The customer’s always right. Right?
When I got my first job as a server, I learned that wasn’t always the case. I was working in a small cafe during lunch hours in the rural town where I was attending college, and to this day, it goes down as my least favorite job.
After years of dining out, it gave me a true understanding of just how thankless that job of a server can be. Some days, I would run back and forth for a table dozens of times, only to find two lonely dollar bills left behind as a tip. Other days, business was slow, and I felt lucky to get two tables over the course of my shift.
That job changed how I thought about restaurants and the servers that work there. From bad tips to flat out rudeness, I saw bad behavior that was plentiful and unwarranted. After a semester, I was thrilled my transfer to another school gave me an excuse to give my notice. I’ll never forget just how miserable that job was, but sometimes I wish I could go back and say a thing or two to the customers that made that job misery.
With an estimated 3,754,000 individuals working in the restaurant industry in the United States, you can bet I’m not the only one with a few bones to pick. Here are 10 things your server really wishes you’d try to understand before finding a spot at one of their tables.
False perceptions about tipping are by far among the most frustrating for servers. At that little cafe in rural Missouri, I rarely cleared minimum wage because my guests seemed to believe that tipping at lunch was optional. Like me, there is one thing most servers want their customers to know more than anything else: tips are their livelihood.
“I don’t think most people who have never served realize how much most servers make an hour,” says Rhonda Cherrito, who served for seven years. “I think when I started I was making a little over a dollar an hour. When I stopped, it was around $2 an hour. Tipping appropriately is a necessity for servers.”
So, what equals appropriate tipping? For starters, not tipping is never appropriate. Even bad service should be tipped no less than 10 percent, according to CNN’s The Money List. When service that is good enough, 15 percent is the standard, and excellent and attentive service should be tipped around 20 percent. Feeling generous? Up it to 25 or even 30 percent. It will probably only be a couple extra dollars out of your pocket, but trust me, the server will notice you went above and beyond. It just might make their whole week.
Heart to Heart
Unfortunately for many servers, even though most Americans are spending nearly a third of their food budget on eating out, it seems like most patrons still aren’t aware of how to behave appropriately in a restaurant. In fact, it seems like many restaurant patrons forget any manners their parents taught them the moment they are seated at their table.
“[Some customers] act like they don’t even want a server with the rudeness that they give and their attitudes. People just don’t even acknowledge your presence, and so then maybe I’ll walk away and come back after a minute or so, and they still don’t acknowledge you,” shares Emily Hoagland, who has been serving for over five years.
Just because servers are being paid to make your dining out experience enjoyable, that doesn’t mean they should be treated poorly.
“Remember that we are human beings! I can’t tell you how many times customer comments and actions made me feel stupid, or inadequate, even ugly,” says Amber Villani Newberry, who has 10 years of serving under her belt. “I only really had someone make me cry in front of them once. You had to be a super gigantic kind of a**hole for that to happen.”
Of course, it is possible to be kind and speak up if your meal isn’t meeting your expectations. And, really, your server totally wishes you would just spit it out already.
Restaurant staff realize that it’s their job to make your meal what you hoped it would be, but they can’t do that if you don’t tell them what you want. Instead of dropping hints or being vaguely passive-aggressive about a meal gone wrong, respectfully share what is wrong so your server can make it right. They’re not mind readers, for goodness’ sake!
“I would sometimes have people appear to be upset by the food, then say everything was fine but then not tip well. If I was informed about the issue, I could fix it,” explains Katie Ann, who used to work as a server before she finished her degree and became a teacher.
Although most servers are more than happy to work around allergies or even dietary preferences, diners who make multiple, huge adjustments to their order are nothing short of a bother. Guests who practically make their own meal by making a ton of additions and subtractions or asking for stuff that isn’t listed on the menu are incredibly frustrating, according to Katie Anne.
When it comes down to it, the restaurant chefs are the experts on food. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be eating there. Stop trying to control every aspect of your dining experience; instead, take and leap of faith and trust that a menu item is being cooked a certain way because that is how it is best served.
For the sake of your server’s sanity (and her other tables’ meals) try to consolidate your requests for extras into one trip. Want a dipping sauce with your fries? If possible, ask for the sauce when you order your meal.
“I am one to always try to anticipate the needs of the tables and bring them things that I think they will need, but sometimes people make it really difficult by asking for something new each time,” shares Hoagland. “You’re running around … taking care of other tables. and they’re expecting it back immediately, and sometimes it is just not physically possible.”
Don’t expect your adult beverage to mimic what you make at home. We all tend to over-pour in the comfort of our own kitchens, but many restaurants have strict standards about how much they can serve per drink.
In fact, even though there aren’t laws about a standard pour, there are some universally known guidelines most bars are trying to follow, according to VinePair.
“People don’t realize the drinks they make for themselves at home are usually a lot more generous than a standard pour, so it looks like I am personally cheating them out of [their drink],” explains Katie Anne.
If you’re dining in a large party and planning to split the bill, please have a plan in place for the split and make sure everyone tips their fair share. Although splitting checks is pretty standard in many restaurants, it’s a practice that can really hurt the server if restaurant guests aren’t conscientious.
“Splitting the bill would always hurt me in the end because people would forget to tip on their share,” Katie Anne tells Urbo.
When in doubt, take advantage of the technology that is literally always in your hand. There are several check splitting apps out there that make the process of paying and tipping hassle-free. Billr, for instance, can actually split a check based on what each person ordered and then provide each diner with an appropriate tip amount.
Even though most servers are willing to go above and beyond to make a dining experience enjoyable, they can only control so much. When your food isn’t quite what you expected, remember that the server is not the person preparing the food so they shouldn’t be the target of your anger.
Hannah Rawdon, who has been working as a server for two years, tells Urbo of a recent experience at the restaurant where she works. A guest was really, really unhappy with the food he ordered, mainly because he misunderstood what was in the dish. Rawdon went above and beyond to make things right and still walked away from the experience empty-handed.
“We bought his dinner and his friend’s dinner, there was no thank you from the man and they still did not tip me!”
Another big issue that your server cannot control is the behavior of others guests. Don’t expect a perfect environment when you go out the eat because there are plenty of variable factors at play, including the choices of other guests.
“It’s as if all manners go out the window. Last night, a table of five adults came over to a table of four adults and three children and yelled at them because they were being too loud. This not uncommon behavior from guests in my restaurant,” shares Rawdon.
Werk, Werk, Werk
At the end of the day, it is a good idea to keep in mind just how hard of a job serving can be. If your server seems to be having a difficult day, consider being kind instead of making matters worse by complaining or making difficult requests.
“It is so much work. You’re not just taking an order and keeping drinks full, you have things behind the scenes you are doing. You work hard, and sometimes go all day without being able to use a bathroom or eat,” recalls Shannon Carter, who worked as a server for two years.
An understaffed restaurant is something servers have no control over, but they still bear the brunt of the consequences. Bad staffing decisions by a manager or dealing with a sick coworker who had to call out can make for a really hard day for a server. When in doubt, be gracious; you never know what they’re dealing with behind the scenes.
If your meal is butting up dangerously close to when the restaurant is supposed to close, make sure you are able to finish up and head out before they switch off the neon sign.
“It’s a pain when people come in within the last 30 minutes before close and stay past closing. Even if they come within the last hour and take their time,” one waitress shares.
And if you’re thinking about sneaking in for a quick bite to eat 10 or 15 minutes before your favorite restaurants closes, please don’t!