How to be a great restaurant guest (from a self-described great server)

If you have worked in the service industry, I greet you warmly as a comrade in arms. An army of over two million, we brave great battlefields, ready to face our enemies: Ketchup-smeared children, hordes of teenagers with their siblings’ IDs, waves of Woo Girls, and — of course — the unreserved party of twenty that shows up during the dinner rush.  It might not be glamorous, but it is educational.  You can’t face all that together and not learn teamwork. You learn how to hustle, how to prioritize. And you’ll maintain some basic math skills that everyone else forgets.

If, on the other hand, you’ve never worked in the service industry, do yourself (and your future servers) a favor, and try to put yourself in their 12-hour-shift, stanky sneakers.

Really watch your servers as they scurry around the restaurant.  Watch Waiting.  Read articles online about the experience of working in a restaurant.  I promise, with enough exposure, anyone can be a great guest.  But in case you don’t want to creepily and intently stare at wait staff for the duration of your meal, or you don’t have access to a movie from 2005 — this article will have to suffice.


With that being said, here are some DON’Ts that make servers rather unhappy.

You wait at the door — and we haven’t opened yet.

There’s a very simple protocol here: keep waiting.  I know that you want in, but we’re not ready for you.  You might think it’s only ten minutes early, but you’ll be surprised what we can accomplish in that time.  However, I can only be that fast if I don’t need to focus on your table, too. Please wait until I unlock the door.

You don’t read the easily viewable signs.

Some people apparently forget their reading skills once inside.  Our restaurant has large print on the door, screaming for you to “PLEASE SEAT YOURSELF.”  Now, we recognize that that’s not the norm.  Most places have a hostess or host to greet you when you walk in, and they’re annoyed when you seat yourself.  However, given the absence of a host or hostess, and the GIANT sign that you just walked through — I think you can put two and two together.  Don’t grab me by the arm on a busy night and ask to be seated.  What is it about my frantic scurrying about the dining room that makes you think I have time for that?

Also, please read the menu before you ask me a question.  Yes, it comes with a side.  Yes, the kid’s drink is free.  No, we don’t have sweet potato fries.  You have no idea how many times I answer a question that is literally printed right underneath the menu item.  Please read the menu.

You make me wait.

Yes, I am a waitress, but that’s no reason to make me stand awkwardly at your table as you stare at the menu, insist that you are ready, but are unable to pick what you want.  It’s okay.  Just say that you’re not ready yet.  I have no problem circling around, pretending to wipe down the Coke machine for the third time, or attending to my other tables.  But I do have a problem with you holding me, a stranger, hostage at the edge of your table while an awkward silence grips the table.

You stare at me while your food cooks.

If you do this, I’m forced to go over to the window and stare at the chef while he cooks it.  Neither one of these things makes your steak cook any faster.

You get angry when I cut off your drinking.

Look, this isn’t your living room.  You can’t drink until dancing around in your tighty-whities sounds like a good idea.  I can’t send you home with probable alcohol poisoning, no matter who is driving you.  It’d be even better if we never get to the point where  I have to cut you off. Learn what you need to do to keep yourself safe so that I don’t have to cut you off in front of your friends.  It’s awkward for everybody.  I’d love for you keep spending money, but ethically and professionally speaking, I can’t.  I’m not going to lose my job so that you can have one more whiskey coke.

Oh, and please don’t drive home drunk.  We won’t let you walk out the door in that state — which is why your server is so pushy about a cab or rideshare.  And, you know, you might actually really hurt someone. So hand over your keys.

You don’t tip me.

Okay, I’m going to be honest with you — more honest than most of the waitress rants you’ll find online.  While I do depend on tips for income, you stiffing me on one tap doesn’t kill my night.  There’s likely another patron that will make up for your stinginess.  Every once in awhile, the stars align and I make twice or half as much as normal, but usually it all evens out. How much I actually leave the restaurant with is very dependent upon the time of year, what section of the restaurant I’m assigned, how much I have to tip out, and how the kitchen performs (I need them more than they need me).  

But that doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook.  I remember your face, and I remember that you didn’t tip me well.  And the word spreads very fast.  So next time I serve you, when it comes down to bringing your side of ranch versus pouring another table’s third refill — guess which one I’m going to prioritize?

I know, it’s my job.  And I know what people think — If I get so annoyed at customers, maybe I should get a “real job,” especially since robots are moving into the industry.  After all, it’s not your fault that the table before you was belligerently drunk and stiffed me.  You know better since you read this article.  Or maybe you know better because you’re a wait staff veteran, and you read this whole article as some twisted form of self-indulgence.  Either way, have a great night, and thanks for coming in.