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Ordering coffee after dinner - what did we do wrong?

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This happened in four of the eight places we ate out on our recent US trip, so wondered if Chowhounders could set us right.

We like coffee after dinner. In the UK, you order dessert and then when the waiter/ waitress comes to take your plate from dessert, he or she asks if you would like coffee. Sometimes you are asked if you would like coffee when the dessert order is taken, and then we always emphasise, yes, but after dessert. Either way, we get coffee.

Our first dinner, we ordered dessert, there was no offer or mention of coffee when the order was taken and then the check arrived while we were still eating dessert. On that occasion, we just went elsewhere for coffee, but when it happened again (and again!) we asked for coffee and a new check. In these cases, the waiter/waitress seemed quite surprised. We on the other hand were surprised when not offered coffee - surely it must be a high margin item for restaurants?

This happened in high end and less high end places. So, what's the magic time to order coffee?

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  1. Typically, coffee/tea are ordered and served with dessert, not after.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lexismore

      At :27, Mrs. Constanza sums it up.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dyDli...

    2. Sometimes I get strange looks when I order coffee with my entrée.

      1 Reply
      1. re: treb

        not so strange in the south, in my experience, but strange everywhere else. maybe not midwest? I don't know.

      2. Yes, in the U.S. the time to ask for coffee is when you order dessert. They probably assumed that if you didn't order during dessert you didn't want any.

        1. Not surprised that casual/low end places did not ask if you wanted coffee with or after your dessert, or that the check was dropped off while you were still eating. Agree with the others that say the time to ask is when ordering dessert, even if it is not offered by the server.

          Higher end/fine dining establishments are usually good about asking if there is anything else that you would like before presenting the check, especially if service is more on the formal side.

          1. I find it odd that there were no offers of coffee to you at all! We usually order coffee at the time that dessert is ordered, and they come together.
            Sometimes, DH and I just want coffee, so we order that when we turn down dessert.
            Coffee is usually a high profit item, so it's odd that you experienced so much of that!

            1. Yes, coffee is typically served right after the main dish, with or without dessert. That said, the higher end places should have asked you if there was anything else that you wanted before giving you the check.

              And nice to see you back on the WFD thread!

              1. What you are experiencing, I believe, is just inept service. A considerate and motivated waiter(waitress) should always ask is there anything else they can bring you, and not present the check until it is requested. I agree with Ponder99 on that. ( If the place is crawling with diners and people are waiting for a table, perhaps presenting the check unrequested is a sign for you to clear out.

                I thing you are seeing one aspect of a general decline is what we used to call manners. For example, how many phone calls are you getting now from complete strangers (really they are missing something) who will ask " May I speak to J, etc" rather than identifying themselves and then asking to speak to someone. (Last time that happened I replied that J. died this AM, that he opened a can of Dinty Moore stew and it had a bomb in it and blew him to smithereens. The sad part was that the can was so destroyed we couldn't find enough even to recycle, and worse yet, J. was so blown up we couldn't separate his parts from the stew and had nothing to eat for lunch. Please call again.)

                I think you get the point.

                1. Thanks everyone, very helpful for the future. Just to say, however, that the reason this stood out for us (aside from the obvious lack of coffee) was that overall, we had really friendly and attentive service throughout. And no two hour time slots (far too prevalent in London).

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Londonlinda

                    Even without a "timed table" our culture is less of a linger for a long time at dinner and most restaurants would much rather you leave and they can seat a new table than to have you occupy the space longer over coffee....they would rather your check was a few dollars less and the table was free or they could go home.

                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Completely agree that we do not like to linger. I have better things to do that continue to sit at a restaurant table after finishing my meal. I appreciate the bill being offered to me and do not get offended if it is presented before I ask for it.

                      To that end, when traveling outside the US, I recognize that the custom is the different. The part about dining out abroad that I dislike the most is trying to get the attention of wait staff to tell them I am ready to settle the bill and leave. If we are sitting with nothing but water glasses and the dishes have been cleared, we just want to leave, not continue to take your table for an indefinite amount of time.

                      1. re: Ponder99

                        The other side of the coin is exactly what I dislike most about dining in America. Having the bill delivered to you seems pushy and entirely inhospitable.

                        Actually, I tell a lie.

                        That isnt what I dislike most about dining in America. What I actually dislike most are servers constantly appearing at the table - asking "how are things", taking away the occasional piece of crockery, etc. It's intrusive. To my mind, good service happens without you really noticing that it's happening - but I appreciate the American style of restaurant service/experince is very, very different from our style in Europe.

                        1. re: Harters

                          This practice is by no means unknown in the UK! The only time I have been tempted to post a really bad review of a restaurant is one near us which is (quel surprise!), no longer in business, where the waiting staff seemed to wait until someone was in the middle of a really good anecdote, and then crash through to remove a plate, often only just as the person eating had finished. The food was actually very good, but all I can remember was this really inept service, Eating out for me is about the conversation and ambience as much as the food. I have no problem with being asked if everything is ok once after the food arrives, but a subtle look at the body language should say, if one person is talking, and the other person/people leaning in and listening, then come back a bit later to ask.
                          I should say, I didn't post the review, but they closed down anyway.

                          1. re: Harters

                            I agree by the way with singlemalt earlier -- linda's account suggests inept service. I eat out a good deal in US restaurants; it's entirely reasonable to expect to be offered coffee, much as linda described for the UK, as well as find it easy to request coffee at random times. I like coffee at the very end, and have also noticed some falling off of this point of service in the US.

                            Harters's comment on intrusive pro-forma service resonates with public discussions of the same issue here in the US. This is NOT some longtime tradition, but a modern trend. Of all quirks people cite in US restaurant service today, surely the worst is servers interrupting obvious, intimate conversation to moronically ask "is everything OK?"

                            It's the precise opposite of what I call European-style service, which incidentally I first experienced in London 40 years ago, and last at a very modest California Vietnamese restaurant yesterday. That style of service not only stays away when not needed, but _notices_ when, for instance, a diner seems to need a utensil, or a water refill; and appears on the spot with the needed item, without being summoned.

                            Got insight into the "how are things?" nonsense when eating at a bar counter recently and discussing it with the server there. He remarked that it's often a corporate policy, drummed into employees until they do it unthinkingly. This leads me to speculate on potential "countermeasures" -- maybe a prepared place card, printed with something like "Kindly don't interrupt conversations just to ask if everything is OK."

                    2. You should ask for coffee when the dessert order is taken, whether you want dessert or not. But Americans are not in sync with Europeans on the subject. Many of us want coffee with the meal, which is not usual elsewhere.

                      1. in the US, coffee is ordered with the dessert. I do find it very strange that you were never offered the option to order it at all? In most cases, after the Entree dishes are cleared, the waitron will return with the menu and ask if you want dessert and/or coffee.

                        Ordering dessert without mentioning coffee at the same time would definitely be confusing for the wait staff.

                        1. Linda

                          We experience similar when we visit America. We're aware that Americans seemt o generally have coffee with dessert rather than after - so it's never a surprise when a server asks abotu coffee when taking a dessert order. We always say "we'll let you know after we've eaten dessert" - it at least means you don't get it with dessert and its then cold when you want to drink it.

                          What is a bit irritating is when they don't ask about coffee and then just bring the bill after you've eaten - basically the same experience as you've had. As you say, they then have to run off a new bill for you. Really odd - and not good business practice to potentially miss out on a sale.

                          On the subject of coffee, we were intrigued on our recent trip to see "French Press" (or Presse) coffee on a menu. Hadnt got a clue what it might be so we ordered it. Before it arrived, we guessed it must be a cafetiere - and so it was.

                          1. Many years ago, I used to be a server; have worked in restaurants in other capacities over the years since then. Americans typically have coffee with dessert, not after so most casual places will offer it then or if you don't order dessert, they don't think you are interested in anything more (as in coffee) so they don't offer it.

                            Higher end restaurants will offer it more than you see anywhere else. Europeans do things a bit different