One of the most common complaints I hear from other Expats about the Netherlands is the lack of service you get here, especially in restaurants. At first, I thought the complaints were limited to Americans and Brits, since waiters/waitresses are pretty much all up in your business during your visit. I’ve now heard the same complaints from other nationalities as well, Irish, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.
While every country has it’s share of good and bad service, I don’t really look at the service here as bad, but more “different” than what I’m used to. At most restaurants in America, turnover is the goal. They want you in, ordering appetizers/entrees/desserts, eating as fast as possible, and out the door so they can seat the next group. That isn’t really the case here. As far as I can tell, once you get a table, its yours for as long as you’d like it. If you want to sit there for 3 hours after finishing your meal, just chatting and sipping on coffee, that’s perfectly fine to them. Dutch service workers let you be while you in in the restaurant. If you want something, simply summon them. To an American like me, this was weird at first, since I was used to the waiter stopping by our table every 5 minutes to check on us.
Last night, we were waiting to get into a club, and the bouncer started talking to me about where he was from, if I liked Amsterdam, how long I had been here, etc. A few weeks ago at a bar, the bartender and I struck up a conversation and he bought me a beer while we talked about America (he had friends there and had visited a few times). Sure, sometimes you do get waitresses who pretend to ignore you even while you flag them down, but then sometimes you also get waitresses who are very friendly, offer suggestions on the menu, and make dining out enjoyable.
Another misconception, that I even suffer from, is that dining out is expensive here. It is possible to find meals at sit-down restaurants for under €10, but generally you’ll be looking at at-least €15 per entree. Throw in a beer at €2.50, and you’re at €17.50 minimum. This sounds high when you think back to some places you can go in the US. Take Applebee’s, a chain present most everywhere in the US. The cheapest entree is probably around $10, plus a soda for $3. Then, add tax of 7%, you’re at $14, plus at least a 15% tip, and you’re right back at $16, minimum. If you do the dollar-to-euro conversion, that makes quite a difference, but still, dining out in Amsterdam is not much more expensive than in the US. Since most things here are independently run, there’s also a good chance the owner will be present and keeping an eye on everything, whereas in the US things are much more likely to be owned by a large corporation.