITune Inn Capitol Hill, how do you handle politics?

  • 12:40:10

    HAYESYeah, absolutely. We stay away from it. (laugh) Proximity, we're right there, but, you know, talking points, we stay away from it. You know, the Tune Inn, it's a Capitol Hill institution. It's been around forever, 70 years. And quite honestly most of the folks that you see coming into the Tune, they want to leave the politics and their work day at the door when they walk in. We talk sports. We talk, you know, other issues going on in the world. We stay away from politics.

  • 12:40:39

    HAYESAnd I think that's actually a draw to the Tune. People enjoy walking in and knowing that it's kind of a safe space, in that sense. You're not going to be judged. You know, you can have your own opinion, but you're still going to be served a cold beer, eat great food and have other great conversation.

  • 12:40:57

    NNAMDIMatthew, another age-old problem: customers hitting on wait staff and bartenders. Is it ever okay to hit on a bartender or server, and how do you deal with it? Well, just tell us the hotel room story.

  • 12:41:09

    GILCHRISTI think the answer to your first question is a hard no. I work at Brothers and Sisters at the LINE Hotel, and so we get a lot of people coming in and out who are staying in hotel rooms. There have been instances in the past where a guest has bought a room from me and offered me a room card, to go upstairs. I think what customers need to understand is nobody wants to put their job security at stake for whatever it may be that you're offering. Please don't touch your servers or bartenders in front of you. They'd prefer to avoid that, at large.

  • 12:41:46

    NNAMDIAlso, I need to ask about allergies and dietary preferences. How can customers communicate their dietary restrictions in a way that makes it easier for servers and kitchen staff, Andrea?

  • 12:41:59

    TATEOSIANSo, if someone has a life-threatening allergy, one of the -- I think there's a top eight of deadly allergies, food-borne allergies. The best thing to do is if you know you're going to go to a restaurant on a certain day, call in, make a reservation, and bring that up when you're making your reservation. Say, I have a raw garlic allergy, and I'm deathly allergic to any kind of gluten.

  • 12:42:30

    TATEOSIANThat way, the restaurant can even let you know at that moment, absolutely, we'll prepare something special for you. Or I'm so sorry, you know, we can't consider or we can't avoid cross-contamination, because that does take time. It takes time for a restaurant to sterilize absolutely everything and make a separate plate and get someone who hasn't touched any contaminants to bring that over to you. If you're walking into a restaurant, please bring up your allergies right at that moment. And they will do their best to accommodate you. But some places just don't have the systems in place to do so last minute.

  • 12:43:15

    NNAMDIMatthew, we've been talking about dining and drinking as adults here, but, let's face it, kids have to eat, too, and sometimes parents bring them to restaurants. What can parents do to make the experience easier for everyone?

  • 12:43:26

    GILCHRISTI think just communicating how open their children may be with different types of food. A lot of times, I'll approach a table with, here are your options for kids that we can provide, things that are a little easier. But also just being up front about, hey, they're okay with this kind of thing. I will tell you the answers as to what will meet their needs.

  • 12:43:46

    NNAMDIHow about, you know, it can be tough with kids in a place where people are expected to sit quietly at a table and use silverware properly. Are wait staff trained on how to best serve families, for example, getting food out quickly for the kid who's about to have a meltdown? (laugh)

  • 12:44:00

    GILCHRISTI think so, just in the practice of being a human. (laugh) I am the oldest of eight, myself, and raised a few of them. And so when I see small children at a table, I'm probably going to bring over extra napkins and be a little more attentive to them.

  • 12:44:17

    NNAMDIAndrea, I'd like to ask a bit about customers bringing in service animals to bars and restaurants. I know some beer gardens and porches allow dogs, but most indoor bars and restaurants can only accept service animals. What has been your experience dealing with service animals?

  • 12:44:31

    TATEOSIANSo, you have to, legally, accept anyone with a service animal. Legally, a manager or bartender can only ask: is that a service animal, and does it provide a service for you? And that's it. Under the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service animals are great. I love knowing that my guest has what they need, and that they feel that they can come out and enjoy a good time, just like anyone who doesn't require a service animal.

  • 12:45:06

    TATEOSIANBut something that I'm seeing that's a really unfortunate trend is people going online, and I know Laura wrote a piece about this, people going online, registering, you know, their pet Fido as their service animal falsely, and then putting a little vest on and bringing them outside. That puts people at risk. That puts the establishments at risk. We've seen articles where, you know, alleged service animals attack people on planes, and it's a very entitled thing to do.

  • 12:45:42

    NNAMDIVery difficult area for service to have to deal with. We're almost out of time, Laura Hayes, but a few years ago, you actually got your hands on a Bingo sheet that the staff at one restaurant created. It made fun of how some customers behave during Restaurant Week, which is this week. Dish for us. What was on that card?

  • 12:46:00

    HAYES(laugh) Oh, my gosh. Yeah, so Restaurant Week is, I think, you know, both a boon for local restaurants, and also can be challenging, because you get a lot of diners who, you know, don't dine out as frequently as others.

  • 12:46:16

    NNAMDIAnd they don't understand that the prix fixe that you get at affordable prices means order as-is. (laugh)

  • 12:46:21

    HAYESCorrect. Yeah, and sometimes I think one of the squares on the Bingo board was that there's usually a couple that will come in and ask if they can split one Restaurant Week menu. (laugh) And, yeah, that was -- I can't say which restaurant handed that over to me, but I don't know how many times it's been copied and used, you know, in hushed corners of restaurants.

  • 12:46:43

    HAYESBut I'm trying to remember some other ones. Maybe you guys can chime in with your pet peeves.

  • 12:46:48

    NNAMDIWe only have 30 seconds left. Do i.t (laugh)

  • 12:46:51

    TATEOSIANWell, swapping entrees, something off the restaurant menu that they normally have. Can I have that at the Restaurant Week price?

  • 12:47:00

    HAYESTwo appetizers instead of a dessert.

  • 12:47:03

    GILCHRISTDeconstructing the meals, switching out options on it.

  • 12:47:06

    HAYESThinking about not tipping, because it's Restaurant Week, and it's a set menu.

  • 12:47:10

    NNAMDIAnd we can think of a lot more, but we don't have any more time to do that. Laura Hayes is the food editor at Washington City Paper. Andrea Tateosian is the president of the D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild. Matthew Gilchrist is the service manager at Brothers and Sisters in the LINE Hotel. And Stephanie Hulbert is a bartender and manager at the Tune Inn restaurant and bar. Thank you all for joining us.

  • 12:47:31

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up tomorrow, it's the stuff of local C.D. legend. Back in the '70s, Georgetown residents opposed a Metro stop for fear that the city's less desirable residents would find their way into their neighborhood. But is that really the full story? We explore the myths and realities behind the transit options in the historic neighborhood. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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