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Do waiters really want me to order coffee/dessert?

I am always curious about why I might feel different body language at the end of the meal versus during the course of a meal, so look to CH for some data.

In a crowded resto and we are 75-80 minutes into our meal and the entree dishes are cleared. The waiter, who has been fantastic and upbeat as he explained the specials earlier in the evening seems reluctant, almost, to offer the dessert menus and ask for coffee, and sheepishly does both.

Does the waiter wish to have us sit there for 30-40 minutes with a $8 dessert and $4 coffee/tea or does he want to turn the table hoping for the extra seating for the evening and have another group order the $20+ entrees?


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  1. I believe the telling word in your post was 'crowded' and it also depends on the restaurant. Some wait staff are encouraged to push the $6-10 desserts and the expensive cappucinos. For a party of four, this can add more heft to the check and their tip. And let's not forget after dinner drinks.

    On the other hand, if the restaurant is really backed up and a table has been dawdling for awhile, management might encourage the wait staff to clear that table so someone else's reservation can be honored.

    One way or the other, I feel it's up to the individual diner to order dessert and coffee. I personally don't care if the waiter/ess encourages me or not.

    1. If it's busy, they want to turn the table and sell more entrees and wine.

      If its slow, they want you to stay and spend as much as you can.

      They don't want you to order tea. (They all seem peevish about tea somehow.)

      I agree with Flynn, get what you want out of the experience, that's why you're there. They might discourage dessert if they don't like what they have to offer, but hopefully that's a rare situation.

      7 Replies
      1. re: babette feasts

        read this for perhaps a laugh and an explanation as to why no waiter enjoys serving tea.


        1. re: pinstripeprincess

          Ha- for any server, tea is a big PITA! But as a customer, I order it b/c I like tea, and because you know what- it's just a cup of tea ~ ~ not that big a deal. I do get irritated when the resto has no honey for the tea, sugar just isn't the same when you are used to honey.

          Also, BTW- a lot of chains give their servers commissions and special bonuses/competitions (like selling the most desserts or glasses of wine in a week). So sometimes, even if it's busy they do want you to order it. I think they approach you with standoffish body language because so many people are so hesitant about ordering dessert. I saw a comedian recently that related ordering dessert to sex, comments like "I'll do it if you do it" and "oooh - we're so bad, but it feels so good..." Which you really do overhear in a restaurant. It was pretty funny.

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            priceless waiter story. the tea-drinking schluck is a reality in the biz, but the stereotype, like most stereotypes, doesn't always (or even usually) hold true.

            i am reminded that my dear, ancient grandma, bless her simple soul, would carry green tea packets in her handbag when we'd take her out to eat, request green tea from overworked servers (before green tea was a common selection in restaurants), and when told the place didn't have green tea, would with satisfaction ask for a pot of hot water, produce her teabag, and brew her own. she would then thriftily seal her used tea bag in a plastic bag and return it to her handbag. once, despite grandma using her own teabag, the table was charged for "one hot tea," and to my mortification she proceeded to berate the poor hapless waitress who had brought out the requisite bowl of lemons, pot of honey, sugar bowl, and hot water (twice). afterward, my mother and father would make a great show of "checking the bill" at the end of dinner, and regardless of tea charge, would tell grandma that there was no charge for the tea.
            "well, this is a nice place, not like that *** restaurant." she would say

            i like tea but know it is a royal pain for servers so i order coffee when i'm at a busy place. but if it isn't super busy, i order tea. i always tip based on service in addition to the price of the bill.

            1. re: pinstripeprincess

              I loved that! Thanks princess, def had some similar experiences. How about when customers bring their own tea bags and ask for a cup of hot water.
              Personally, as a server I am happy if the customers are happy. I am there to serve them and make their dining experience pleasurable. It's not about the $7. extra for a dessert on a check, or about turning over the table.
              The biz is a marathon, not a sprint. Happy customers will come back happy customers.
              My fave kind to wait on :)

            2. re: babette feasts

              Being a former server, I agree with what was said above. Busy = i want you to leave. Slow = stay and add a few bucks to my tip. With that said, I've never felt the slightest bit bad about ordering dessert if i want it regardless if the restaurant is busy. when I'm dining out, your long wait is not my problem.

              I cracked up on the tea thing! Don't know why and I'm speaking in extreme generalizations here, but getting a cup of tea was a pain the neck (so many stupid little things to carry) and the tea-orderers had a way of being a pain in the neck.

              1. re: amyvc

                I think the problem is the way both sides react to the process. Waitstaff very often has a hard time not showing thier annoyance while still at the table when tea is requested, which upsets the diner, which makes the diner more a pain in the neck, which makes the waitstaff more annoyed, etc.

                I don't drink coffee. At the end of a meal I enjoy a cup of tea, it makes me feel calm, happy, satisfied and emotionally fulfilled. This is likely to make my tip more. However, when I am only offered coffee, when eyes are rolled when I ask for tea, when the server brings coffee immeidately but I have to wait 20 minutes for tea, meaning that my friends or SO will be well finished before I can even brew my tea, I am not calm, happy, satisfed or emotionally fulfilled.

                If I am defensive in ordering my tea, that will make the server more defensive. If they react negatively to my ordering tea, that will make me react more negatively to thier actions. It's not what happens to you, it is how you react to what happens to you that counts.

                Ok, I realize this is totally off the OP. Sorry.

                1. re: bonmann

                  Agreed. I'm glad i'm not a tea drinker because servers definitely react that way. I agree that you should be able to order and recieve your tea without feeling as if you are asking the server to do rocket science. It definitely speaks to the service if they let you know they're annoyed. I'm pretty direct when it's an undeserved injustice, so I'd probably just call them out with "Oh, is that annoying to you to have to bring me tea?" I know it's not fun, but in this case, I think it's well-deserved.

            3. it's bad form if a waiter's body language is so noticeably stressed. that being said, in the scenario you described, he's looking to turn the table, and no, does not want you dawdling for 40 more minutes for an extra $16 on your check. countless times i've been that manager breathing down a server's neck and hissing, "we need that table NOW."

              however, you shouldn't feel like you "shouldn't" have dessert if you'd like it. that's the restaurant's problem, not yours.

              1. with all that being said, I definitely notice the difference when wait staff are trying to "push" you out of a table as opposed to leaving you to linger over coffee and dessert. they make you feel rushed and that may sometimes spoil the whole experience at a restaurant. It definitely reflects in the amount of tip I give and definitely towards a return visit or even a recommendation.

                1. I am laughing at the tea thing b/c more than one place I worked as a server long ago, I would have people order hot water, lemon, honey, etc, and bring their own tea bag. Now mind you this was not some special tea...just something garden variety litpn or herbal tea. so cheap it kills me. I swear this happened a handful of times at various places

                  1. I worked in a restaurant where we were supposed to push coffee, dessert etc. to get the check as high as possible. Portions were big though, so often the customers would act as if servers were crazy, or get irritated, if dessert was suggested. Or they'd get into "I'll get it if you get it" arguments with each other while the server hovers around not sure whether to chime in or leave them alone for awhile. In general, it's an uncomfortable time for servers because they don't want too pushy or look as if they are trying to get them out the door.

                    1. What about the people who order hot water, or hot water with lemon- what is with that?! I'm not talking the chintzy people who order hot water and pull some scruffy tea bag out of their purse, these are people that just want plain hot water in a cup to drink? Can someone explain? My grandparents used to do that and I always thought it was strange.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: kloomis

                        Hot lemon water is considered by some as a good digestive drink to have after dinner. Whether this is true or not i do not know but that is why many order hot water with lemon.

                        1. re: kloomis

                          Nothing strange about it. Sometimes it's just freezing cold outside, and I want hot water instead of ice cold. I have goosebumps, and I want something quick to warm me up. If they could whip up some hot cocoa, that would be great, too, although that would also destroy my appetite before the meal.

                        2. Stop charging extortionate prices for a simple beverage. I didn't come to your joint to savor the Pepsi. Did you squeeze that OJ? Did you hand-blend that cola syrup with seltzer? No? then why charge $1 or more for something that costs 99 cents a liter and you only had to crack the lid and pour? A paper cup and Ice may cost a nickel. So we're up to 20 cents cost for the pop, is 400% profit enough for you? Apparently not! and the Tea rant is absurd. Like fancy coffee drinks don't require a whole counter-ful of coffeemakers, syrups and garnishes? The problem is, Americans can't make a simple cup of tea because they can't deliver the water hot enough. All tea drinkers want is really hot water and a teabag.

                          The waiter was torn between moving you out and getting raked for not mouthing the mandatory coffee-dessert-drink offer. Never eat at an Applebees, the sales script is just too intrusive on your meal.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: feastygirl

                            Let's see... if you're in a place with a soda gun behind the bar (most places) you're paying for the syrup, the water, the gas, the bartender's time, some portion of the repairs on the equipment, part of the glass, the dishwasher's time, the soap and water and sanitiser required to make the glass clean, straws, stupid paper coasters, a bit of the waiter or busboy's salary (such as it is), a teeny bit of the cooks', hosts', managers', etc. salaries, a bit of the rent and bills on the building. If you've got a soda machine (a la Burger King) back in the cold line or the waiter prep area you also have the machine rent.

                            Of course it's marked up. I can get fresh shrimp for $3 a pound and a bottle of cocktail sauce for $1 at 99 Ranch, but a plate of half a pound of shrimp cocktail in a sit-down restaurant is going to cost me $7 or more.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              Very true, we sometimes forget about all the fixed costs that have to be recovered. I'll add the laundry charges for the tablecloth, printing on the menu from which you choose your drink, and a portion of the condiments on the table, just in case.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                ha! you are so right-- dont forget about laundry! then there's filing fees, lq license, lawyer, accountant, bookeeper, cleaning crew, security personnel, office supplies, insurance, phone, fax, voicemail, website, prof. membership, equipt servicing, lightbulbs, advertising, coupons, promotions, awning, hardware, gas (natural & petrol). . . even the tiniest businesses need to have most or all of these things-- that's why the little mom & pop shop has to charge the cust. proportionately more $ than McDonalds-- but i hear their food is better.
                                but those dumb coasters are usually advertising beer and are paid for by the beer co.

                              2. re: feastygirl

                                feastygirl, welcome to chowhound and your first post.

                                I find the best way of not paying what you feel are high prices for soda is just not order it. Pretty simple. Water is still free and that's what i do. The last time I saw $1 for soda was probably 10 years ago, so your getting a pretty good deal. The normal price I see is $4 and Mrs Jfood orders all the time.

                                With respect to the tea, Mrs Jfood is a tea drinker and sometimes I partake in some lemon or chamomile. We do want more than some hot water and a tea bag. You need to add sweetener, or honey plus milk, cream or skimmed milk. We really like when there are those long toothpicky thinks with crystallized sugar on them.

                                With respect to Applebees' we'll take your word for it, i've never been there.

                              3. Maybe the waitstaff would prefer to turn the table over but any Chef de Cuisine worth their weight wants the Diner to experience the entire cycle of their well thought out menu....all the way to the closure of the pallet.

                                Why do you think they engage celebrated Pastry Chef's?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: MSK

                                  Maybe, in the most high end of places that feature multi-course tasting menus. But most people in the business don't romanticize every meal like you suggest. Yes, good chefs (and owners, servers, line cooks, managers) care and want everyone to have a good experience, but in the middle of service, the issue isn't closure of the palate. If your host has guests waiting to sit down, especially if they had reservations that need to be honored, seating guests is a bigger priority for the restaurant as a whole than the entire cycle of the menu. Ultimately, a restaurant is a business and needs to function as such.

                                  1. re: nc213

                                    I agree, I am referring to a fine dining experience where meals tend to last longer and the table turnovers are fewer.

                                    I guess what brought the issue to mind was the controversy a few months ago in SF where chefs were objecting to the whole concept of outside Wine brought in by patrons. It was not about the $$ since corkage fees do something to offset that loss of revenue. Instead, they felt that they put a lot of energy in to their wine list. Their menus were well thought out and offered choices on their own list that were deliberately matched and paired with their dishes (often, the suggested wine is listed alongside the entree).

                                    Although I'm still not sure I agree with mindset, it started me thinking that a good eating establishment and Chef really have a master plan for their guests’ entire experience...... from start to finish. They take every course into consideration.

                                    Having waited tables for 9 years (many years back) and also been the victim of a delayed reservation as our intended table lingers over coffee, I do appreciate the dollar value of every seat in the house.

                                2. I read that hilarious "waiters' rant" on tea...it was hilarious I ahve to say, i've never thought of it that way! I too like tea after my meal, but all they have to do is ask which one .... I'm not picky it's one of three that I like and I usually tell them immediately anyways....

                                  I have to admit though (and this is for all the ranting waiters and waitresses)...you bringing the tea caddy for me makes me feel extra special and it is very much appreciated.....so thank you in advance :)

                                  1. Servers hate tea, coffee, and dessert service after the meal for the reasons above, but management loves selling dessert, tea, and coffee, because of the high profit margin.

                                    1. seriously folks, when people would order coffee or hot tea from me i would immediately ask "do you take cream & sugar, sir?" getting an immediate yes, no, or "just sugar, please" simplified my life and made for a lot less schlepping of hot-bev paraphenalia, even though some people still want the works. your servers could make thier lives easier and your dining experience more pleasant if they'd just ask a few pertinent and courteous questions.

                                      1. Yes, they do want you to order coffee and Dessert, not hot tea! Tonight I had two hot tea drinkers and they were both the most difficult and wierd tables of the night. I like when tables get dessert because I think dessert is good!. I once worked for an old Sicilian guy in CA and he told me that a meal without dessert was like sex without an orgasm. It has made me laugh ever since. Please do not order regular coffee when the rest of your table gets decaf. It is always easy to give the regular guy decaf but you can never give regular to the decaf. It could kill him!

                                        1. I wait tables in a higher end bistro. I want you to order dessert and an after dinner drink, preferably a $25 single malt scotch, or aged port, but whatever. I'd rather make you a pot of the wonderful tea that we offer, which takes no time, than a cappuccino. Tea is easy, and whether it's coffee, tea, espresso, etc..., it all costs the same. I work with an incredibly talented pastry chef, and I think you'd be floored by the flavors and quality of her desserts. It's part of the experience and I don't want you to miss it. The last courses of a meal are just as important as the first. It's wonderful of you to be concerned for the guests who might be waiting if the reservations are backed up. You clearly have more class than others I've served in the past. So I'll tell you now what I'd tell you if you asked if I needed the table soon...."just relax and enjoy your tea and dessert".

                                          1. Thanks everyone for the input and perspectives, including the waiterrant link. No, I had no idea it was there when I wrote the OP.

                                            I try to avoid regular coffee after three and have just taken my last sip for the day. I have recently switched to mint tea when I order after dinner as I have experienced the decaf-to-caf mixup a few times too often. And I like the way the mint feels on the drive home.

                                            The Jfoods always order tea with milk and make the assumption that some form of sugar or sweetener is normal. I would say that 50% of the time we need to ask the waiter to make a second run because the milk is forgotten. Suggestion #1 is listen and tell the runner to make sure the milk arrives. I like it sweet and like the brown sugar free forms the best. Makes it feel a little more special than the "sugar in the raw" package. Suggestion #2 tell the owner to invest in a couple of sugar bowls and tongs so people do not have to rip open the packets. Likewise, when a cup of hot water shows up with a tea bag on the side it sorta ruins the mood. I just ate a $15 appetizer, a $30 entree, ordered an $8 dessert and the tea shows up like I am eating in a bagel shop in Boca. I think for $4-6 I deserve a tea pot with the tea bag steeping. Suggestion #3 - invest in a couple of tea pots. Not the metal type in a Chinese resto, but stoneware or ceramic or porcelain. My favorite resto in my town has several teapot/cup combos in which the pot sits atop the cup. I love these things.

                                            I like the post in which the server said (s)he like to push the desserts because (s)he likes them. Normally the busboy brings the menu and plops them on the table. To the servers, remember that the check is arriving in a few minutes and the last touch-point between you and the custo may lead to a higher tip. Make use of those moments and engage. Instead of "Does anyone want dessert?" try "If anyone is interested in dessert I recommend the blah blah for chocolate lovers, or the blah blah if you would like something light." Suggestion #4 - Engage to the end of the meal. That makes a happy custo.

                                            Suggestion #5 - Do not act like either party in the Waiterrant article.

                                            1. glad somebody remarked on the restaurant's overheads. Often overlooked by customers when they exclaim $2 for a soda! or why can't I have double vegetables instead of mashed potatoes (cos they cost more).