By: Kim Willsher
The Guardian, July 26, 2012
The Parisian “garçon” with his brasserie apron and brusque attitude already gets a bad press in France and abroad.
Now French journalists have stuck the knife in further by revealing the wiles and tricks employed by staff of Gallic eateries to make diners part with their cash.
In an article headlined: “Seven serving tips to increase the bill”, the website Rue89 claims the waiter or waitress who slaps a free bowl of peanuts on the table or asks: “Still or sparkling water?” is – quelle surprise – probably after your money.
Ever wondered why you have been given a draughty table next to the door, window or on the terrace in a deserted restaurant? Rue89 says it is probably to make the place look busy and attract more customers.
Once seated, the “closed” question: “An apéritif, or straight on to the wine?” makes it more difficult for customers to ask for a jug of free water on which there is no profit margin. Listing wines in a certain order encourages diners to order an expensive bottle; thus the waitress who says: “Sauvignon, chardonnay, chablis?” is banking on the customer not remembering the first two and not wanting to ask her to repeat the question, says the report. It adds that servers who keep filling your glass with wine or sparkling water are almost certainly trying to sell another bottle.
Alexia, a waitress in a “chic brasserie”, told the website: “I serve the water regularly so the bottle is finished bang in the middle of the meal, then I suggest another bottle. Almost always, the customer orders.”
Another trick of the restaurant trade, says the report, is serving salty snacks with pre-meal drinks to make customers thirsty and serving the occasional glass “on the house” to detain diners at the table if business is slack. Once the main course is finished, clearing the plates and glasses quickly may make the customer feel obliged to order more. Likewise, plonking the desert menu on the table is more successful than reeling off a list of puddings, it found.
"You would think it wouldn’t make much difference, but in fact it’s key," Romain, a waiter, told Rue89.
Finally, a server with their eye on a good tip will deliver the bill with an “everything OK?” and, if paid in cash, will return lots of small change that is easier left than a banknote.
Aurélie Viry, a teacher with AV-Conseil, which offers catering and hostelry courses, says serving is not just about taking orders and delivering plates.
"Everything that can be sold means more profits. It’s all about how it’s proposed. We’re not forcing the customer, who can always say no," Viry says.