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Tag Archives: restaurant and bar etiquette

As restaurant/bar industry employees, our job is to make others happy– and for most of us, we love to do just that. It’s quite rewarding to know you’ve played a role in someone else’s satisfying and memorable experience out. As someone who loves traveling and visiting new places, I’m especially thrilled when an out-of-town visitor has a great experience that they will take home with them.

However, we occasionally must walk the tenuous line between your (the customer’s) happiness and our (the industry employee’s) misery. When the latter becomes a trade-off for the former, it really is quite a drag. So as a general courtesy, please try and let us satisfy you; please do not come out with a rotting chip on your shoulder, unable to be pleased by even our direst efforts.

Also, please keep in mind that as employees who must interact with scores of people (most of whom are complete strangers) each shift, we inevitably will make an ASS out of ourselves at least once a day. {…at least I know I do} Whether it’s a failed attempt at humor, an uncooperative tongue, sheer clumsiness, or a mistaken mental gaffe–these are our hazards of the work place. So show a little love, and go easy on us from time to time. Thanks!

With that being said, lets get back to the ways you can help from pissing us off. Ohhhhh just kidding.… but seriously.

6. Don’t Try and Cheat Us

As I’ve gone over: we want you to be happy. What we don’t want, however, is for you to try to pull one over on us. Like the parent of a teenager who once misbehaved in their own youth, “We know all your tricks, so don’t even try it.”

Sending something back because it came out wrong or you simply “don’t like it” (as aggravating as this can be) is one thing. Most of us will go out of our way to get you something else more to you’re liking. However, if you down ¾ of your cocktail or devour the majority of your entrée then complain (often after we’ve already checked on you) that you don’t like it and would like something else [read: complimentary], that is something completely different. We are not here to give you a hand-out. I believe they have soup kitchens for that. There, I said it.

In the eloquent words of former-industry-employee-turned-military-wife-expat :

“Unless you found a that your last bite was in fact a dead rat, pay for the meal you ate and suck it up.”

Additionally, it is not our fault if you fail to read the menu and get the wrong impression of a dish. If you have questions about something, please ask us. That is what we’re there for. And, for the most part, please refrain from ordering something that you’ve despised partaking in in the past. Your shoddy memory and/or inability to select something that you may actually (*gasp*) enjoy does not warrant you a free meal. Sorry.

On a slightly different note: if you have a server, please order your drinks through them– not from the bar after you’ve been seated. It’s rude and appears as though you don’t trust your server to do their job. As well as simply making you look impatient. This should also avoid the dreaded “double-order”–where you put in your ONE order to more than one employee, resulting in more than one order being produced.

If you know the bartender and are trying to get their attention, you’re probably trying to get some kind of hook-up. Don’t lie, we’ve all done it. Say “Hello” and return to your table (preferably empty-handed). If you’re bartender-friend really likes you, they’ll probably send you over a drink or round of shots. Whoo! If this is the case, please remember it when taking care of the bill– servers often tip out the bar, so your friend will reap the benefits of it too.

7. We Provide Food and Drinks, Not Child Care

I don’t have children, so I will not begin to assume how difficult it must be to be a parent, especially in public-dining situations. However, it was ultimately your decision to bring a child into this world and to, consequently, bring said child into a restaurant. Keep your kids in check. Most establishments are not run as willy-nilly as Chuck-E-Cheese. So please don’t let them scamper around the restaurant or make an atrocious mess at the table.

Also, if you’re kids have a hard time ordering for themselves, please give them (and us) a hand. In the time it takes to coax your child into going with the grilled-cheese or the chicken tenders, milk or apple juice, we could have gone to the pharmacy for Plan B already.

Having said that, many industry employees are moonlighting for extra money, supplementing their salaries to make ends meet. And what profession do a good majority hail from? You guessed it: education. Teachers are taking care of your kids during the day and serving them at night. Don’t they deserve a bit of a break?

8. Don’t be a Complete SLOB

People dine out for a number of reasons: to indulge in tasty food and drinks they didn’t have to labor over; to people watch/prowl for prospects; or simply to get out of the house. But isn’t it also to have someone else clean up after you? There are no pots to scour, dishes to wash, linens to stain-stick. You eat, pay your bill, and leave. No muss, no fuss.

In turn, we are fully aware that cleaning up after people is part of our job description. Dozens, nay, hundreds of times a day we clear dirty dishes and napkins, wipe down tables, sweep up perhaps, and reset. We also know kids can be messy, and that Cheerio’s are inclined to wind up on the floor (not in the mouth) 9½ times out of ten. As long as you’re not encouraging your child to chuck their spaghetti across the room, this does not bother us.

But what tends to be obnoxious is when fully-grown adults behave in such a disgusting manner. When we have to all-but-power-wash the area once known as table 12 after you’ve departed, then we tend to loathe you.

I’m not talking a few crumbs here… I’m talking chewed-up bits of food, gum, masticated straws, shredded napkins, coasters, and beer labels, dollops of ketchup, the no-longer-needed contents of your purse or wallet, drinking glasses filled with an amalgamation of the liquids (and solids) on the table, etc., etc.

We appreciate you trying to clean-up a little after yourself. We really do. (In fact, we can usually tell which one of our guests has worked in the industry by this very act.) But please keep in mind that we have to retrieve what you’ve shoved into your glasses, find the silverware hidden beneath your used napkins, and carry the plates stacked so perilously that they envy the Tower of Pisa for it’s architectural-integrity. All with a smile and a little grace.

“That’s your job, not my problem,” you say. Fair enough. (*cough-douchebag-cough*) But think about this one: How would your mother react if she saw the mess you’ve left behind? Chances are she wouldn’t be too happy with her little treasure, now would she?

9. There’s a Menu for a Reason, Please Order From It

I’ve learned through the years in this industry that people can be very picky about what they eat. They like what they like, tend to distrust what is out of their culinary comfort zone, and are often unwilling to experiment. This is all well and good. However, can makes dining out (without being a staff’s total nightmare) a bit of a feat.

Restaurants spend thousands of dollars and countless hours developing their menus. Chefs study for years; they research, tinker, and tweak to get their dishes just right. Please do them the honor of actually reading–and then ordering from–the menu. {Sometimes you have to show a little faith.}

Don’t get me wrong, some changes and exceptions can be made: leaving off the tomato, putting the dressing on the side, switching up the cheese or bread, etc. These things are simple to do and are rarely an issue. Most establishments will even make substitutions, with the understanding that some items cost extra (crab meat > steak > chicken). However, please don’t order something that is just straight-up not on the menu. Just because you’re in the mood for Chicken Carbonara, doesn’t mean we’re going to make it specially for you.

And if you’d like us to make a recommendation, please don’t just ask “What’s Good?” without being willing to expand on your preferences. “Good” is a very general term, and tastes are very subjective. What’s “good” to one person may be putrid-garbage-on-a-plate to someone else.

For the most part we’re happy to make suggestions and provide you with more information. But please don’t subject us to such blanket statements. Give us some parameters to work with. For example: How hungry are you? Are you in the mood for a seafood, meat, or vegetarian dish? Do you like robust or more subtle foods? Is there something you’re in the mood for or have been craving lately? These types of gastro-queries can help us immensely when directing you through the menu.

When it comes down to it, I will order for you. But I’d rather have some type of framework to go on to ensure that you like what I’ve selected.

10. Please Tip Well

This probably goes without saying, yet I feel the need to say it anyway: Twenty percent (20%) is the standard amount to tip these days. A little more for great service, a little less for not-so-great service. But if everything was satisfactory, your server was friendly, and your drinks were filled, they deserve at least 20%. If you can’t afford 20%, don’t go out to eat–or don’t order that third cocktail with top shelf liquor you just had to have. This is how we make a living– and in most cases, we don’t get paid hourly, not anything substantial after taxes anyway. Very few of us are in this line of work for the sheer thrill of serving others. We are not independently wealthy. And we don’t want to work for free.

Now for a brief note on the “verbal tip.” Everyone likes to be complimented, especially on their job. Praise is important and can really turn around a bad day. But, when it comes down to it, I can’t deposit a compliment in the bank. Kudos do not pay the bills. Please don’t tell me I did a great job, and gush about how wonderful everything was, then leave 13%. Similarly, telling us “Don’t worry, I’ll tip you really well” or “I’ll take care of you” is often code for: “I’ll make you put up with a bunch of my bullshit, then tip you poorly to boot.” Please don’t say this unless you intend on leaving at least 20%.

We don’t make the prices or the policies. Please don’t blame us. We generally have no control of how much you’re paying for your beer. Bitching at us is not going to sway the monumental forces of inflation or corporate greed. It’s only going to annoy us, and make you look cheap.

Please tip on the full amount. “What is this?” you ask. If you took advantage of a special (half-off entrees, discounted bottles of wine, etc.) that’s great–we’re happy to get you in her, and save you some money. However, we’re doing the same amount of work for what can end up being half the money because you’re tipping on the final discounted amount, rather than the full-price (a.k.a. had there not been a special.)

Also, if you’ve gotten any portion of your bill discounted, please consider this when tipping. Say the bartender’s your friend and he hooked you up with a round; or the chef sent you over complimentary dessert because you used to tutor their kid or they want to get on your sweet side; or the manager, who happens to be your neighbor, discounted your check because she’s trying to be polite. These are all great for you. But please remember that your server is working just as hard, whether or not you got the discount.

In the end, an extra dollar or two– hell, even 50 cents– is probably not going to break the bank for you. But for us it means a lot. It validates that we’ve done a good job in your eyes. And in this case it’s not even about the money.

There’s the oft-forgotten tradition of the single penny (in conjunction with a good tip, not a replacement for, of course.) Leaving a single penny for the server is a way to share that you truly enjoyed the service you received. It’ll brighten our day and show that we’ve brightened yours.

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}