Learning To Read Between The Tab Lines

Learning To Read Between The Tab Lines

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My first time in a restaurant in the U.S. was at Olive Garden and it was quite the experience because my speaking and listening English skills were not great and I used to be extremely shy. So, imagine all of that with a super friendly waitress speaking English super fast, telling me her name, asking me how I’m doing, telling me that they have specials, asking me what I want to drink and to top it all, she was beautiful! MY FOREHEAD STARTED TO SWEAT and my heart was pounding! The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Where is the bathroom, please?”

That was also the first time I got the tab to pay at the restaurant and I saw three lines and I did not know what to do with it. I remember trying to peek at my classmate with whom I went and he got upset and told me that it was rude to look at how much he was tipping. I had this lost face, thinking, “What is he talking about? And why would he write some numbers to tip?” And then I told him that I was confused about why he got upset and why there were three lines on the bill. He then explained about the whole tipping system in the United States, so that’s how I got my mini lesson on how to tip. 

Growing up in France, giving a small cash tip was entirely up to the customer and not an expectation at the end of a meal. I had such a hard time calculating the tip percentage that before I would enter the restaurant I would anticipate and pre-open the calculator app on my phone so I could be faster at tipping and not have everyone wait for me to get out of the restaurant. However, by now I just order like a “rockstar without a calculator” because I know the drill.

I don’t know how important service is for you but to me it’s equally important as food quality. I’d like to someday go into a restaurant where I could experience the friendliness of American service and the unrushed French dining experience. For example, I’d like to begin my dining experience the same way it started at Olive Garden and get my tab when I ask for itand to be just left alone at the table. And one last wish: we could have less of “how are you enjoying the food” every fifteenminutes.

My mood always reflects how much I will appreciate the food: if I am upset or uncomfortable while eating I will most likely not like the food. At Olive Garden, I may have been stressed and worried, but the service was great, the food “ok,” but the experience compensates for everything, and overall I enjoyed my first time in a restaurant in the U.S.


Ravi is an international student studying in the USA. He earned his associate of science transfer degree at Truckee Meadows Community College and transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno where he is studying international business.