The Dos And Don'ts Of Restaurant Etiquette From A Waiter That Has Seen It All

by Ariel Barnes

Much like the set of rules on how to be a server, bartender or hostess, there should be a guide on how to be a decent customer.

Some customers seem to have forgotten that the staff that takes care of them is made up of people who are not just your servants for the extent of however long it takes you to eat.

Check out the following dos and don’ts of dining from me, a server who has had enough.

1. DO: Wait for a server to come over after you have sat down.

DON’T: Wave to get someone’s attention as if you’re drowning. Any kind of snapping, clapping, yelling or tugging is prohibited and if I catch you doing it, I will ignore the sh*t out of you. Do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor and calm down. Just because I am not in your line of sight does not mean I have disappeared into thin air.

What am I, a wizard? If I were a wizard, I sure as hell would not be a server. Serving is about multi-tasking, so if I’m not at your table, I’m either at the bar, serving station or in the kitchen.

2. DO: Read the menu, ask practical questions and decide what you’d like to order within a reasonable time frame.

DON’T: Make me pour five different test tastes of wine because you can’t make up your mind. Also, don’t ask me to describe all of our appetizers because you don’t feel like reading the menu. If your party is not yet ready to order, it’s okay, just don’t summon me and pretend like you’re ready. Every time you make a server watch you reread the entire menu, a little piece of him or her dies.

3. DO: Warn me about your allergies, intolerances and have a good idea of what you can eat.

DON’T: Ask me for suggestions if I’m unaware that you are gluten intolerant, vegan and allergic to everything, because the only delicious things on the menu have gluten, meat, dairy and everything you’re allergic to ingesting. Also, don’t make up allergies — servers take those things seriously. We have to confirm with the chef that a single ingredient could in fact kill you and inform a manager of your existence.

Please do not tell me that you’re allergic to things you could easily pick out of your food. You’d be surprised how much effort I go through to make sure I am not the culprit of your untimely death.

4. DO: Expect a wait if you have a large party and please be patient so we can accommodate you.

DON’T: Be rude to the hostess and demand to sit at a large table with very few people. And don’t show up with half of the people in your reservation and lie that five people “canceled.” It takes a table from hungry, paying customers and money from my pocket — I have student loans to pay and an alcohol problem to nurse.

5. DO: Patiently wait for your drinks, food and condiments to come.

DON’T: Ask where your martini is two minutes after you ordered it. Even if your drink is the only ticket at the bar, the bartender is literally surrounded by customers whom he/she must serve first. Once again, I am not a wizard and cannot just pull that martini out of my ass and hand it to you. I don’t feel comfortable telling the bartender to make your drink “extra good” for his “favorite customer” (which you probably are not).

6. DO: Be kind to the staff.

DON’T: Act like the servers or bartenders are your court jesters for the evening. We take the orders, bring the food and drink, make sure everything goes smoothly and are hospitable while doing so. Don’t call me sweetie or say things like, “don’t worry, I’m a good drunk driver” when I bring you your fourth old fashioned.

I have to pretend things like that are funny or remotely acceptable so you have that “great dining experience” and fulfill my manager’s dream of having five stars on Yelp. Servers and bartenders have waited on racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots and it is pure torture when we can’t call any of them out.

7. DO: Stay for an appropriate amount of time during restaurant hours.

DON’T: Arrive at the restaurant before we’re open or stay after we’re closed. Give-A-S*it o’clock starts at 9 am and you showing up at 8:45 am really messes up the start of my day. Those numbers exist for a reason and it’s awkward if you’re waiting around an empty restaurant expecting help while I pretend like you don’t exist. The same goes for staying late.

If you are sitting down at a restaurant five minutes before closing, no matter how many times a hostess, server or manager says “it’s not too late,” the truth is, it is too late. I can’t tell you to leave because I have to smile while serving you — the very last table in the restaurant and the one thing stopping me from getting my drink on with my co-workers.

Now it’s been an hour since we closed and I’m missing out on pickleback shots so you can dillydally with an inch of wine left in your glass. The word “closed” has one meaning, but when it’s on the front of a restaurant door, it might as well mean, “we’re open if you complain enough.”

8. DO: Have realistic expectations if you’re a regular.

DON’T: Expect a royal treatment or free food because you eat at the same establishment all the time. This isn’t like getting a punch card at a frozen yogurt shop. If you eat at the same restaurant two nights out of the week, the third visit will not be free. We’re glad to have regulars, but don’t be a baby if you didn’t get a free appetizer or if the new guy didn’t know who you were.

Regular or not, acting like an entitled jerk puts you on everybody’s sh*t list and that’s a list you don’t want to be on. You may have earned priority and are guaranteed good treatment, but being a regular does not make you a VIP.

9. DO: Keep it together.

DON’T: Make a fool of yourself. You’re in public. Don’t abuse the happy hour and don’t arrive wasted. I’m glad you chose to spend your hard-earned money at my restaurant, but when you are the loudest person at the bar, you need to go the f*k home. Falling asleep or feeling the urge to vomit is also a common sign that you no longer belong there. A restaurant is a server’s second home and when you puke all over it claiming “beer before liquor” was the problem, you are no longer welcome.

10. DO: Tip 20 percent.

DON’T: Tip below 15 percent. 20 is the new standard, but anything between that and 15 will do. Going over 20 percent is greatly appreciated and will leave your server in a good mood. If you have money to go out, you should always have money to tip.

A server’s livelihood consists of minimum wage and tips. The amount of stress and degradation that comes with putting up with hundreds of people’s sh*t deserves a reward. The service industry would crumble if tips didn’t exist and if you do not agree, please eat at home for the rest of your life.

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