All The Things Restaurant Workers Wish You Knew

All The Things Restaurant Workers Wish You Knew
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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.

lmoneyfresh666 agrees:

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):


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.

MikeHerbst agrees:

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.


  • I always get excellent, friendly service when travelling in the US, probably because, being an egalitarian Aussie, I just treat wait staff as people doing a job, not my personal lackeys.

    I suspect there’s an attitude of “I’m paying you a tip, so I don’t also have to be nice to you” from the locals.

  • Heres one big thing i wish people knew when ordering food over the phone and paying on card.

    For fucks sake when you say the card expiry say a number. Dont say the month. You are only wasting mine and your time by behing a moron.

  • Bonus: It’s Totally Fine to Hand Waitstaff Your Card as Soon as You Get the Bill

    Anyone that does this is INSANE! You wouldn’t believe how many times me and my husband have gotten overcharged in lots of different ways as well. 5 times we have had wrong tables rung up on our credit card LARGE amounts( 3 times almost $40, almost $11, etc.) before we filled out the tip even. Extra items, wrongly rung up items(once I ordered a side salad with an entrée but the waitress rung me up without an entrée price), and wrong prices(prices that don’t match the menu). We have also gotten a few times or so the WRONG CHECK.

    Also, many people complain they double tip not noticing automatic gratuity in a large party, because they are being too lazy and uncaring to check every single thing with their check amount.

    Anyone that puts their trust into a STRANGER is NUTS! You have got to be kidding me if you think that is a good idea not to **READ** your bill?

  • Why waiting tables is seen as a job for the lowest of the low.

    Because sometimes servers are DINGY like me and my husband have gone to restaurants before the FIRST TIME and known MORE about the menu and how to do the job than they do, which neither one of us has been an actual server before. I have had to “TEACH” them about the menu. It’s pathetic and sad, it really is.

  • If you only want drinks, it’s a good idea to let us know.

    When I have done that at first, some are rude like offering us “Do you want to sit at the bar” when it was smoky(we don’t smoke) and it’s nice to have privacy. So, eventually we let the server know, but not when greeted. It makes for very bad service being that they feel if you are just getting bar drinks, they won’t get a huge tip, so they purposely get things slowly such as waiting 10 minutes until the bar drinks are ready to bring out a water or even after the bar drinks has happened even.


    This is 100% NOT TRUE, here’s why:

    90% of the time it’s the SERVER’S FAULT:

    1. They can put in the order wrong into the computer or if it’s a written ticket they submit, they could have written something down wrong or hard to read.

    2. They could have forgotten to put in the order in the first place.

    3. Servers can also misunderstand what the customer is saying such as 2 times when I ordered 2 sides of bbq sauce and the stupid idiot servers thought I didn’t want bbq sauce on my ribs when I NEVER ONCE SAID I didn’t and I didn’t say “ON THE SIDE”, I SAID SIDES, which means extra. One of those times I said extra even.

    4. Most mistakes with food are visible:

    A. Condiments of any kind regardless of who brings out the food can be brought out by the server ahead of time.

    B. If someone orders extra crispy bacon with their pancakes, then the bacon looks limp, not stiff, and you can even see some white fat on it, guess what? MY SERVER COULD HAVE SEEN THAT TOO AND TOLD THE COOKS IT WASN’T CORRECT, TO RECOOK IT INSTEAD OF BRINGING IT TO ME WRONG IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    C. Any wrong side dishes or entrees are the fault of the server if they bring out the food even if they put in the order right. You can tell the difference between a baked potato and mac n’ cheese, yet, a waiter at Logan’s Roadhouse was so stupid as to bring me mac n’ cheese when I ordered a baked potato. I noticed it within 5 seconds of the food hitting my table. Like DUH a baked potato looks completely different from mac n’ cheese.

    D. Any MISSING side dishes, appetizers, condiments, or entrees ARE the server’s fault if they bring out the food as well. Have had that happen a few times or so. Our servers aren’t blind, so they can tell if something is missing or not.

    E. I have seen a red steak delivered to someone before at Outback which means let’s say the customer ordered their steak well done, that the server could have noticed the color difference as in someone’s example “Steak cooked rare instead of well done ? It’s not your server’s fault, they didn’t cook it, it’s the kitchen’s fault.”

    F. If something LOOKS burnt such as a piece of bread with the food and the person didn’t order it burnt, my server is at fault for serving me that.

    G. If my server forgets an item that an entree or appetizer comes with, that’s their fault if they brought me my food without the item such as a side dish or ranch.

    H. I have ordered at Outback my fries “lightly cooked” “Not overdone and yellow not brown.” I have had their fries before cooked the way I like them before many of times before this time I am talking about. This stupid waitress decided to blame the kitchen staff for REALLY DARK BROWN FRIES as if she was blind or something and my husband even told me he could see that they were really dark. My husband may not agree with me on every subject of course, but with that, you could EASILY tell just by LOOKING that those fries were overdone and very dark. She said she put in the order correctly. I am thinking, SO? I wish I could have said “Are you blind?” That was HER FAULT she DECIDED TO SERVE ME THOSE FRIES THAT WEREN’T CORRECT. I noticed the mistake within 3 seconds of my food being placed in front of me.

    You can tell in this picture above the bacon is very crispy just by simply LOOKING at it.

    You can tell in this picture above the bacon is NOT CRISPY, just by simple LOOKING at the bacon.

    While the server didn’t “COOK” the bacon, it’s obvious to the *SERVER’S* EYES that one batch of bacon is crispy and the other isn’t to decide to BRING the food to the customer wrong or not. It’s my server’s fault if they decide to bring me the bacon that’s like in picture 2 if I ordered it crispy that she or he didn’t tell the cooks it was wrong and get them to cook the bacon more instead of SERVING it wrong. WHY bring it out only for the food to be sent back?

    You can clearly see the fries are overdone in the picture above if the customer ordered them “NOT OVERDONE, lightly cooked.”

    In this picture above, you can see the fries don’t appear overdone and the bacon is NOT CRISPY. If a customer asked for their bacon to be crispy, I would REFUSE to serve it and I would have enough CARING and COMMON SENSE to get that fixed **BEFORE** I brought it to the customer only to have the customer send it back or leave me a bad tip for not caring about their food.

    My server’s job isn’t just to bring out what the kitchen staff gives them, it’s also getting the order OBVIOUSLY correct to the table as much as possible in order to get that good tip. As someone said on a blog or forum “They just want to be tipped well and will do pretty much anything reasonable to get your money”, which that IS VERY REASONABLE to think OUR SERVERS ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THEIR TIP TO GET THINGS RIGHT TO HAVE A BETTER TIP!!

    Get what I am saying here? MOST of the mistakes happen due to either your server if they bring out the food or another server that doesn’t compare the ticket to the food(assuming the order was put in correctly by the original server of course).

    You also can notice if someone has wing sauce “On the side” vs. “On the wings” themselves. This isn’t rocket science.

    Most of the things that are wrong with the food can be caught by the server if they bring out the food, even if they didn’t cook it. If it’s another server, they can catch obvious errors on the ticket and menu(such as menu states the item comes with bbq sauce and the ticket doesn’t say “no bbq sauce”) if the ticket was correctly put in by the original server that took the order. Condiments(in bottles or on the side in containers) can always be offered to be brought out ahead of time REGARDLESS of WHO brings out the food to the table.

    So most of the time when the food has something wrong with it, chances are, your server or another server could have caught the mistake before it got to you in most instances. I NEVER said ALL, but in most cases, it can be caught BEFORE bringing out the food(unless another server brings out the food with the ticket wrong), because then the original server that took the order is at fault for putting the order in incorrectly into the computer.

    There are few rare cases where the food being wrong is the kitchen staff’s fault such as raw food(such as raw chicken), slightly undercooked or overcooked food that you’d have to CUT into to know if it was under or overcooked, or anything the server cannot see with their eyes unless they were to TOUCH the food. Things such as a pickle under a bun the server can’t notice unless they lift the bun, so unless they put the order in wrong, they wouldn’t be at fault, but in general most food mistakes can be caught BEFORE bringing the food to the table.

    What I am saying is, MOST mistakes ARE PREVENTABLE by the SERVER if they bring your order to you that they can NOTICE things wrong by comparing those written orders to the plates of food.

    Once a waiter at Chili’s said “The kitchen forgot” when I had ordered 2 sides of mayo and 1 side of mustard. The thing is, my waiter brought out the food, so NO, HE HE HE HE HE FORGOT, the kitchen staff didn’t step out the kitchen to bring me my food and forget obvious missing containers from my plate that aren’t covered up by anything. MY WAITER DID THOUGH!!

    You walk in one room in your house with a plate of food, but forget the ranch. Even if your mom or significant other plated your food, which you even told her you wanted a side of ranch for your fries, but you bring it to another room. HOW IS THAT THEIR FAULT? It’s YOUR FAULT YOU LEFT THE ROOM WITHOUT THE RANCH AND DIDN’T NOTICE IT SINCE IT’S SOMETHING OBVIOUS YOU DON’T HAVE TO *TOUCH* TO NOTICE THE MISTAKE!!

    Even if he didn’t bring out the food, that waiter could have prevented that type of thing from being forgotten since it needs no cooking to bring it out ahead of time. It is always the person bringing out the food that is at fault for any type of mistake that you don’t have to TOUCH the food to notice the mistake, unless of course, the order was put in wrong by the original server that took the order with another server bringing out the food. Of course unless, the kitchen goofs up, making it correctly even if the ticket is wrong, but that’s highly unlikely scenario.

    I cannot believe you honestly think that the server is not at fault for most food mistakes. WE LIVED THROUGH THE “DUH” MISTAKES, SO WE CAN SEE WITH OUR EYES WHO WAS AT FAULT!!

    We had a waiter once admitted he grabbed the wrong entrée from the kitchen. It was just my husband and I. This waiter not only admitted he didn’t compare the WRITTEN ORDER with the entrées he was bringing out, but also we saw he had other entrées for another table that he didn’t ONCE get his pad of paper out to see WHICH ENTRÉE WENT WITH WHICH TABLE!! So 2 times he could have caught his mistake, but didn’t *****TRY HIS BEST AS HE SHOULD HAVE, because that’s HIS JOB**!!

    He admitted that he grabbed the wrong entrée from the kitchen. He brought my husband fried shrimp w/fries when he ordered crawfish au gratin w/baked potato. Those items look NOTHING A LIKE, but yet THAT WAITER WAS TOO LAZY AND UNCARING TO VERIFY *WHAT* HE WAS BRINGING US!! We still left him 17% BTW, just to let you know since he profusely apologized TWICE and FIXED THE SITUATION IMMEDIATELY just about. We honestly shouldn’t have though, because that really didn’t make him LEARN anything. If I had to do it all over again, I would have tipped 13%. It’s because since that happened(a number of years ago, maybe like 4), me and my husband have had some terrible experiences. We have had good ones too of course, but the servers need to LEARN that they can’t just hand you ANYTHING like McDonald’s cashiers do. They are there to EARN a tip, NOT to just hand you anything.

    It’s very rare that it’s not the server’s fault. Things like if I order no pickles if you took my order and brought out my food, which there are some pickles under a bun that you’d have to lift it to see it, unless you admitted putting in the order wrong, I will assume it’s the kitchen staff that is at fault and probably is.

    Things like raw chicken tenders aren’t the fault of the server.

    A slightly over or undercooked steak if the order was put in correctly is not the server’s fault.

    Also, some people assume things as well, that end up being wrong.

    If another server brings out a wrong side dish or if they are missing items other than condiments, no it’s not the server’s fault if they put in the order correctly, but it still counts against the tip. It’s part of the service.

    Why also is it when you say “no pickles” or “ONLY lettuce and onions”, they still have a pickle on the plate? WHY you servers can’t understand that if the customer states they don’t want pickles, that means on the plate, because otherwise, they’d specifically state they would have wanted it “ON THE SIDE.” Think about it. WHY do I keep having servers bring me some pickles on the plate when I ordered no pickles? NO SERVERS ARE BLIND OR ILLITERATE that they cannot determine any of the obvious errors that don’t have to be touched to notice the mistakes or mistake.


  • 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.

    It’s a **TWO-WAY** street! We are human too, but most servers don’t apologize for their mistakes. In fact, some even blame other people or objects even for something **THEY** had FULL 100% control over.

    Lots of servers are mean and rude, because they are so selfish. If they weren’t selfish, they’d check your check prices against the menu rather than blaming corporate or the computer or a manager.

    Most people I’ve worked with are honest people just trying to pay their bills.

    I disagree. There are MANY servers that try to intentional overcharge you. We have had some over the years. Also, they are only concerned with their bills RATHER than worrying about the customer’s money when it comes to check time, they seem to not care they have overcharged you.

  • 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.

    LAZY, LAZY, LAZY!! Your JOB as the server is to do things how **WE** want it for ***********OUR TIP MONEY WE ARE PAYING YOU******! The server should be asking large parties if separate checks are needed. Now if they change their mind at the end about that, while that sucks, don’t you want MORE MONEY for MORE WORK? Seriously, that’s lazy.

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