Recently, we asked people who worked in the food service industry if there were any insights about their job they wished restaurant patrons would know, and we got some great answers. Whether it’s about tipping, food orders, or how you should and shouldn’t treat the wait staff, these are the secrets to being a good customer.
Photo by Flapitou.
Waitstaff Aren’t Servants – Treat Them With Respect
It’s nice to have people waiting on you and filling your glass, but that doesn’t mean they’re any lower than you, says Todd T Squirrel:
Number one with a bullet: that just because I’m working in a service job it doesn’t mean you’re better than me. You’re a guest in my establishment, act like it.
That’s the one that hurt. Why waiting tables is seen as a job for the lowest of the low. I would say at least half of the staff I worked with were students or mothers trying to pay their bills. Yes, you can get some shady people working in restaurants but the majority of people are just trying to make ends meet and food service is decent money for the time invested.
Not everyone treats waitstaff poorly, but the actions of characters in movies don’t help things, says DotardTrump:
I always hated the people who learned their restaurant etiquette by watching movies. Snapping fingers, waving the bill in the air, smelling the wine cork…
The worst of all, though, is when people get far too familiar with their waiters and waitresses, says river-why:
You would think these would go without saying, but don’t sexually harass your server.
StarryNight17 says more often than not it tends to be an issue with men who take things the wrong way:
Please remember that waitresses are paid to be nice to you. When your waitress smiles at you or laughs at your jokes, that is not a sign that she’s into you; it’s because the job requires her to be polite and friendly. It isn’t more than that.
And no matter what, IthinkHamNoblockedme explains a cardinal rule that shouldn’t have to be explained:
Don’t touch your server, don’t grab them as they walk by, don’t rest you hand on their arm as you talk to them, it’s either rude, or weird.
All in all, lmoneyfresh666 says there’s a basic rule for communicating with waitstaff:
I guess it’s as simple as, “just treat me like a regular human doing their job.” It’s shocking how poorly some people treat wait staff and I never understood why. Most people I’ve worked with are honest people just trying to pay their bills.
It’s Not the Server’s Fault Your Food Isn’t Ready Yet
Waitstaff takes your order and brings you the food when it’s ready, but there’s a time between those two things where they don’t have any control over your meal, says forgetful burner the third (GDI):
THE WAIT STAFF HAVE NO CONTROL OVER YOUR FOOD, PLEASE DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR FRUSTRATIONS WITH THE CHEF ON YOUR POOR WAITER/WAITRESS.
hambubger87 agrees, suggesting there’s a polite way to bring it up:
If your food is taking a while, it’s okay to ask the server what’s going on, but don’t blame them. Usually, the kitchen fucked up or is just generally backed up. The server is just as annoyed as you are that your food isn’t ready.
Cooks know the time of day matters as well. Mercenary Chef suggests showing up for the lunch or dinner rush is going to guarantee a longer wait time:
If you come in during peak times, and order food that would reasonably take fifteen minutes to cook normally, do not be surprised if you do not see your food for at least a half an hour. There is only so much grill/broiler/fryer space, so if we are arse deep, your food is going on the waiting list. So get comfy, try to enjoy some small talk with your terrible blind date, or just read the Onion.
Be Clear About What You Want or Need
Restaurant staff can only work with the information they get from you, so be upfront about what you want. Like, as Rangalaxy17 points out, if you just want to drink and not eat:
If you only want drinks, it’s a good idea to let us know. Otherwise we have to keep visiting in case you decided you’re hungry, and get the “why are you here again?” look from you each time.
And MikeHerbst suggests you know how you like your food before you order it. Chefs can’t read minds:
Know your meat-cooking temperatures and which cuts are best served at what temperatures. If you’re not sure, leave it to the chef.
But it’s okay to have reasonable requests for your food, says Chris Murray:
Any reputable kitchen will go out of their way to fulfil a reasonable request, just be very clear about what you want when you ask, and be understanding if we say we can’t make it happen for whatever reason.
Do let your server know if you need accommodation. (But be reasonable about it.) …Mainly, this is all about approach. If you’re polite, and ask, rather than insist, most places will go out of their way to make you happy, within the limits of their time, ability, and ingredients.
Just keep in mind that some requests aren’t possible, even if they seem reasonable to you. Mercenary Chef explains:
No matter how fancy the restaurant you go to is, a lot of things are prepped in advance, so that when we get slaughtered for the dinner rush, we’re still able to put food out in a reasonable time. e.g. most sauces are batch made, so no, we will not make you a special single serving without whatever ingredient you don’t like.
When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask your waiter or waitress some questions, says Lalie:
It’s OK to ask questions! I’d rather have someone ask than get mad later. I once had a dude throw his americano at me because he was expecting something that tasted like a frappuccino.
And if you don’t know what you want, it’s ok to ask that too, says StarryNight17:
If you don’t know what you want, ask me. Remember, my goal is for you to have a good meal and leave happy. I can tell you what I’ve heard from customers and other wait staff about any item on the menu.
Just don’t get aggravated when waitstaff asks you some questions in return, says IthinkHamNoblockedme:
Don’t roll your eyes or act incredulous at my questions. I’m just trying to make things correct for you.
Please Don’t Claim Food Preferences as Allergies
If you have food allergies, it’s vital you let waitstaff know so they can alert the cooking staff. But Absotively asks you don’t pretend to have allergies just because you don’t like something:
Don’t claim your preferences are allergies. The kitchen is perfectly willing to accommodate both, but allergies are a lot more trouble, and asking the kitchen to go to that trouble for no actual reason is a jerk move. Special shout-out to the customer whose egg allergy disappeared when the contents of caesar dressing were explained.
This is an especially heinous act if you’re just going along with whatever food fad is all the rage right now, says Mercenary Chef:
…manufacturing an allergy or intolerance for the sake of being trendy is a sure way to become reviled by the kitchen staff. A real allergen concern requires essentially a full sanitization of every station affected, which stops production, causing backups across the board. If you don’t like cilantro, say you don’t like it, and we will make every reasonable accommodation as long as you aren’t a prick.
Even if you think you can get away with it, the staff probably knows anyway, says pandorasmittensv.3.2:
We know the difference between an allergy, an intolerance, and when you just don’t like something and want to make your own damn dish. Don’t bother lying.
Closing Time Means “We’re Closed”
Sneaking into a place for a meal 10 minutes before they close is not ideal, but fine (they are technically open). Still, Chris Murray says you shouldn’t hang around too long:
Closing time is not the last possible minute you can order food, it’s the time you should shoot to be walking out the door. We, of course, understand some leeway is needed, but we have families and lives and sometimes other jobs to go to, too.
lmoneyfresh666 follows up with:
See this one didn’t necessarily bother me given that I usually had end of shift work to do but with that in mind, don’t wait around after your meal. I’m more than patient but don’t make me waste my night for a couple bucks.
You Were Sat There for a Reason
Getting a nice seat in a restaurant is a treat, but sometimes staff needs to seat you somewhere else. Commenter pandorasmittensv.3.2 explains why:
The host often seats on either a rotation or cover count basis to spread out sales among the servers. If you are desperate for a particular table, make a reservation instead of screwing them up when they go to seat you. On that note, if tables are empty, don’t make a stink that you can’t have THAT TABLE. The section may be closed, or it’s likely the tables are being reserved for a large party.
If sitting at a specific table is really that important to you, Rangalaxy17 says it’s best to bring it up before you’re seated:
If you have a table preference, it’s nice to say so at the door instead of waiting until you’ve been placed at a table you won’t accept.
Cooks Don’t Spit in Your Food, But Staff Will Still Bite Back In Other Ways
We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows where cooks do disgusting things to people’s food, but StarryNight17 says that’s rare:
Don’t worry about someone spitting in your food… In several years of food service at various places, I never even heard a rumour of it actually occurring. Primarily because there are always a bunch of people in the kitchen and it’s a fire-on-sight level offence.
They do suggest restaurant staff will do other things if you’re rude, though:
Revenge instead happens via crop-dusting, taking your orders exactly literally, sitting you in the worst table in the restaurant, saying just the wrong thing to ruin your date, and other things which settle the score while maintaining a thin veneer of plausible deniability.
Mercenary Chef says that being rude to the staff is a major distraction for them, and they will find a way to make you pay:
We work with knives, fire, and easily contaminated products, and while most of us can multi-task, that kind of side-chatter increases the likelihood of mistakes and ‘accidents’. And if you ever see a cook just stand outside the kitchen door and survey the dining room, odds are they have been told there’s an arse-hat on the floor. Don’t make them zero in on you, as we’re kind of vindictive.
It’s Fine to Ask for Separate Checks, Just Do So ASAP
What was once a giant pain in the arse is now much easier to handle thanks to point of sale machines. It’s totally cool to ask for separate checks, just do as IthinkHamNoblockedme suggests and say so early on:
If you need separate checks, tell me at the beginning, not at the end. That thing where it takes 10 minutes to get your bill is because you didn’t correctly prepare your server. We’re not going to ask, we’ve been bitched at too many times for making such an assumption.
But it’s even more important you prep your waiter or waitress if you have a giant party, says pandorasmittensv.3.2. It can get complicated and back up their workflow:
It’s easy to split checks, but if you have over five people in your group, please don’t. If a restaurant is busy, the server is getting increasingly weeded for every check they need to cash out, especially if they need change.
Bonus: It’s Totally Fine to Hand Waitstaff Your Card as Soon as You Get the Bill
Lastly, commenter kcunning asked a question I’ve always wanted to know the answer to myself:
When my husband and I dine out, he’ll often pull out his wallet when he’s ready to pay had have his card ready. When the waiter gives us our check, he immediately hands it back with the card.
He says this is perfectly fine and that it’s probably convenient for the waiter. I’m not so sure, since it seems to screw up the rhythm that some waiters have (dropping off several bills and then coming back around to collect them, for example). It also feels rude, though I can’t quite put my finger on why.
So, which would you rather have?
Rest easy, folks who have your money ready to go. Most waitstaff like it when you do that, says Senshi34:
This is perfectly fine to do. Most waitstaff would prefer this than to awkwardly pass by every couple minutes to see if you are ready. As far as “screwing up their rhythm,” waitstaff always have something to do, so they are quick to adapt and work in order of urgency. Chances are that they will get to you first unless they have a pressing matter, such as a missing order.
And butcherbakertoiletrymaker agrees:
Totally cool — actually better than having to come back and make a second, or third, or fourth, trip to see if it’s ready.
So there you have it! Keep all of these things in mind the next time you sit down for a meal at any establishment.