“Dobrý den! Can I please get the grilled banana bread?”
(Insert an extremely long and painfully awkward pause here)
“Uh..okay. Why not?”
“That’s on our breakfast menu. We only serve breakfast until 12 p.m.”
I checked my phone to look at the time: 12:10. The barista stared at me blankly as I looked back at him with a puzzled expression.
He finally broke the silence by saying, “I can give you just a plain piece of banana bread.”
I looked behind the counter and saw all of the ingredients he needed to make the grilled version on the counter. But I knew there was no point in arguing with him, so I reluctantly handed over 45 crowns.
As crazy and frustrating as this encounter might seem, it’s a very common experience in Prague, one that has happened to me four times. “Service” is a relative concept here and the American notion that the customer is always right is as foreign to Czechs as the idea of spending more than 50 crowns for a beer. Czech restaurants play by their own rules, and you can either obey them or go hungry.
This particular misfortune started when my friend Alex told us about this amazing grilled banana bread with fruit and nuts and some special spread on top. Michele, Sam and I were determined to find it. Once food is on my mind, I will not stop until I get it. Unfortunately due to some miscommunication, we took the wrong tram and got lost. When we finally made it there, of course it was too late.
There are exceptions. One day I went with a friend to a restaurant, thinking it was just a café where I could get some work done. Much to my surprise, we had a sit-down meal with the best service I have ever had in Prague. I have gotten so used to flagging down a waiter if I need something, I was almost frightened every time this one came to check on us.
But in most places, there is a restaurant etiquette that is not easy to figure out. I have had to learn a number of things the hard way.
First, I’ve found you cannot look too eager for the server to come to your table, which is the exact opposite of how it is in the States. Here, if you act too eager, they seem trained to ignore you. Waiters will walk past your table again and again without even looking at you, no matter how long you’ve been waiting. So I have found that it is better to just sit calmly and wait, because looking anxious or unhappy just serves as a further deterrent.
Also, substitutions in meals are just not a thing here. Some restaurants will do it very reluctantly – you can tell they are extremely annoyed. Other restaurants will just tell you no, and suggest you order something else. I’ve learned to just pick out something that looks appetizing and hope for the best. If you are a picky eater, better to stick with pizza or something familiar.
Waiters also really do not like it when you tell them that your order is wrong. It once took my friend Michele an hour to get a beer at a bar on Wenceslas Square (that alone should have been a red flag for us) where orders are delivered to you on a model train. Cool concept, but definitely not the most practical way to serve drinks. First, it was sent to the wrong table, where they took it, because when a random beer that you did not order shows up, apparently you just drink it. Another one was sent which made it to our table, but it was the wrong type of beer. When we told the waiter about the mistake, we got one of the biggest eye rolls I have ever seen. When the correct beer finally arrived, I checked the foam for spit.
My suggestion for dealing with this type of “service” is to get on your waiter’s good side by ordering as many beers as possible. Something about the sight of an empty glass draws the waiter to the table. Plus, after a few deliciously strong Czech beers, the rude service won’t bother you too much anymore.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the contributor do not necessarily represent the stance of the Lennon Wall staff or Anglo-American University.