How to Subtly Let Servers Know That You’re Kind of a Big Deal

Inside L'Espalier.
Inside L’Espalier. Photo: L’Espalier

So say it’s a really special occasion, and you’re out to dinner, and you need everything to go perfectly. How do you diplomatically alert a server to this without sweating profusely or making frantic eye contact? (Or, you know, just casually mentioning it when you make the reservation.) Worry no more: Melissa Yantz of Boston’s very chic L’Espalier, whose exacting service standards are legendary, has revealed how she senses that someone’s out to splurge. Use her knowledge to let your next server know that you mean business.

Ask the staff for superlatives: “Someone who is splurging wants to be able to say the next day, ‘We found our new favorite champagne.’ Or, ‘We had the number-one farmhouse cheese in the country.’ For a celebration dinner, it’s all about ‘the story.’” So, go on! Demand a biography of that rare cheese you requested. Marvel at the oysters’ origins! Your colleagues will surely be in awe as you perform a bite-by-bite reenactment of your farmhouse cheese course around the water cooler, and they just might refrain from poisoning your microwave lunch!

Go straight for the bubbly: “An expensive bottle of champagne or caviar is a big tip-off.” Remember: Wine and cocktails are for the riffraff. This is the time to make like Diddy!

Stress moderately over minutiae: You don’t need to angrily scrutinize your salad fork, but a bit of nervous energy keeps servers attentive. “It all turns on the first two minutes. Proposals are a great example … the smallest thing can ruin the mood. The woman doesn’t like the color of the walls, or the server puts the wrong silverware down. They get jumpy and worry that if this tiny thing is off, maybe something else will go wrong. We learn to read between the lines.” We feel truly sorry for any server who has to contend with a diner unhappy with the walls. Actually, we feel sorrier for the guy in this scenario — if he gets jumpy when she doesn’t like the paint color, we can only imagine how things will unfold after dinner.

Most of all, servers shouldn’t let their private disgruntlement impede an important dining experience, or else the “whole thing will snowball.” Hey, maybe Wolfgang Puck was justified in firing that angry old man after all!

5 Courses With Melissa Espantz of L’Espalier [Stuff]

Related: L’Espalier on James Beard Outstanding Service Nod: “You Have to Be Pretty Wonderful to Work Here

How to Subtly Let Servers Know That You’re Kind of a Big Deal