I work in a small cafe in a pretty town called Lagos, on the south coast of Portugal.
It is surrounded by lots of beautiful beaches and in August, the population triples.
Those of us who work in hospitality have always found August to be a difficult month. It’s busy, it’s hot, and it feels like every single type of tourist and traveler has chosen this month to visit.
Firstly, I’d like to say that eating and drinking out in tourist destinations should be the same as anywhere else. There are, however, issues at times due to the fact that a lot of people believe the relaxed vibe means they are entitled to a different kind of behavior, and I would like to draw a few lines around this.
I’ve made this list of things you can do to endear yourself to the staff as much as possible during our busy season.
1. When you enter the premises, check if there is a sign asking you to wait to be seated.
If there is, wait there. Say hello when you see a server and be patient if they look like they are rushing around. If in doubt, ask if you can sit down. Pointing at the table and smiling is acceptable where I work.
2. There is some sort of psychological urge that seems to attract new customers to the dirtiest table in the place. Please try to resist it.
If you see a sparkling clean table and another one covered in cigarette ash and dirty glasses, please try to steer yourself toward the clean one, or wait until the dirty one is cleaned.
3. Please don’t hover over an occupied table waiting for people to leave so that you can sit down.
Ask if the table can be saved for you then wait at a respectable distance. No one should be made to feel like they are being hustled out of a place—unless it’s after closing time. If chairs are being stacked around you, it’s probably time to ask for the bill.
4. Don’t ever click your fingers at a server.
This should go without saying in 2022, but apparently, it doesn’t.
5. If the door is barricaded shut and the lights are off, the place is probably closed.
6. If an establishment is really busy, expect to have to wait a little longer.
If you see only one staff member working the floor, that person will try to go to people in the order that they sat down. If you all sat down at the same time, they will need time to have a quick breakdown in the kitchen and then come back with a smile, to resume normal service.
7. To-go is not always instant.
If five other people order their take-out lattes just before you, or if your sandwich needs to be toasted, your takeaway will take a little time. If you need to be somewhere, tell the barista and ask nicely if they can get your order done within the time frame that you need.
8. Please don’t put your feet on the tables—with or without shoes, no matter how pretty your nail polish is, or how cool your shoes look.
9. If you move from one table to another while you have an open tab, let someone know.
Otherwise, the people who sit down at your freshly-vacated, dirty table might end up paying for your daiquiris (another reason not to sit down at a dirty table.)
10. Please don’t ask for takeaway cups if you want to drink in house.
Outgoings are slightly higher with takeaways because of the packaging, which evens itself out if you are not using one of the tables. If you don’t care about that, think of the turtles.
11. Don’t go to a place that sells lunch and then proceed to get out a lunch you took away from somewhere else and ask for a knife and fork to eat it while sitting at one of the best tables.
Yes, that happens. Some places, including my workplace, will kindly let the odd thing through (like ice creams), but many establishments frown upon it completely, which is fair. The polite thing to do is ask.
12. Please don’t just walk in without saying a word to the staff, use the toilet, then walk back out.
Cafe facilities are not public bathrooms. Whichever number you need to drop off at the pool, if you are not a paying customer, ask nicely, and think about leaving a little tip as a gesture of gratitude.
13. If you are unhappy with your food or drink, tell someone straight away, so it can be re-done.
Don’t torture yourself by consuming the offending item and then feeling sad about it later. Please speak up.
14. You, the customer, are extremely important to all our small businesses, and we are happy to see each one of you. But hospitality staff are still only human.
It’s common in this industry to go hours without a chance to eat, let alone sit down. If they don’t give you a big bright smile and ask about your day, it’s probably because they are tired and hungry.
If you see an employee hiding in a corner trying to eat or take a few sips of their drink, give them a minute to breathe. Don’t stand over them telling them you only wanted two ice cubes in your drink, not three.
15. If you are happy with the service (and how many ice cubes were in your drink), know that, although tipping is not compulsory in Portugal, it’s very much appreciated.
I would not be offended if someone who is counting out their change to pay can’t afford to leave a tip. I would not be surprised if someone who expressed their unhappiness for whatever reason, does not leave a tip. But if a group spends 49.80 on cocktails, tells you how happy they are, and then leaves the 20 cents, or even no tip at all, it can feel quite demoralizing.
On the other side of the coin, when someone leaves a nice tip, it is a real morale boost, and it does make everyone happy.
I hope you have enjoyed my little piece here. I tried to throw in a bit of humor to keep it light, but we are all different, and what delights some people, offends others (like the anti-laptop rule at my workplace)! Hopefully I’ve managed not to offend anyone too much here.
Hospitality staff, among others, suffered terribly during the lockdowns. This is our first summer properly back on our feet.
Please help us to give you the best experience that we can! And thank you for reading.