Everyone loves eating out. It’s fun. It’s (hopefully) tasty. And most of all, it offers a welcome reprieve from whipping up a meal at the end of a long day. But for the servers of the world, it can be a pretty irritating day-to-day experience—all thanks to patrons who behave like total jerks, whether they’re aware of it or not.
If you’re in the latter—if you’re blissfully, totally unaware of how you might be getting on your server’s nerves—we urge you to read on and learn how to best behave yourself in a restaurant. And for more amazing fine dining advice, know that This Is the Best Seat in Any Restaurant.
According to Steve Dublanica, author of Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip—Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, “Restaurants are set up to make what’s on the menu as well as a predetermined list of specials.”
So, don’t be surprised if your hyper-specialized order doesn’t taste the best, and definitely don’t annoy your waiter by complaining about it. Dublanica says, “When you order what’s not on the menu, you’re forcing the chef into a situation where he’s cooking something he doesn’t make on a regular basis.” And for more behavior you should kick to the curb when you walk into a restaurant, check out 25 Things You Should Never Do at a Fancy Restaurant.
It’s your birthday. It’s graduation. It’s a day-after wedding wind-down. But you should temper your expectations. There’s a slim-to-zero chance all 30 of you will be able to sit together. Event sales coordinator Jennifer Wooddy says, “Some restaurants aren’t able to seat a group of 20 at one long table and may need to split your group into smaller tables right by each other.” (It’s also a good idea to make a reservation, especially if you’re going out on a weekend, or during prime meal time.)
And when you all start to order, keep in mind that lots of food is going to take lots of time to cook. Crowds slow everything down a little, so be patient, and be mindful not to take any frustration out on your server. And to learn about what you should do when you go out to eat, check out 25 Things You Should Always Do at a Fancy Restaurant.
If you’re a parent to teens, it’s time to stop letting them order from the kids menu. Many restaurants have a clearly stated age limit for the kids menu. Kendall Goodrich, chair of the marketing department at the Wright State University business school, says, “If everyone ordered off of this kids menu, then [restaurants] wouldn’t make any money. If someone has small kids, you get the kid in at the lower price and what they’re hoping is that they’ll get the adults to pay full price.”
If a waiter comes to take your order, and you ignore them because you’re checking Facebook—or texting your friend back, or catching up on Snap stories—they’re (rightfully) going to get annoyed. Basically, hew to the Golden Rule: If you expect your server to give you their full attention, it’s only fair that you do the same.
In fact, some restaurants are going so far to start encouraging guests to unplug during the meal. According to Peter Naccarato, co-author of Culinary Capital, “There’s a concern that you end up with a dining room of people snapping photos, and that somehow impacts the dining experience of everyone.”
If you make your waiter list out everything that comes on the burger, when it says it on the menu that’s, y’know, right in front of you, it’s likely that you’ll annoy them. The same goes for the wine list, especially if you’re just going to end up ordering a Pilsner instead. Also, don’t ask them to keep repeating the specials over and over—just listen the first time. And more insight into what your waiter or waitress is thinking, check out these 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You.
It’s fine to bring a baby to a restaurant, of course. But you might want to reconsider bringing them during peak hours (7:00 to 9:00 p.m., at most joints). After all, kids are unpredictable, and, no matter how well-disciplined they may be, you run the risk of crying or throwing food—distractions that can throw your server off his or her game.
Plus, booster seats and high chairs make navigating an already-packed front-of-house a more difficult process. When it comes to dining with kids, treat them like you’d treat your grandparents: Hit up the early bird hours. And for more amazing parenting hacks, steal these 10 Parenting Secrets from an All-Star Dad.
If you spend time at the table sitting around and pointedly not reading the menu, it’s not really fair to complain about how long it takes for your food to come out of the kitchen. To keep the dining process running smoothly, know what you want to eat by the time your waiter comes to your table (or kindly indicate that you’ll need another minute or two, and then dive headlong into the menu so you’re ready on round two). After all, the time your server spends on your table could be spent helping others. And for more ways to make a fine dining experience as fine as possible, check out these 20 Secret Restaurant Perks You Didn’t Know Existed.
Bureau of Labor Statistics guidelines dictate that waiters are required to go through stringent on-site training before they’re allowed to head out to the floor. This means they’re experienced, and they know full-well what they’re doing. Trust them! If they think they can remember your drink order without writing it down, it’s a good bet they can. There’s no need for a snarky, “Oh, you can remember all of that?”
If you’re served something you definitely didn’t order, then, by all means, don’t feel bad about letting your waitress know and asking for your correct meal. But, if your chicken is just a little drier than you’d expect, it might be best just to deal with it. It’s important to remember that your server is not the one who cooked your food.
Danny Meyer, the head honcho of Union Square Hospitality Group—the restaurant conglomerate behind a pantheon of iconic New York institutions, including Gramercy Tavern and the North End Grill—says that it is generally okay to send a dish back as long as you are specific about what, exactly, you didn’t like about it. This gives the restaurant insight into how they should advertise the dish differently in the future, so the issue never pops up again. It’s a win-win all around! And if you’re looking for some grade-A places to get some grub, meet the The 9 Restaurants in America That Serve Real Kobe Beef.
There’s no need to complain to your waiter about every little thing wrong with your meal. Remember: They didn’t cook it. Next time your burger is a tad overdone, or your pork is a little dry, or your salmon is a little cold, resist the urge to make a scene. Instead, politely tell your server that you have some feedback about the food, and if they could kindly relay your message to the chef, that’d be much appreciated.
If you and your table of four are splitting a single bottle of vino and an app or two, you might not want to go out to eat at a thoroughly-booked restaurant. That table could go to a group of patrons planning on ordering a well-stacked bill—that would result in a meaty tip, too. Instead, you’re condemning your server to a meager tip, which (more on this momentarily) isn’t fair at all.
We get it—having to do back-of-the-receipt arithmetic is annoying. But just think about busy your server is, and how many other tables have made the same request. The sheer amount of various mathematical combinations boggles the mind.
Instead, use an app like Tab. Here’s how it works: You take a picture of your receipt, put in the tip amount, and then tap the items that were yours to “claim” them. The app does the math. There’s only one catch: It’s iPhone only. So, if you’re among the contingent of Android users, stick to an easy-pay app like Venmo. That way, you pay your fair share and save your server some trouble.
There’s no way to say this politely: After you have finished eating, pay your bill and hit the road. Servers don’t like watching you sit and chit-chat for hours, because they want to start serving new customers. If the restaurant you’re at is busy, and there are people waiting for a table—or if the restaurant is about to close, and front-of-house staff needs to clean up—it’s best to take your conversation elsewhere.
Dublanica says, “Is the waiter hovering nervously around your table? Did the hostess offer to get your coats? That’s probably because the restaurant needs the table.” Take the hint. A good alternative: the bar! At most establishments, the bar is open an extra hour or two after the dining room closes. That way, you don’t have fumble through Yelp! trying to track down a suitable, open place nearby.
If you ordered something well-done, don’t get upset because it hasn’t come out yet. If your wine glass has been empty for a few minutes, you can wait a few minutes more, still. Think of it this way: When you’re slammed at work, have you tended to every single task, with 100-percent accuracy, at the speed of light?
When servers bring out your food, and ask where to put each dish, don’t ignore them. They can’t read your mind, so just remind them which meal is yours. They’re busy, serving a lot of different people, and a few precise details may have slipped through the cracks. If your waiter mistakenly puts your meal in front of your husband, there’s no need to raise alarms; just politely switch plates. And if your purse, glasses, or phone are in the way, it’d go a long way in making your server’s life easier if you move them aside.
Few things are more annoying to your server than when you ask for a bunch of different things all at different times. Your server has other tables to worry about, so rather than bothering them for extra napkins, more silverware, and a refill each time they walk by, mention everything you need all at once so that they’re not running back and forth all night.
It’s important to remember a timeless adage, “You get what you pay for.” Meaning: You can’t expect to be treated like a Le Bernadin customer if you’re just catching a quick club sandwich at The Corner Bar. One easy way to ensure you’re not inadvertently coming off as overly pretentious: If you server brings you a to-go box, instead of taking your food to the kitchen for packaging, it’s not tough to put the food in yourself.
Yes, some plate balancing acts are nothing short of impressive. But your server only has two hands, just like you and me; they can’t carry everything all at once. So, if three of your four meals come out, don’t annoy your server by hurling a, “Hey, did you forget my food?” It’s coming.
A good rule of thumb: If they don’t indicate your dish is on its way, and five or ten minutes have passed, it’s all well and good to politely ask, “Hey, do you know when the swordfish might be out?”
In the days of yore, it was fine to wave down—and snap and whistle at—your server, to get their attention. But no longer! This is behavior that’s best relegated to the past. Instead, if you need something, try initiating eye contact. A good server will be attentive, and will notice you in due time.
According to The Emily Post Institute, the high court of etiquette, there is a precise tipping amount: 15 to 20 percent before tax. According to BLS stats, many servers are paid far less than minimum wage (with the idea that tipping makes up the difference). In fact, even the Fair Labor Standards Act dictates that waiters and waitresses can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour! In other words, never, ever forget to tip—fairly—even if you’re unhappy with the service.
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