I wanted to write about food service.

It could be said that we’ve shifted from an industrial society to a service oriented one, however, when I brought up the question of service around Portland, I found that the caliber of what most people had to say about food service had the depth of your average Yelp review.  It’s the worst experiences that are often the most memorable, right?
The same sentiment can sometimes be felt on the side of the wait-staff, too. A rude customer can ruin a waiter’s day. I interviewed those in food service.


Food service is a demanding, fast-paced job, and one that not everyone can do. One waiter prefers to operate anonymously. He has found that in his work that being asked for his name usually foretells a less than positive interaction with his customer. “Someone might ask for my name, not return their name, and then use my name in a demanding way. ‘(Johnny) I need bread. (Johnny) more water.’” the server, who has also chosen to remain anonymous for this article, said. “It is some sort of power move”.
Now, when someone asks for his name, he gives them a pre-considered response, saying that he tends not to give his name out because it creates an unequal relationship, and promising to try to remember their customer’s faces, preferences, and important dates instead. “I’m bad at remembering names, anyway,” the North Portland server said. Though he did say that he has given his name out to those whom he felt were a “good person”.
These people are professionals. Just remember that these professionals are people, too.
Jennifer Price is a server at Tucci, a local family owned Italian restaurant. In speaking with her I could tell that she was good at what she did. She mentioned that in the variety of establishments she’s worked at she is usually the most-often requested waiter or waitress. “Some customers would even call in to ask if I was working that night, and if I wasn’t then they would come in the next night so that I could serve them,” she said over the phone. “The thing was though, those customers might not have been particularly friendly to me, nor would they tip more. But they wanted me to be the one that served them.”
Jennifer also wanted it to be known that she thought the world about Tucci’s Restaurant and that it was the best Italian food outside of Italy. She has worked at other “fine dining” places and she was proud of the local ingredients and environment of the family owned restaurant. Pride was a word that she used a few times— if someone takes pride in the work that they do, they are likely to do it with more energy and clarity.
I asked Jennifer a few questions about her experiences with customers.

What do you wish you would be asked about more often?
 Jennifer: I wish diners would ask me more about the food that we serve and appreciate the fact that we put an emphasis on using the best local produce and meats grown and raised by Pacific Northwest farmers and ranchers ~ I also wish diners would ask more about wine instead of getting the same old bottle every time. Most people stay within their comfort zone, and I think it’s important to share our knowledge and educate them in a fun yet professional style.

What can a diner do to make a servers life a little easier?

Jennifer: Customers can use their common courtesy and common sense. A big one to remember: practice cell phone etiquette. Leave the conversation at the front door.
Don’t flag two different people down to request the same item.
Don’t call your server over and say that you are ready to place your order when you’re not. That’s happening more and more, and I think it’s related to increasing cell-phone use.

What’s your worst horror story, in food service?
Jennifer: My worst horror story was waiting on Richard Simmons.


I like to talk about my dining experiences to my friends. I make recommendations about where to go and where not to go. I try to become familiar with new trends, so that I can point people towards the experiences I think they’d most prefer.
For instance, our restaurants are getting noisier and noisier, and I believe that supposed to be the point. We are experiencing a surge of the ‘social, community buzz’ era and the layout of the new restaurants even seem to encourage that. But sometimes I would prefer silence and to be able to talk to the person whom I came with. Such quiet, reserved places are getting harder to find such places nowadays.
When I first enter a restaurant I’ll scan around so that I can decide where I’d most like to sit. It’s important to do this quick— the host or hostess sometimes seats you without asking, and it feels rude to have to tell them that actually, you’d prefer to sit over there where it’s quieter, please and thank you.

As a patron I’d like to be able to trust that my server will be accommodating without judgment. I have good reasons for asking to sit where I want to sit, and I’m sure it’s better for everyone that I have an enjoyable and easy experience. I’m likely to return to a place if I do. I went to a place with a big group and their servers had to be reminded a few times to bring out the bread and water at the beginning of the meal and the checks at the end of the meal. Of course our orders were screwed up. I feel like it was a communication issue: the wait staff was trying to close and would often walk right by without so much as a glance in our direction, as though they were avoiding having to do the extra work that we might’ve asked them to do. I felt so ignored eventually took to getting up to request things on behalf of our table. Needless to say, I haven’t dared recommend that place since.
Note to restaurants: you really can lose business if the service is bad. And in Portland, the service is important and often, it’s really bad.
A vegetarian diner who wished to remain anonymous said. “I find that the server might drop off a menu and leave, then reappear and launch into specials without my ever feeling like there was an appropriate moment to mention that I’m vegetarian.” Conrad noted that it wasn’t a big deal, but said that “If I go somewhere nice to eat, I almost always want a pleasant, relaxed experience… I like it better if a waiter takes the time to ask us if we had any questions about the menu before they start launching into things.”
As a diner, it’s the little things that make you feel important. I take pride in noticing such things.

My favorite dishes around town:

“Dynamite” at a Mio Sushi around town.
The Spicy Salami, Mama Lil’s Peppers, Goat Cheese and Honey pizza from Life of Pie, the new pizza joint on Mississippi.
Oh, and the beef brisket from Podnah’s BBQ on Killingsworth, though it’s so hard to pick just one thing there that you may as well get the Pit Boss and taste everything.

My favorite wait-staff around town:

 Has to be Mao from Sivalai Thai on Burnside. He is so delightful and attentive, and is even empowered to sometimes bring out some tea or mango rice as a gift for the customers. He’s got a rascally side, too. Go visit him and bring a date.

S E R V E R  /   D I N E R  is an ongoing series that will be featured on Chit Chat Chew, the new online portal for whining and dining. If you have an question, comment, or story related to service as a diner or a patron, you can email the author of this column at

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