An Open Letter to Casual Dining Restaurant Managers from a Foodie Mom

I want to love your restaurant, so I have some friendly advice if you want me to keep coming back.

Dear restaurant managers,
Hi. I might have had dinner at your restaurant last night. Do you remember seeing me? I’m a middle-aged mom, married, with two young kids. I want to love your restaurant (and not just make restaurant copycat recipes at home), but I’ve been pretty shocked by what I saw and irritated by what your servers did. I used to wait tables in high school and college and I currently work in the food industry, so know that I’ve been there. I hope you’ll see this unsolicited advice as more than just complaints from a frustrated mom.

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Let’s be sanitary about it

Food safety, like cooking foods to the right temperature, is pretty important when it comes to preparing and serving food, but it’s the little things that can make a difference, too. Last night, your server went from washing down a table to serving me iced tea, and he held my glass from the top. I might as well have kissed that dirty towel he used for cleaning. I distinctly remember being told not to use an “eagle claw” grip on glasses as I transferred them from my serving tray to the dining table. Please teach your servers the basics about keeping their germs to themselves (this includes keeping their thumb out of my pesto sauce). My kids won’t necessarily notice these small indiscretions, but it sure will bum them (and me!) out if they catch the flu or get a cold.

Know the menu

Back in my day, we had to take a menu test before we could be set loose on the floor. We also got to taste foods so we could explain menu items and answer questions. I realize you have a high turnover rate and low margins, but your waitstaff has to be able to answer basic questions about the food that they serve not only for my sake, but for the sake of my littles, who often have strong likes and dislikes about certain ingredients and flavors.  Even if you aren’t doing a server tasting every night, please make a point to schedule regular training workshops and tasting sessions for your employees. (Psst: Their knowledge will transfer to their tips!)

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Please be pleasant

I come to your restaurant to escape the shackles of meal planning, prep and cleanup. I want to relax and enjoy time with my family. That’s hard to do if your lead server is scowling because he’s been asked to roll 100 sets of silverware in napkins before he can leave at the end of the shift. Please explain to your staffers that they work in the hospitality industry, so being hospitable really is an important part of their job. Even your youngest customers can feel the difference between waitstaff with a helpful, friendly attitude and those that just want to clock out and hit the road.

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Add some nutrition to your meals

I need to make another disclosure: I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist. And I wonder, why can’t you include a healthy-ish veggie side, especially with kids’ meals? It’s chicken strips and fries, grilled cheese and fries, hamburger and fries (you get the picture). I would happily pay $1 more for some carrot sticks and broccoli florets with dip on my kids’ plates. Or at least give us the option. Believe it or not, my kids will eat veggies if they’re on their plate; some fruit would go a long way to make them happier, too. The same goes for adult meals. If I think you’re serving balanced meals, I’m more likely to stop at your restaurant more often.

When we’re done, we’re ready to go. Like, really ready.

I realize that your young staff might not be super familiar with the ways of kiddos, so let me lay it out for you: We waited to be seated, we waited to order and we waited for our food. While that’s totally expected, it’s a lot of waiting for anyone that has a hard time keeping themselves seated for more than two minutes. If we need to wait (and wait) for our check to come after we’re done eating, that dining experience can go from great to horrible within a matter of minutes if a meltdown ensues. Short of a meltdown, most kids’ favorite thing to do while waiting for the check is to get up from the table (and in the way of your servers and other customers). Please help me keep that from happening and get us our check in a timely fashion.
Young restaurant manager, I know the challenges you face with high turnover and employees that are new to the workforce, but there’s lots of room for improvement. You see, I’m going to tell my mom friends about our experience at your restaurant during the next PTA meeting and what I say is going to influence the likelihood of them patronizing your business, too. Please help me say something great.

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Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.