An Open Letter From A Disgruntled Server: 6 Ways To Improve Your Dining Experience

by Nicole Estrella

For the better part of my working life, I have been a waitress. True, I never make an actual paycheck and my benefits are laughable. I sometimes end a shift long after others have ended their days, and it may take multiple showers to get the smell of French fries out of my hair, but I work hard, party late and have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with all kinds of people.With this, I have come to understand quite a bit about life and the world we live in.

Today, customer-care cards, suggestion boxes and review websites have allowed the general public to voice their opinions on how servers can help to better the dining experience.

I have attended countless meetings, speeches and tastings to assure that I am able to provide the best service. I thought it only fair that, in turn, I let the patrons in on a few life lessons that could enhance the dining experience for us servers, as well.


Please allow the following advice to stand as the guidelines for your next dinner out. Read, learn and proceed accordingly.

Patience Is A Virtue

In a world where Internet speeds move faster than lightening and same day delivery seems slow, it’s easy to understand our frustration at the thought of waiting. It seems simple enough.

You review the menu, order your meal and in a perfect world, the chef begins to prepare a culinary masterpiece made just for you. Realistically, your order is just one ticket in a sea of yellow slips mapping out that poor chef’s next seven hours over a hot grill. There are wait times, ticket times, re-hash times and special guest requests that all contribute to your waiting.

I like it no better than you do. I am, however, often powerless to do much about the natural progressions of a busy kitchen. So, next Friday night out, if your steak is taking a bit longer than expected, please refrain from grunting, eye rolling or tapping your fingers on the table.

Take this time, rather, to reflect on the last ‘Feed the Children’ campaign you caught on TV and find comfort in knowing you are not, in fact, starving.

Freedom Reigns

For all those who’ve missed the memo, Lincoln and the splendor of the 13th Amendment abolished slavery back in 1865. Do not let the fact that I am prompt and accommodating fool you into believing that I’m wearing shackles beneath my apron.

Under no circumstances is it appropriate to use hand gestures, finger snaps or catcalls, and unless you are on fire, I suggest you think twice before screaming over a crowd to get my attention. As your server, I will see that you are moderately entertained and decently fed.

I will laugh at your jokes, fain tolerance as you deliberate your diet and smile sweetly as your unfortunate children grind chicken fingers into the carpet, but appreciate that while I am one who serves, I am by no means a servant.

Compliments Are Not Currency

How easy it would be if I could cash in on kind words and pay my rent in praise? Sadly, the old-fashioned American dollar is still the only acceptable method of payment.

Too often I have been left lousy tips by people I would consider impeccable character witnesses. They had raved I was charming, funny and good-looking, only to leave behind a measly couple of bucks. In the business, we servers refer to these people as “verbal tippers,” perhaps the worst kind of diner you can encounter.

You VTs are as good at stroking an ego as you are at throwing down a lackluster gratuity, and I’m hip to your game. You must realize that while flattery will get you everywhere, it won’t pay the bills. So, please don’t think that your niceties will ever take the place of a good tip. Proof is in the pudding, people.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Years ago, I was waiting tables with a bubbly blonde from South Jersey, whom, with the exception of a slight unibrow, was really quite stunning. We’ll call her Jenny. One night, while working a party, I saw an elderly man pull Jenny aside. He whispered something in her ear and shook her hand on his way out of the restaurant.

Later that night while cleaning, I had asked Jenny about the man. She laughed, told me he had wanted her to know he thought she was smart. He had handed her a $50 bill and told her she was good enough to go to college and that she didn’t belong doing ‘this’ for a living.

We just shared a smile and kept cleaning. You see, we smiled because what that man didn’t know was that Jenny had indeed gone to college; she was a Princeton graduate at that.

Finishing magna cum laude with a double major in Cryogenics and Prolific Chemistry just three years ago, Jenny was a part-time lab tech at the local hospital, waitressing for extra money -- money she would later use to spend that summer, distributing medical supplies to underdeveloped communities throughout South America.

This man had assumed that since Jenny was paid minimum wage to carry stuffed mushrooms around his cocktail party that she must not have been educated. He thought his extra cash and two-cent speech on reaching for the stars would have done her some good. That man didn’t know Jenny or her story.

He deduced, like many of us so easily do, that her profession defined her. Lesson learned. Be careful not to peg the next young girl who clears your plates as an average slacker. She may just be Jenny.

Know When The Party Is Over

When dining, it is encouraged that you get comfortable. I want you to enjoy the ambiance and the view adequately enough to feel satisfied with the time you’ve spent in my company. Having said that, however, all good things must come to an end.

While I appreciate that you’re relaxed, I ask that you also stay mindful. Know that, like all public locations, restaurants do have a closing time. When busboys are falling asleep standing up and your server is at the bar doing crossword puzzles with the dishwasher, chances are you’ve overstayed your welcome.

I know it is easy to get carried away with romantic moments or great conversation and I would never suggest you cut your good time short. I simply ask that you take your good time elsewhere (another bar, another restaurant, hell, even the parking lot will do).

When you are the last stragglers in an empty, now brightly lit restaurant, make no mistake; each employee left in the restaurant now hates you. To the squatters of the world, Semisonic may have reduced it best: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

Check Neuroses At The Door

Last, but certainly not least… If mood-lighting hurts your eyes and the noise of crowds gives you anxiety; if you are dairy free, sugar free, gluten free and vegan; if you bring your own salad dressing, silverware or water bottle; if you cannot differentiate a table napkin from a personal tissue or find it necessary to put your feet up on furniture; if you need your sides on the side and your organic broccoli steamed separately, it may be best you save us all the trouble and eat in the comforts of your own home.

Thank you in advance,

Your Dedicated Server

Top Photo Credit: Shutterstock