Waiting tables isn’t easy.
You’ve got to deal with angry customers, obnoxious children, Sunday brunch crowds, and other hazards—sometimes for very little money. Many waiters and waitresses make far less than minimum wage, so they rely on tips for consistent income, and they’ll do anything within reason to keep their customers happy.
Some customers make that fairly easy, but others seem to take every possible opportunity to add to the stress of the waitstaff. We’re talking about things like…
1. Answering the Question “How Are You?” With a Drink Order
You may think that you’re helping to speed things along, but you’re not really saving much time by skipping the pleasantries. You are, however, being kind of a jerk. This is a quick way to make your server feel like a subhuman.
Be courteous and respond with something like, “I’m fine, thanks. how are you?” Then wait for the server to ask for your order; they’ll tell you when they’re ready to hear it.
2. Insisting on a Certain Table in a Crowded Restaurant.
Your host or hostess assigns tables very carefully. If you suddenly decide to switch tables or if you refuse to be seated at a table instead of a booth, you could be creating a serious inconvenience.
If the restaurant’s nearly empty, by all means, ask for whatever table you’d like. If the place is at capacity, however, you’ll complicate matters for the waitstaff by insisting that your party of two gets that nice six-person corner booth.
3. Not Leaving a Place for the Servers to Put the Food
Get your phones off the table so that your server doesn’t have to stand around awkwardly with a full plate of food, waiting for you to finish your Candy Crush game.
You should also clear off purses and other items—but don’t worry about stacking your dirty plates. Let your server take care of that task.
4. Complaining About the Additional Cost of Extra Ingredients
When you buy mayonnaise at the store, the bigger jar costs a little bit more. That’s how the world works: Things cost money.
Until that changes, extra ingredients might add another dollar or two to your bill. Your server might not mention that to you, because it seems fairly obvious to most reasonable people.
If you see a $0.75 markup for that extra pickle you ordered, don’t be surprised, and certainly don’t demand an explanation from your waiter.
5. Wasting Those Extra Ingredients
If you do decide to order extras, make sure that you actually use them. Granted, you don’t have to use every last slice of onion or drop of ketchup, but if you sent your server back to the kitchen to get something, you should at least use some of it.
Otherwise, your server will wonder why they went through the extra effort to accommodate you.
6. Complaining About Wait Times at a Busy Restaurant
When you see that there’s a line out the door of a restaurant, you shouldn’t be surprised to see that there’s a line in the kitchen as well.
The fastest way to get your food and drinks is to be ready to order when your server comes to your table. With that said, if you need to tell your crew to quiet down when you first sit down at a busy restaurant, don’t feel bad about it—you’ll have plenty of time to apologize for being blunt while your food is being prepared.
7. Getting Too Interested in the Server’s Life
Waiters and waitresses don’t go to work to reveal their personal details to strangers (or to regulars, for that matter). Some friendly banter is fine, but don’t interrogate your server.
Have some situational awareness and try to keep the conversation casual and non-personal. In other words, it’s okay to ask, “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” But don’t ask, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
8. Waiting Until the Food Arrives to Inform the Server of Food Allergies or Dietary Preferences
Servers are not soothsayers. They can’t predict the future, and they don’t know that you’re a vegetarian with a severe peanut allergy. You have to tell them that. If you’ve got specific needs, get in the habit of politely asking your server for food allergen information.
They’ll be happy to provide it—they certainly don’t want to serve anything that will put your health at risk—but you have to give them the information.
9. Showing up With a Massive Party Without Calling Ahead
When the whole front of the house (that’s restaurant talk for “everyone who’s not in the kitchen”) is already in the weeds (restaurant talk for “super busy”), there’s nothing worse than a group of 20 diners showing up and expecting immediate service.
Most restaurants would be happy to accommodate a large group, as long as they have time to prepare. They might need to push some tables together or even call in a few extra servers and kitchen staff. If you’re planning to go out with more than a regular table’s worth of diners, do the polite thing and call the restaurant to see if they’re ready for a group of that size. They’ll be honest.
Oh, and be sure to tip big. Even if you’re pleasant, you’re putting stress on the restaurant staff by bringing a large group, and the best way to thank them is with money.
10. Insisting That Restaurants Take Reservations (When They Don’t Take Reservations)
Given that the cancellation rate for restaurant reservations is close to 20 percent, it makes sense for a restaurateur to do away with the practice entirely. Besides, not taking reservations can create lines out the door, and there’s no better way to generate buzz than that.
You may be irritated that you can’t claim a seat ahead of time, but don’t take it out on your poor server. They only work there, as the saying goes.
11. Not Tipping
In the U.S. the federal minimum wage for a server is just $2.13 per hour. You may be paying $12 for a sandwich, but very little of that money is going to the server.
A 20 percent tip is a fair rate to add to your bill. An easy way to calculate 20 percent is to move the decimal one place to the left of your total and double that amount, so 20 percent of $12.00 is $1.20 times two = $2.40.
12. Not Tipping When Using Gift Certificates or Coupons
Sure, you may have gotten a great bargain on a coupon or may have been given a generous gift certificate for your birthday, but don’t let someone else’s generosity turn you into a cheapskate.
Tip your waitstaff based on the total price of the meal, not on the discounted price. These days, a 20 percent tip is reasonable, but feel free to tip more if you’re essentially eating for free.
13. Complaining About the Food…After Eating Half of the Meal
It’s totally acceptable to send a dish back to the kitchen if there’s a problem with it. Preferably, you’ll notice the mistake before you stuff your face with a significant portion of the dish.
Servers hate taking dishes back to the kitchen; it’s embarrassing, inefficient, and it makes the back-of-the-house staff feel angry and frustrated. With that said, diners are entitled to get the food that they ordered, and servers understand that they’ll have to deal with mistakes every once in a while.
If you eat most of the meal, however, everyone will know that you’re really just trying to get discounted food.
14. Bringing Children (and Not keeping Them Under Control)
There are family friendly restaurants, and then there are chic, darkly lit French bistros. It’s up to the customer to know which one they’re going to before they bring the kids.
Quiet, well-behaved children won’t offend your server, and they’re certainly welcome most places. With that said, if your server has to shout above a 4-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, they’re going to expect a seriously apologetic tip.
15. Expecting Free Desserts on Your Birthday
Chain restaurants might make their staff sing a birthday song to your whole embarrassed table. They might even bring you a cupcake with a candle in it. That’s really nice, but most independent restaurants can’t afford to give anything away.
Servers can’t stand it when customers ask for free food, even if it is their birthday. It puts them in a tough place, since restaurant profit margins are already fairly low. Give them a break and save the cake for home.