In 2004, half of the money Americans spent on food was spent away from the home, and a further half of that amount was spent in full-service restaurants. In 2008, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, about 2.2 million people were employed as servers. I have been one of that number for over fifteen years now, and I can tell you with a reasonable amount of certainty, I hate you.
Oh yes, I’m smiling and telling you to have a good day, but you’ll notice if you look closely that the smile never touches my cold, dead eyes, their only sign of life being the occasional twitch as I reign in the fury that burns beneath my white button-up shirt and ten-dollar tie. Of course everyone thinks they’re one of the “good ones,” but any waiter you are talking to is either your friend or is being paid to pretend to like you. So listen up, because here are ten simple things that will help you eat your meal in peace, knowing that the person handling your food does not actively wish you harm.
10. “Oh, can we have that table over there?”
Most of the restaurants you eat in are going to have a large waitstaff, usually waiting on four to six tables each. The reason there are a couple of teenage girls waiting with a smile at the door is to make sure these waiters have around the same number of tables, which makes the waiters happy and keeps the quality of service consistent. When you decide you would rather sit in the corner booth, odds are you’ve doubled the work load of one waiter and cheated another waiter out of a chance at making money. This means you’ll wait longer and at least two people will hate you for it.
9. “Oh, I’ll just have a water and a bowl of lemons.”
I know there is sugar on the table. I know you’ll have plenty of free time. But most places sell lemonade and I have to sit there and cut all those lemons, not to mention cleaning up the mess of your free homemade citrus drink. Also, the desire to save two dollars on a drink makes me worry about how much you’re going to tip me.
8. “Do I need anything else right now? A winning lottery ticket!”
Whatever little joke you’ve just come up with, odds are five other people have made it that day. And I’ve had to pretend to laugh at every single iteration. Nothing is better than a witty table of people to make me forget that I’m required to be nice to them. But nothing is worse than a table that thinks they’re funny. If you’re not certain that your joke will kill, don’t risk it.
Okay, so this isn’t something you can SAY, but bear with me. I’m not saying don’t bring your kids, but try to be a parent. Make sure the child stays at the table. Restaurants are dangerous, and I’m going to be power-walking through with a tray full of hot food, knives, and heavy plates. If a three-foot tall child plows into my leg, there is next to nothing I can do to prevent a major Tonya Harding-esque disaster, and I don’t want to scar your child. Twenty seconds of crying is acceptable, then take them outside. Anytime children outnumber the adults in the party, apologies and height tips are in order.
6. “My steak is overcooked.”
I am NOT saying don’t complain about improperly cooked food. But understand that the amount of heat on your steak has nothing to do with your server. I have little to no power over the kitchen. A good waiter is much more replaceable than a good line cook, and every waiter, cook, and manager is aware of this. Once I give them the order, I will not see it until they send it out and maybe not even until you get it. I am just as upset about the kitchen’s mistake as you are, but when you tip poorly because of it, the only one punished is me. Cooks are paid out of the bill you pay, not tips. Servers are paid in tips. Please try to separate the two.
5. “Use the fifty in cash first, pay the rest on the card.”
15% of $80 is $12. When I hand back a credit card with a $30 charge on it, the majority of people write $5 on the tip line and never think of the $50 they just paid in cash ever again. This has many names in the restaurant industry, all of them vulgar, none appropriate in a family setting.
4. “What’s good here?”
Restaurant menus have grown by leaps and bounds in the last fifty years. Some restaurants have that one great signature dish, but you know about that one already. It’s fine to ask questions or my opinions, but it is much easier to answer specific questions like, “What’s a good sandwich?” or “I want something lighter. Any recommendations?” Give me a jumping off point.
3. “I’ll have a hot tea.”
The preparation for hot tea takes significantly more time than any other beverage and requires a tray to carry. It’s also usually tucked away in a hard to reach spot of the kitchen because of the rarity of the order. I know it’s on the menu. I know it’s cold in the restaurant, but your waiter will hate you. And on that note:
2. “It’s hot/cold. Can you adjust the air?”
The temperature in a restaurant is insanely difficult to regulate. Large open spaces, wildly varying amounts of warm bodies, and doors opening and closing into a industry-sized kitchen, not to mention the outdoors, all conspire to make any sort of consistent temperature impossible to regulate. And any adjustments to a system that complex are going to take at least 45 minutes to be noticeable, by which time you are long gone. And now I’m sweating through my waiter’s whites. And the number one thing you should never do to a service employee?
1. Refuse to tip appropriately.
Of course this is number one on this list. In Texas, where I’ve done most of my work, waiters are paid $2.13 an hour.Some places pay higher, but tipped professions are usually allowed to be paid about half of minimum wage, sometimes less. Most of the time, taxes on tips eat up the majority of my paycheck. These taxes are usually calculated by the restaurant as 15% of my sales. This means tipping lower than fifteen percent can actually cost your server money. And 15% is the standard for average service. If your food came out like you ordered it, your drinks were refilled when empty, and your server was not actively rude to you, that is average service. You should not walk into a restaurant and order food if you are not prepared to go to 20% for great service or willing to give 10% for bad. This is part of the cost of full service dining, and there are plenty of places you don’t have to tip to eat. You will have to get your own drinks though.
There are many more rules for proper dealings with a waiter, but most fall under the category of Being a Decent Human Being. If you avoid these biggest of our pet peeves and try to remember that you are interacting with a real human, who is working for a living and is trying to make you comfortable and welcome, you can become that rare gem: a table that is nice to wait on.
Play by the rules, and watch as waiters “shark” (steal) your from other waiters. Marvel as your favorite order is remembered and the smiles become genuine. Behold as drinks are not rung in and extra salads and rolls appear as if by magic. And dine in piece knowing that your food is untainted by the fluids of a vengeful college kid. Good luck, and remember, I’m a human being, too.
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