Life is uncertain. Eat dessert [never?]."
March 18, 2008 12:08 AM   Subscribe

Waitress etiquette: I work at a diner that's only open one day a week (at an auction arena). We're a close-knit group (employees and customers). We have a "special" every week, a dinner that includes a dessert. Sometimes a particular customer will say "I don't want the dessert" and sometimes he/she won't...

But in the instances in which he/she doesn't say "I don't want the dessert," he/she doesn't eat it anyway. It sits there uneaten at the table. This wouldn't be a big deal if this were a huge chain restaurant, but this is a very tiny niche restaurant and our manager is almost always in the red. When customers don't eat their dessert, it's a "loss" for the diner. We can't save it for later, for another customer, once it's been placed on someone's table. And we, as the employees, can't eat all the "losses" (we're a 4-person staff and we have plenty of "extras" to eat).

This may sound petty, and I don't mean it to be, but it affects much more than just one customer. My question is: If a "regular" who normally says "I don't want the dessert" neglects to say it, is it okay to ask "Do you want the dessert with that?" or is it that being un-PC or disrespectful ? (We have a small, mostly-regular clientele, and I don't want to offend anyone, especially those who might be dieting, but I'm also very aware of most customers' regular orders and I don't want to waste my manager's money).
posted by amyms to Human Relations (19 answers total)
Best answer: You could say, "Would you like me to bring your desert out after your entree or with your entree?" This would give them the chance to tell you that they are or aren't going to eat the dessert.
posted by bigmusic at 12:13 AM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: Or after they have finished their meal, ask if they want the dessert.
posted by netbros at 12:15 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Both good suggestions, thanks! I feel very "duh" after reading them, but we get so accustomed to bringing out the entire "special" at once because we get so busy. I'll try to postpone the dessert and see if that helps.
posted by amyms at 12:22 AM on March 18, 2008

Yes, after your meal simply say, " Are you ready for that dessert?"
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:27 AM on March 18, 2008

Have you (the restaurant) tried A B testing, in which you offer a special sans dessert one week, and an identical special with desert another, to see if the promise of dessert is markedly improving sales, whether it's eaten or not? Because you might just be able to leave it off the special altogether. Or sales of the special deal could plummet, I suppose. It'd be good to know, though.
posted by mumkin at 12:29 AM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: That's an interesting premise, mumkin, but the dessert is eaten by most customers (based on my own observation). However there is enough of a minority of customers who don't eat the dessert, which prompted my question. (And I sometimes feel guilty for charging them the full price of the "special" when they don't eat their dessert, but if it's sitting there uneaten at their table, my manager is incurring the cost anyway). Hence my question.
posted by amyms at 12:35 AM on March 18, 2008

I don't think there's anything at all wrong with asking, as bigmusic and netbros suggest. But in any case, it's not a "loss" for the diner, because they paid for the dessert, whether they ate it or not, regardless of what you do with the uneaten dessert. Being able to skip serving the dessert is a gain for the diner, since the customer paid for it.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:13 AM on March 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nth waiting until they've finished their meal, then asking them if they want dessert. I think it's best to wait until after they've eaten to ask because many people will realize then that they are too full for dessert, whereas if you'd asked them at the beginning of the meal if they wanted dessert with their dinner they might have said yes and then not eaten it (or forced themselves to eat it).
posted by Jacqueline at 2:16 AM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: I'd definitely go with 'Are you ready for your dessert?' This way you 'assume' that they do want it and you're merely checking if they want you to bring the dessert out now, afterall, they have paid for it, whereas if you phrase it as 'Do you want your dessert?' could come off as a little rude/presumptious, especially if they do want the dessert.
posted by missmagenta at 3:31 AM on March 18, 2008

I'm not sure I understand the premise of the question. Shouldn't the price of the special cover the cost of serving the dessert, regardless of whether they eat it? If it's so much on the line, I'd think the obvious thing to do is reevaluate the pricing structure and the "special deal" in particular.

If they asked for the dessert and ate it, it should be exactly the same as if they ordered the dessert, molded it into a mini Eiffel Tower, put it in a doggie bag, and set it on a mini-raft down the river. Once you're boss has decided that the revenue earned by the people who ordered the "special" instead of ordering piecemeal has covered the costs of preparing the pieces of the special, he should find profit, no?

If anything, if you follow the suggestions above, and don't bring out the dessert until they are ready to eat it, you should find an increase in profit, since you will be preparing (probably) fewer desserts -- but they will have paid for the *option* of a dessert anyway. I always thought that was the point of 'specials'. (Unless they are loss leaders, but I don't see that happening at a cafe...).
posted by prophetsearcher at 4:48 AM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Let's say the special currently costs $5.00. What if you said the special cost $4.50 and the dessert was an extra 50 cents? Having to add it would make people who want it order it, and if they were ambivalent they would just leave it off, decreasing the waste.
posted by orangemiles at 5:51 AM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: I agree with those who say you shouldn't think of it as a loss. Once the customer has paid for goods, they can do anything they want with those goods, including not eat them. Whether it's the dessert, the mashed potatoes, the bread crusts, or the pickle shouldn't matter much if the food cost has been properly calculated and enough margin built into the special to cover it.

Of course it bothers everyone to see uneaten food go to waste, but it's been paid for. There's no loss. If that continues not to sit well, Prophetsearcher's suggestion to re-evaluate the system is an excellent one. A system that results in a lot of food waste definitely has some inefficiencies. Revisiting customers to ask them if they're ready for dessert is a great solution, and in addition, it may give you a chance to refill their coffee or sell another beverage. It might be interesting to try that strategy for the next, say, four weeks, and track how many desserts are 'saved' using that system, producing a better margin for the employer.
posted by Miko at 6:55 AM on March 18, 2008

I think prophetsearcher has it, but also - could the dessert be something easily bagged up to go? Pie instead of ice cream, for example? They can have it the next morning with their coffee.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2008

The concept you're looking for is sunk cost.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: I agree with those who say you shouldn't think of it as a loss.

This is rationally correct, but it's rough to keep a restaurant in the black (esp without a bar...) Walking the line between prices being too high for people to bother eating there and prices being too low for the place to stay on top could come down to these kinds of individual details, rather than counting on an overall categorical structure.
posted by mdn at 7:54 AM on March 18, 2008

If you are almost always in the red, you need to raise your prices, regardless of whether or not your customers eat their dessert.

But yes, it's fine to wait until they've eaten the entree, then ask, "Ready for dessert?"
posted by decathecting at 7:56 AM on March 18, 2008

I don't know where you are, but check around...when I was in Culinary School, our management class had a project where we looked at a menu, did a whole cost analysis of a menu based on the cost of ingredients and the number of each that is sold and we reconfigured the menu to reflect better profits....we were always looking for projects and many of us would have jumped for joy if someone had come asking if we wanted to do their restaurant. Menu Engineering I think its called, or menu cost analysis. I'd offer to help, but I haven't done one in a couple of years :)
posted by legotech at 10:08 AM on March 18, 2008

Food Cost Control.

Chefs/restaurant owners use this as a basic approach to making the business function and not going under.
posted by Miko at 12:36 PM on March 18, 2008

You could also offer a choice for dessert. One might just a cheap throwaway option, like an orange or something. Then, after clearing the entree, ask the customer which dessert they'd like. This will give them the opportunity to turn the dessert down.

Or, less seriously, you could follow the trailblazing path of Spirite Lounge in Montreal. If you don't finish all the food on your plate, you have to pay a surcharge; if you order dessert but don't finish it, you're banned. (Also, they only have one item on the menu on any given day, and if they're serving something you've had there before, you're not allowed to come.)
posted by painquale at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2008

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