Balthazar owner reveals cheeky rules for restaurant servers

Don’t sell yourself short.

That’s the cheeky advice legendary New York City restaurant owner Keith McNally had for his staffers, when it comes to mixing business with pleasure.

“Never ever go home with a customer — for less than $500,” the owner of Balthazar, famed for his eccentric personality and no-holds-barred Instagram account, quipped in a post that appeared Wednesday. Under a photo of a server studiously carrying a tray of cocktails, the title read, “Rules for restaurant servers.”

The impromptu list starts out more mild than wild, advising staff never to personally take credit for the food — compliments are to be reserved for the chef.

“When describing the menu, never say ‘I have.’ Always ‘We have.’ Saying ‘I have’ is affected, and an insult to the cook who made the dish,” McNally began the post noting, “Be friendly, but never chummy.”

Among the “Kitchen Confidential”-like candor — the restaurant king advised against sucking up: Never buy a celebrity a drink.

“Instead, offer it to me,” McNally joked, “or a regular, or a guest at least expecting it.”

He also strongly suggests that servers repeat the customer’s order back, because “skate sounds like steak after one martini.”

Restaurateur Keith McNally shared his red-hot rules for restaurant servers.
Jennifer Gould

Other advice? Anticipating a customer’s needs is important, but resist the urge to circle your tables like a hawk.

“This does not mean hovering close to a table,” McNally insisted. “As a customer, I can’t bear to sense a server or busser lurking a few feet away,” he said.

Another pet peeve: Don’t clear the table until he’s left it, and don’t you dare bring the bill prematurely.

Balthazar's outdoor seating
McNally’s rule book for servers says to “never” buy a celebrity a drink, instead, offer it to a regular, or a guest who least expects it.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“I also don’t want him clearing my coffee cup until after I’ve left the table or dropping the check before I ask for it, or to ever pour my water,” McNally asserted.

Don’t ever blindside a diner when presenting specials of the day, he said, by not mentioning the price — it’s tacky, and can send some diners into a bit of a shock once the bill comes. McNally recalled an instance at Da Silvano, the “eternally hip restaurant in Greenwich Village,” noting a customer famously had a heart attack when looking at the bill.

Oh, and once a customer pays? If they do so in cash, “never assume the change is your tip. Always return the change to the table,” he insisted.

McNally stresses the importance of repeating back a guest's order, especially after they've had a martini.  Steak can sound a lot like skate, he said.
McNally stresses the importance of repeating back a guest’s order, especially after they’ve had a martini when skate can sound a lot like steak, he said.
New York Post

On the whole, McNally has little use for the phony patter that has become commonplace in city restaurants.

“Once the meal’s served, never utter the meaningless phrase, ‘How is everything?’ If the server must break the flow of my customers’ conversation, please let it be a simple, ‘Do you need anything?’ ” McNally continued, before concluding with the saucy line about never going home with a guest for less than half a grand.

McNally fans gave the rules the equivalent of three Michelin stars on the post.

“Spot on,” one commenter wrote.

Balthazar dining room.
“Once the meal’s served, never utter the meaningless phrase, ‘How is everything?’ ” McNally advised.
New York Post

“Well said sir,” another applauded via emoji.

“Sometimes it’s okay to break that last rule,” another chimed in, while another joked: “If it was Robert Redford, there would have been no fee.”

Others offered their own culinary faux pas, like “Never say ‘are you still working on that?’ Dining shouldn’t be work!”

McNally’s playful rule book was posted on the heels of a Page Six report that a staffer at Balthazar found a wedding ring in the basement men’s bathroom — left, it’s alleged, by a trysting couple having sex in one of the stalls.

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