Skip navigation

Tag Archives: paying the bill

I’ve been working in the restaurant industry (either as a hostess, server, or bartender), for many years. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many fascinating people, who are often hilarious, friendly, engaging, and polite. However, it can’t be all roses and sunshine. As is true of any line of work that constantly brings you in direct contact with the public, you come to realize that some people just don’t know how to act. They can be rude, discourteous, cheap, self-entitled, and even downright disgusting. The worst part, most of them don’t even know it.

I’m sure I was no treat to wait on when I was younger. Before getting my first restaurant job at 16, I undoubtedly committed many frequent (and most irritating) sins of the patron. I was obnoxious, petty, ignored the server and basic dining etiquette, and had no clue about proper tipping procedure. Sometimes when I get a particularly horrendous table, I assume it’s my karmic retribution for my dining past-life.

As a result, I believe everyone should have to work in a restaurant before they’re allowed to frequent one. It’s amazing how your outlook will change. But until such a law is mandated, I’ve plucked a few tips from my arsenal of dining-and-drinking-out guidelines that will (hopefully) ensure an enjoyable experience… for all parties involved.

(Note: This article is not intended as a rant about all the somewhat-horrid customers I or others have encountered, but rather a  guide on how not to be one of them. Also, neither this article, nor its author, assume that all restaurant/bar industry employees are perfect. We have bad days too.)

1) When in Doubt, Call Ahead

It’s a Friday night, you’re getting a little peckish. You and your closest 9 friends head to the hot new restaurant down the street. “This’ll be nice,” you all think. But when you arrive to a jam-packed restaurant, you’re flabbergasted–maybe even a bit peeved–that you can’t be seated right away. But did anyone think to call and make a reservation? Probably not.

Don’t assume that a restaurant can accommodate your party, particularly if it’s a larger group, or during peak hours. It may take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour for a table to be ready. You could save yourself some time by looking up the number (shouldn’t be much of an issue with all the smart-phones these days) and checking on your table’s availability.

When you call to make the reservation, let us know what type of gathering you’re having, as this may affect where your table is held, even which server is designated to you. For example, are there children in your party, and do they need high chairs? {perhaps a quieter section of the restaurant with a more out-of-the-way table} Or, is this a birthday, bachelor/bachelorette, or other celebratory party? {a table closer to the bar, maybe even a private area of the restaurant, may be more fitting}

Also, if you already have a table or part of the restaurant in mind, let us know. We will try our best to accommodate you; but keep in mind that it may not always be possible to meet every request.

If you do make a reservation, please honor it. Treat it as any other appointment. If you’re going to be late (or early, for that matter), if the number in your party has changed, or you need to cancel altogether–pick up the phone and let us know. The way we seat the dining room is often directly affected by reservations, as well as walk-in patrons. So if you don’t show for your reservation (or it has become drastically altered from what we have in the books), you deprive us from being able to seat other guests.

2) Keep Us Informed

Part of our job is to anticipate your needs–extra napkins, refill on your drink, replacement cutlery after the first course, etc. But very few of us moonlight as mind-readers in our spare time. Please communicate any special circumstances you may be under, or needs you would like met. And do so ASAP.

If you’d like to change tables, please ask us first (preferably the hostess, not the server). Don’t just pick up and move across the dining room, assuming it won’t be an issue. Most of the time it isn’t, and we’re happy to accommodate you wherever you feel the most comfortable; but understand that it is not always possible. There is a system you may not be aware of, and that table may be being held for a reservation. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but it does hurt to get hot tea “accidentally” spilt down the back of you! (No, no. I kid… I’d probably never do that.)

Also understand that tables are sat according the size of the party. This means that, unless the restaurant is empty and you plead incessantly, it is unlikely that you and your two friends will be sitting at the largest table in the restaurant. That table is for parties of seven or more. Go make a few more friends and we can talk–otherwise, sit at your reasonably sized table and enjoy your meal. Thanks.

If you must get separate checks, please let us know from the start. Please don’t wait until you’re ready to leave, and tell us you’d like the check divided 6 ways based on what everyone has ordered. We’re not here to do the math for you– cell phones have calculators these days. Besides, not all restaurants have the same separate check policy. So you could find yourselves S.O.L. when it comes to bill-paying time.

Finally, if you’re in a hurry for whatever reason, let us know when you first sit down. We can suggest items that don’t take as long, and sometimes even have the kitchen prioritize your ticket so it comes out quicker. However, if you’re ordering a medium-well done steak (especially during peak hours), then 15 minutes later inquiring where your food is because you “have to catch a plane, a train, or an automobile..” Or say you’re “late for a movie, appointment, or very important date…” There’s not a whole lot we can do for you.

3) Don’t be Sleazy

It’s our job to be nice to you, maybe even flirt a little. This is not an open invitation for sexual harassment. We don’t want to bring you a beer, a smile, and put up with your sleaze. Please don’t hit on us, make lewd jokes/comments/gestures, and refrain from overtly giving us “the ol’ once-over” three-times-over, each time we approach the table.

It is not cool to touch us, under any circumstances really. A light tap on the shoulder to get our attention is one thing–groping, grabbing by the arm or restraining, or any form of unwelcome physical contact is quite another. Is this clear, or do I have to get security involved? Have fun. Don’t cross the line.

On the other hand, if you are sincerely interested in your server or bartender there are appropriate ways of making your intentions known. For one, wait until after you’ve paid and the rest of your party has left the table–nothing is more awkward, for everyone involved, than asking someone out in front of other people. Conversely, this does not mean you should follow us to our cars when we’re off work, or any other behavior that borders on stalking, to tell us how beautiful we looked serving that soufflé. This is creepy and weird, which is far worse than sleazy.

4) Treat Us like Human Beings

Please don’t treat us like second-class citizens just because we’re serving you. The very nature of our work is already a bit demeaning; don’t make it worse by looking down on us. If you think you’re better than us, you’re probably showing it somehow (your tone, demeanor, lack of eye-contact, snide remarks, etc.), and we’re probably picking up on it. Sometimes it makes us feel like shit, sometimes it just makes you look like an asshole–either way, it’s unnecessary.

So if we approach your table, the least you can do is acknowledge our presence.

We’re not trying to interrupt your conversation, just get your drink order. And if you’re on your phone when we approach, please ask the person on the line to ‘hold on for a moment’ while we take your order; or end the phone conversation altogether until after you’ve finished.

Smiling, being friendly and all around approachable is a prerequisite for a restaurant/bar employee. However, if we’re working and not interacting with a guest–that is, we’re making drinks, carrying trays of food, clearing tables, etc.– we may not be smiling. It is not your duty (nor your entitlement) to tell us to smile. We don’t go into your cubicle and tell you to smile while you input the numbers, or whatever it is you “real-job”-havers do all day. As a wise and incredibly patient coworker recently shared:

“I don’t ever really get upset when people call me ‘sweetie,’ ‘dear,’ etc. I call people ‘hon’ and ‘sweetie’ all the time, and I’d much rather have that than ‘hey, YOU!!!’…. I DESPISE when people tell me to smile. It’s incredibly rude. I am working, that’s why I’m not smiling. If I am talking to you or taking your order, I will smile. Please don’t stand at the well while I am making multiple drinks and ask me why I am not smiling. I am trying to remember multiple drink orders and add the prices in my head, that’s why. Plus, it would look really silly and a little crazy if I was making drinks and smiling aimlessly…”

And remember: “Please” and “Thank You” go a long way. It’s about manners, people. Simple as that. We’ll go out of our way a lot more if you’ve been polite and gracious to us, than if you’ve been ungrateful and rude.

5) Don’t Wave Your Money, Snap Your Fingers, Whistle, or Throw Things to Get Our Attention… especially if You’re Not Ready

Once again, this goes along with basic manners and treating others with more respect than a dog. And I’m surprised that the last one (throwing things) really needed to be said, but after talking to a few bartenders I’ve learned that this does in fact happen.

You’re at a crowded bar, competing with the thirsty throngs of people. We get it: you want to be noticed, and thus, served, first. And yes, doing these things will probably get you noticed by the bartender– however, it will probably also get you ignored because you’re being a dick. Have your money out and ready, yes. But please don’t wave it around with an air of hasty-yet-idiotic-superiority.

When you have gotten our attention (hopefully by politely waiting your turn), please have your order ready. As a coworker has said:

“This is something I just don’t understand. Why would you force your way to the front of a crowd, wait to get the bartender’s attention, and then not have your multiple drink order ready when you finally get their attention. Unfortunately, if we are that busy, I will move on. It’s nothing personal, but I simply don’t have time to sit there and wait for you to get your entire group’s order together when the bar is packed with people who are ready.”

I’ve had times where I’ve checked on a table, walked away, then have them call me over (even while I’m with another table) because they want to order, then not even be ready when I get there. Unless you’re being completely neglected (your drinks are empty, food came out wrong or unsatisfactory, or your server has forgotten you altogether), please refrain from doing any of this.

We have a working flow we like to maintain–as well as other guests to tend to–and you calling us over every few minutes without much reason puts a serious wrench in the middle of it.

On the same thread, please try to order in unison. (This does not mean talk at once.) If you hear someone at the table asks for another drink, and you think you might want one too, please speak up. Few things are as irritating as a table that sends you back and forth a million times because they don’t collectively understand how lovely a glass of water would be until someone else has one.

{Stay tuned for Part 2}