Old Town

For our most recent review we decided to visit Old Town on Liberty. We were glad to finally receive service worthy of the awesome feedback we’ve been waiting to give. So, without further ado, let’s see what it takes to impress a sassy server(Arina insists I take full claim for this term – Tucker).

The sign inside the door said ‘seat yourself,’ which tends to make us cringe. Luckily for us, the server greeted us not only quickly, but casually and cheerfully. Waters weren’t presented right away, but she made sure to ask us what we’d like to drink right off the bat. Information about the soup of the day was delivered with a side of playful banter, and our server made sure to let us know that one of the soups was only available for a limited time. Of course, that piqued Tucker’s interest and he just had to order it.

As we were ordering our meal, our server proved that she knew the menu inside and out. She provided helpful recommendations, and Arina only got bacon on her sandwich because the server mentioned it. Now that’s salesmanship. After ordering, Arina left the table in favor of an attractive male outside, leaving Tucker to ponder the universe. Noticing that he was alone, the server spent a little extra time conversing and joking with him until the bell beckoned her to the kitchen. The food arrived before Arina even had the chance to charm the pants off her anonymous companion. The server made sure to ask if Tucker needed any kind of sauce with his sandwich before leaving him to wait for Arina. In a display of her prowess, the server dropped off another table’s order as she returned with the requested mayonnaise.

Arina returned victorious, and we dug into our food. It was absolutely divine, and although our server made no move to ask us about it she kept a watchful eye on our table. Halfway through our meal she came over, armed with a disarmingly funny comment about Tucker’s phone case. This set off another round of pleasant banter, further cementing our appreciation. As she left we asked for boxes, and it felt less like we were making a request of our server and more like we were confiding in a friend that we were just too full.

Although we hadn’t asked for the check, it arrived with the boxes. In a different situation, this preemptive strike would have disappointed us. Here though, the bill was split and in the company of an urge that there was no rush. Another nice touch was the “Thank you!” written at the top of our bills. Almost giddy with the prospect of writing a good review, we quickly handed her back our payment. She accepted our refusal for change with heartfelt gratitude, and left us with an encouraging ‘see you soon.’

Dining out is a luxury, and as such should be an experience worth the money you’re spending. While that can be filled by any run of the mill server, a great server can do more. Great service can lift your spirit so much, and that’s what we strive to provide as servers and expect to receive as customers. Our experience at Old Town did just that. Our server never once made us feel like a customer, but instead made us feel like a friend. She did her job efficiently and with talent, yet it never looked or felt like she was working. We have already paid them a second visit since our first investigation and we plan on returning. If you haven’t already, stop in and enjoy an amazing time.

Good Eggs

Although these posts are meant to be devoted to the people at our table, the customers that enlighten us or entertain us, this week I wanted to take a minute to talk about the people lurking behind the scenes with us. Coworkers can be a source of irritation, a fount of frustration and even anger sometimes. But they can also be the best support system, the best comedic relief, the best friends.

I’ve been lucky enough to encounter such good eggs at every one of the places I’ve worked. It seems to me that working in the service industry is a great bonding experience. No one will ever understand you breaking down in tears after some asshole yells at you in front of other customers like the people you serve with. We’ve all been there, and we’re all there for each other. Even rolling your eyes at each other after a brief encounter with an obviously ridiculous table gives a sense of belonging.

And it’s not just commiseration in the face of problematic customers or even your management. Spending almost every day of every week with the same group of people gives you no choice but to get to know them better.While that sounds a tad like Stockholm Syndrome, it’s far from it. More often than not, the people you work with end up being really cool. I’ve met some of my best friends through work. I met my roommates through work. I’ve laughed and bonded with so many of the people I’ve worked with, it’s hard to put the appreciation for that into words.

When I went to get my first (and as yet only but that’s inconsequential) tattoo, one of my coworkers at the time went with me to hold my hand and distract me with funny stories. Whenever I have something I need to get off my chest, I know there’s going to be at least one person at work I can confide in. If you’re looking for a place to live or someone to go to a concert with, there’s no one that will have the hookup quite like the people you work with. Smoke breaks wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if someone else (or four someones) didn’t come outside with you.

I’d like to mention that, especially in the industry, it’s important to become close not only to the people you share a workload with (in my case, front of house staff) but also to those that have entirely different duties (the back of house staff, for instance.) Too often there is a sense of hostility between the kitchen and the servers. Pointlessly so, as both parties can benefit from a good relationship with each other. You never know when it might come in handy, manipulative as that sounds, and in times of stress it’s always better to feel like you’re all in it together.

Whether it’s a quick hug when you come in looking bedraggled or an earnest word of praise when you do something right, coworkers provide bright pinpricks of light in what is ultimately a defeating and exhausting environment. Take a moment to think about the people you work with and let them know how much you appreciate them whenever you get a chance. And if you work or have worked with me and you’re reading this, you know who you are and I love you. Hit me up sometime, let’s hang out.

Mushily Yours,


Tipping for Dummies

Some of you may be curious as to what the title of our blog, ‘autograt,’ is referring to. Or, maybe I just needed an easy way to open this post… Either way, I’d like to take this second of your life to explain. ‘Autograt’ is short for ‘autogratuity.’ Autogratuity is a tip that is automatically applied to your bill to compensate for the service you received. Sort of like when labor is factored into a bill from a mechanic. Obviously servers are not doing nearly as much manual labor as a mechanic, but you get the idea. Some people understand the need for such a thing, but many feel that tipping is an optional practice. This would be the part where I rant.

The wage in Michigan for servers is $3.10 an hour. It’s less in some places, more in others depending on the cost of living. As any intelligent person can figure out, the amount is decided on with current minimum wage and tips factored in. The reason our wage is so low is because we are expected to earn tips. It’s really not complicated math. Tipping is also pretty simple math. The rule of thumb is 15% according to Google. In the service industry, our scale tends to be:

  • 10% is looked at as a bad tip; one you receive when you know the customer is going to be an ass and purposely make them the last priority, probably because they ordered their drink before you ask how they are or don’t say please.
  • 15% is an okay tip, one you grumble about to your coworkers but can safely guess came from someone that looked up how to tip or have never known someone that worked in the industry.
  • 20% is a tip you get from someone that knows how to tip and thought you did your job, no more, no less.
  • Anything over is a tip from a regular, friend, or customer that you really meshed with and made them feel like family.

All of those percentages, however, are a baseline.

We give out lunch cards, with a free lunch as the prize for completing it. The reason for this is in part to bring back customers. The other intended purpose for these cards is so that even those that don’t tip on our discounted lunches will feel a little more comfortable leaving a tip on the free lunch day. As of late, I have been refusing customers that did not tip on their free lunch card a second card. Not necessarily ethical, but let’s analyze why I made this decision. First of all, the lunches you are eating have been discounted as it is. The fact that you’re leaving no tip, or even anything less than two dollars, is absolutely offensive. Second, you’ve gotten eight of these discounted lunches to fill your card and I couldn’t even afford my own lunch with your lack of tipping. Finally, your lunch was free to purchase for you, but for the restaurant, and all of its employees, it cost time, money and a fake smile. So, no, you DON’T get a new lunch card.

I used to work every Tuesday at a place that did $1 Taco Tuesday. You would cry if you knew how many tips I didn’t get, or worse yet, how many tips were the table’s coin change. Okay, your taco is a dollar. How much do you think it costs to make a taco? I’ll let you in on a little secret… More than a dollar! And let’s not mention the line of people out the door or the understaffed servers running around like roadrunners with Alzheimer’s. You got six tacos, all of the sides, five refills on your soda and at the end of the check you give me seventy-eight cents?! Get out of my restaurant.

People do not seem to understand that while they’re enjoying whatever discounted food they ordered, their server is in the kitchen tossing salads (and not in the fun way), baking and plating your dessert, filling and running sodas to their other five tables and literally thinking of seven (at the very least) things they need to accomplish within the next two minutes. Let’s not forget that they also have to clean up the salsa your messy child dumped on the floor or the sugar you couldn’t aim into your coffee. And guess what? Groupon does NOT cover the tip.

You’re asking yourself, “Well, golly, why doesn’t poor Tucker just use that handy autograt thing all the time?” The answer is that I am not allowed to. Autogratuity is handled differently at every restaurant, but the rule tends to be that it is only allowed on tables of six or more. Some restaurants don’t even allow using it in the first place. The reason it tends to be used for large tables is because such a large amount of work goes into big parties. Set up, using other servers/food runners to carry out multiple trays at once, entertaining large numbers of people at one time, clean up and everything in between those things that you ask for on top. And if autogratuity is added, awesome, you’re guaranteed 18% of the final cost of the meal. Not bad, until your table argues with you about it and you have to ask the manager to remove it. Thanks for that blank tip line, hope to see you soon.

The point? While I’m writing my rent check, I can see every single face of every single bad tipper from the last month burning in my brain. Good luck next time you sit at my table…assuming I haven’t refused you. Always tip on the full price of food, always take into consideration the extra work you’ve made your server do for you and always, ALWAYS remember that $3.10 does NOT pay rent.

Clocking Out for the Night,



Everyone knows Sava’s. It’s where you take your parents when they drive up for Parent Week. It’s where you have your baby shower and celebrate your engagement. But does it live up to the hype? As the self-proclaimed townies that we are, we’re familiar with Sava’s. We’ve eaten there once or twice, but never really taken the time to analyze the service. We embarked on our quest in full review mode, notepads at the ready.

Instead of the warm welcome we expected, we received a brief glance and no other recognition. Once we requested a table for two they again disregarded us to discuss where to place us. The hostess that led us to our table surprised us with light, friendly conversation before leaving us in the server’s capable hands. He arrived fairly quickly, considering how busy it was, and promised that he would be with us shortly. After doing a quick round at his tables, he returned to us and asked for our drink order. Arina’s inquiries about the house drinks were met with an expert recommendation. Our drinks arrived promptly, accompanied by the evening’s specials. After we ordered our appetizer, he informed us of the 86 list (for those that don’t speak server, an 86 list is the list of unavailable items). He returned to get our entrée order and further proved his knowledge of the menu by helping Tucker decide between two items.

The appetizer came and went pretty quickly, and although he didn’t ask how it was he made a point to keep our table clean and clear. Like a seasoned gardener, he cleared the weeds but kept us watered. Our food arrived with a smile and tasted delicious, but our server seemed to lose interest in tending to us until we requested boxes. Tucker’s soda did not receive the same attention as our waters, but the server offered dessert as he cleared our table. He apologetically let us know that the pudding we had chosen was no longer available, so we went with our second choice. As he left to put in the crème brulee, we had to call him back to request coffee. Though we declined cream and sugar, he brought it anyway. Whether this was intentional or not, it worked out for the best as the coffee was a bit bitter for our tastes.

He graciously accepted that our checks needed to be separate and presented them lickety-split. The checks hung out with us for a minute, but after they were all taken care of he wished us a good evening and thanked us for our business. We left the table overall pleased with the service, but were once again disappointed by the hosts’ lack of concern as we departed.

The experience was by no means exceptional, but we had a nice time. We recognize that the evening was a busy one for our server and he did his job as well as he could under the circumstances. The only real qualm we had with our outing were the hosts. With the reputation Sava’s has, we expected that the staff would strive to make our visit pleasurable from start to finish. Even so, we would say give Sava’s a try if you haven’t already.

Your Humble Servants,

Arina & Tucker

The Regulars

While planning out the blog, Arina and I decided that it was important to us to showcase people that we had served that made an impact. As a server I encounter a lot of people every day, and reencounter very few. So, while skimming the ol’ memory bank for a riveting story to share, I realized that the first person I really want to talk about is actually a people.

The lunch shift at my work is notorious for being the least profitable and therefore least desirable shift. As odd as it may sound, it’s my favorite shift to work. It’s true that the money isn’t great during lunch, but money isn’t always the most important part of a job. The customer-base during lunch is made up mostly of regulars, people that come in so frequently that as soon as they walk in the door I know exactly which drink to pour and, more often than not, what they’re going to eat that day. What my regulars don’t know is that having them in their usual seats on their usual day quite frequently is the only sense of stability I get at work. To them, they’re just on another lunch break at their designated cafeteria. To me, however, they’re like lighthouses. Even in the midst of an unexpected rush, as soon as I see even one of these people at a table, I have a moment of calm. I almost always work lunch alone, and my regulars know this. So when I’m getting bombarded with take-out calls, customers that have never been in and prep work in the kitchen, my regulars will, without even a hint of impatience, tell me to handle what I need to and take care of them when I can. It seems small, but when I’ve spent the majority of my day dealing with impatient people that don’t seem to understand that I don’t have eight arms and the ability to clone myself at will, it’s almost therapeutic to hear ‘it’s okay, you’re busy.’

The sense of security I receive from them is hardly the only thing that makes these people mentionable. Most customers view me as what I am…a person temporarily in their employ. The regulars, however, have come to view me not as someone they’re paying for a service, but someone they can confide in. So many of my regulars come to me with their problems, whether it be work or home, because they know that I will offer an open ear and helping hand when I can. But the real beauty of our relationship is that it works both ways. So many of the people that I consider regulars will sit and listen to me bitch and whine about my own life and not only offer sympathy, but actually take note and follow up later on to make sure everything turned out okay. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you understand how rare it is to find someone that will show you just as much interest and compassion as you try to give them. It makes working in the industry worth the stress and uncertainty to know you could just as easily refer to your regulars as friends.

With all of that being said, I’d really like to thank the people that make my job tolerable, even enjoyable sometimes. There are too many anecdotes and memories about my lunch crowd to share in a single post, and they continue to collect. But I’d like to thank the people that show me respect and kindness, the people that share their lives with me and put up with me on my worst days… From the people that have been with me since my last job to the people that tolerated my most recent hangover, I sincerely could not do my job if it weren’t for you.

With Love,


Hosting, Party of Over It

Imagine you’ve got guests from out of town staying in your home. There’s quite a few of them, but fortunately you’ve been planning for this visit for a while so you’re prepared to comfortably situate everyone. It’s the evening of their arrival, and everything is set. You’re not very excited to see them, they’re kind of a needy bunch, but you know you can handle them. Then comes the long awaited knock and you make your way to the door, putting on your most gracious smile and trying to feel welcoming.

Now imagine that when you open the door, there’s two people on your step. But these are not the people you were expecting. Maybe they’re acquaintances from high school. Maybe coworkers. It’s hardly relevant. What matters is that there they are outside your door, and they’re telling you they need a place to stay. But it’s not just them, they’ve got more people on the way. When you ask how many more, they kind of shrug and look at each other for the answer. One says “seven” and the other says “three”. They shoulder their way into the house and all you can do is step back so as not to get trampled. You say there’s really nowhere for them to sleep, every square inch of the house has been claimed already.

They start poking around the house, pointing out empty beds and saying “Well this looks just fine we can squeeze in here.” Your protests that those beds are for someone else are met with disdain. There is another knock on the door and you leave your uninvited guests to their snooping. Here at last are your long-awaited visitors, right? Wrong. Outside are three more people you haven’t seen in years, and they have the same story. They need a place to stay. They’re not sure how many of them there will be. Maybe 10?

You can’t say no to any of these people. There’s just no way. And they keep coming. Groups of five, eight, fifteen. You can’t keep up. They’re leaving their things everywhere, blocking off hallways, perching on any available surface. And they all want things from you. They’re thirsty and hungry and tired and in need of a shower. As you start on one task, someone interrupts you and gives you three more.

In that situation, how would you feel? Like a trapped animal? Overwhelmed? Would you be fighting back tears? Probably. Welcome to the life of a host.

I’ve worked in the service industry for two years. In that time I’ve filled many positions, all of them frustrating in their own way, but I can safely say that being a host in a restaurant is one of the most thankless and defeating of jobs. And if anything can make you lose faith in humanity, it’s going to be hosting.

For some reason it’s very difficult for guests to grasp that if you have a large party, it’s probably best to make a reservation several days in advance. A restaurant does not have infinite seating, it’s not Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. And there’s a good chance that if you come in on a weekend, it’s going to be packed already. You’re not the only people that have the day off, and you’re not the only ones with something to celebrate.

If, however, there’s just no way you could have picked up the phone and let us know that your entire extended family has a burning desire to eat our food, could you at least have some idea of how many people you’re bringing in? It’s very simple math, I’m pretty sure they taught you how to count in kindergarten. Saying that there’s going to be somewhere between two and fifteen people doesn’t help me and it definitely doesn’t help you.

Once you do decide that you and all your friends and relations simply must go out to eat, and you know how many of them there are, let me do my job. When you come in and I have to seat you, there’s several factors I have to consider. Keep these in mind:

  • If there’s more than one server on the floor, each of them will have a section. That means there’s a limited amount of tables they have to attend to, and they’re all in the same general area.
  • If there are sections, we’re probably seating in rotation. For instance, if there’s three sections, I have to seat the first section…wait for it….first. Second section gets seated second, then the third. Again, very simple. I know who’s next in rotation, you don’t.
  • A busy restaurant means the servers are overwhelmed and the kitchen is probably overwhelmed. If I don’t immediately seat you but there are tables available, it may be because I’d rather you wait to get the service and food you came for than having you dissatisfied with your experience.
  • Empty does not mean unclaimed. If I tell you that there’s a waitlist, don’t point to a table and say “Well, what about right there?” I know it’s there, but somebody with slightly more forethought than you called ahead and reserved it. It’s like dibs. And dibs have to be respected.
  • Servers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Customers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Bussers have to be able to move around the restaurant. There are set pathways, and four of you trying to sit at a table meant for two will definitely mess those pathways up. I don’t care that you’re okay with squeezing in together, how comfortable you are with your personal space makes no difference to me. You’re going to be a fire hazard.
  • This also means that your stroller, luggage, etc. cannot be in the walkway. There may be a table available in the back corner that would fit you comfortably, but I cannot put you there because then your baby would be in the direct path of our hot plates and giant trays. I do actually care about your safety.
  • If I put you on a waitlist, you’re on the waitlist. I’ve taken your phone number and you will receive a text when we’re ready for you. Checking in every thirty seconds just distracts me from being able to find you a spot.
  • On a slightly unrelated note, if you tell me you’re in a rush we’ll try to do everything we can to help you out. But keep in mind that full service restaurants usually have to actually cook the food before we bring it out to you. And full service restaurants that are full upon your arrival are probably making the people who’ve come in before you a priority. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re wonderful, but the guy at the table next to you has been waiting for his food for twenty five minutes and everyone is stressed out about it. He’s getting his meal first, no matter how many planes you have to catch. If you wanted something quick, you’d have been better off going to a McDonalds.

Now, I realize that all of that was a little harsh. It’s not that hosts hate their customers, it’s not that customers are terrible. But as with all things, a select few bad experiences will ruin it for everyone. So just keep in mind when you visit a restaurant that hosts are people too, and that there has to be a level of respect and consideration for the people working for you. That’s really all we’re asking for. Unexpected large groups are unavoidable sometimes, but if you really must come in, at least be polite and understand that we’ll try our best to accommodate you but it may take a minute.

Respectfully yours,


aMa Bistro

What more fitting subject for our first review than the place that started it all? aMa Bistro is a relatively new, well-decorated café hidden on State Street between CVS and The Getup Vintage. Our first visit, during the restaurant’s infancy, left us so dissatisfied with the quality of service that the idea for this blog was conceived somewhere between our forsaken coffee cups and lukewarm food. We left with no intention of returning, but after getting wind that aMa had sought out a professional staff trainer, decided to give them a second chance.

We arrived expecting a turn around, but our hopes were quickly dashed. Our first inkling that this second visit might be as disappointing as the first presented itself as an empty host stand asking us to wait for seating. Although all but two tables were empty, it was a whopping minute and a half (yes, we timed it) before we were brusquely greeted and instructed to pick any seat by the only hand on deck. Those that followed behind us were met with the same tactless reception. Once seated, it was another several minutes before we received waters; unaccompanied by menus or the offer of any other beverages. Several guests ventured in after us, but all remained ignored and thirsty while the server disappeared into the back. It soon became obvious that apathy was the guiding principle of service here.

When the server finally arrived with the menus, she did not stick around long enough to inform us of the daily specials or soups and again assumed that we were satisfied with water. To our chagrin, the lackluster server did not seem to care that we had entered the establishment first and proceeded to take orders at random. This gave us time to look around the restaurant and notice that a majority of the tables were not set with silverware or the proper condiments. Once the server found the time to come take our orders, it was done almost mechanically. No pleasantry nor personality were provided.

After placing our order, a small eternity filled with awkward silence passed before our pre-meal soups reached us. At this point, Tucker pointedly asked for a soda, receiving a curt “sure” in return. Our server scurried off into the back, once again shunning the dining room. Whether or not she went back there with our soda in mind we may never know, as she reemerged several times without it in hand before fulfilling our request. In the meantime, we discovered that Tucker’s soup was lukewarm, bordering on chilly, whereas Arina’s was piping hot. Tucker’s dissatisfaction and subsequent request for the soup to be reheated were received without concern or apology. By the time the soup was returned (haphazardly presented on a soup-splattered saucer) Arina’s empty bowl had been deliberately placed on the edge of the table. The reheated soup was anything but, and was indignantly pushed aside. The soda finally arrived at our table but the dirtied dishes did not depart, leaving unappealing clutter and further accentuating the server’s inaptitude.

Entrees came sooner than water refills, and the used dishes remained at the edge of our table. We aren’t sure of our server’s methodology, but we can assume from her confusion that it was not intended to keep track of who ordered which dish. We dived into our food, not overly impressed but not terribly disappointed either. Our server didn’t seem too concerned with our opinion of the food, as she spent the duration of our meal flitting about the restaurant in a panicked disarray. While we understand the stresses of an understaffed dinner rush, a quick scope of the restaurant revealed the potential for an efficient trajectory for such instances. The tables are organized in a loop, providing a missed opportunity to effectively attend to every guest. Forethought clearly was not a part of the training process at aMa.

About half way through our meal, we were told that we would receive our check shortly. At this point, we had grown weary of the experience as a whole, yet were still relatively offended, although unsurprised, that our server’s top priority was to empty the dining room as quickly as possible. Her attitude toward other patrons was similarly apathetic, as evidenced by the palpable discomfort surrounding us. During our meal, we witnessed a customer next to us being cut off while attempting to order, another looking disgruntled at the temperature of his soup and several tables rubbernecking in a vain search for service. It quickly became clear that the server was no longer concerned with providing hospitality, but was instead inconvenienced by our presence.

Our check was presented separately, though we had made no indication that we would not be paying together. For the first time in our hour-long experience, there was a glimmer of interest when Tucker could not justify paying for a half-finished soda that had taken an exorbitant amount of time to reach our table. Even then, there was no apology or acceptance of responsibility for her lack of timeliness and our dissatisfaction. Fortunately, our change arrived quicker than anything else we’d requested. Unfortunately, this only served as an emphasis of her indifference towards the unwelcome occupants of her domain.

It saddens us to say that the refinement we had been hoping for was neither present nor something we foresee happening in the near future. There is no satisfaction in receiving poor service, and there is especially none in writing about said poor service. However, we feel it is our self-appointed duty to report the truth (as pompous as that may sound). We want to emphasize that we have been in her shoes, but she’s not the Cinderella we were looking for. We deeply feel that as a server, even at the point of extreme stress, it is not just a courtesy, but your obligation to assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong during your shift. Were we to focus our reviews on the food itself, we may have a more positive outlook on aMa, however, until the servers are properly trained and the management makes the appropriate staffing adjustments, we regret to say that we would not recommend dining at this establishment.

We hope that this review has been enlightening, and that our next will be less of a downer. Thanks for checking us out, look forward to our next post this Wednesday!

Your Humble Servants,
Arina & Tucker

A Sampler

While sitting in a recently-opened bistro in Ann Arbor and trading criticisms about the hostess, we came to the realization that among the hundreds of restaurant review blogs, very few take the time to focus on the customer/service experience. We understand the need for reviewing food – people want to know what they’re getting into before they order – but as servers, we know food is only one ingredient in a very delicate recipe.

Although neither of us are veterans servers, we’ve quickly discovered what it takes to make the dining experience gratifying for the guest as well as the staff. What started as an idea for a service review blog quickly developed into a guide for fellow servers and those they serve. Our purpose is not only to give honest and accurate descriptions of dining experiences in the Ann Arbor area, but also to give insight into the life of a server. In this blog you will find service reviews, interesting anecdotes and complaints about all aspects of the Industry.

We’re really excited to embark on this journey and see where it takes us. This is our first project together, so bear with us while we work out the kinks. We intend to post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but a server’s schedule is constantly shifting so we might be a day late every now and then.

We hope to see you back and don’t forget to tip your servers!
Arina & Tucker