In deference to another, rather infamous top 10 list on this great site, I would like to explain what the worst things you do as a patron that make your dining experience horrible for your waiter and the restaurant staff in general. This list will not be about tipping, paying your bill, or money in general, because none of those actually have anything to do with waiting on you or contribute to your dinner. Not tipping and not paying your bill is inexcusable, but maybe you were very nice, very polite, and just happen to be stingy, who knows? But after starting my waiting “career” at IHOP in Compton, CA, and currently waiting tables at Chart House in Malibu, I know exactly what the worst things anybody can do to ensure that I will want to punch them in the face. And here they are:
10. Seating Yourself
I don’t care if the host is missing, I don’t care if you’ve been here before, I don’t care if you know the owner. There is a rythym and reason for where you are sat. It’s about equality among the waiters, so no one person gets more tables than the other, and about who is available. If you’re rushing to sit down and can’t wait for the host/hostess, it’s a safe bet you want to get started right away, even if it’s just a glass of water. Thing is, you don’t know the restaurant sections and you don’t know who is busy, who is ready to serve you. Just because you’re ready to sit down, doesn’t mean I’m ready to bring you drinks. Maybe I have three tables already, maybe I’m in the middle of taking another order for someone who DID wait to be seated. What makes you so special? I can appreciate a bad host and I don’t want you to wait, but when you ignore the rest of the patrons who did wait, it’s simply being rude and not a good guest. Another thing, you don’t know what tables are reserved. Half-full restaurant with a table by the window open? Probably a reserved table, so don’t go just sit there because you think you ought to, or because you’re trying to impress your date that you “don’t need to be seated”. Yes, you do. There is an organization that starts with the host and ends with the bill, don’t screw with it for the sake of impatience.
9. Not Complaining
Things can go wrong during dinner. The food wasn’t cooked right, I took too long, I didn’t get the right order, you meant to order something else, etc. etc. Please don’t smile at me as if nothing wrong when something is. There are few worst feelings than when someone at my table is very nice and polite, then complains to the manager or online after the fact. If you’re not having a good time, I want to know about it right away. If I can’t fix it, I will find someone else who can, even the manager. It’s human to make mistakes and I make them all the time, don’t pretend I’m doing a great job if I’m not, I’m a professional I can take criticism. What happens when you complain later is that it makes me look really, really, really bad. It seems like I didn’t care or didn’t notice that you were having a bad time, and nothing is worse than your manager thinking you ignore your guests. You get yelled at, you lose shifts, you get smaller sections, sometimes you even have to go back training. All because you were too afraid/polite/nervous to speak up. But if you’ve been acting nice and not complaining, how would I know? Don’t be afraid to be honest with your waiter, and a truly good waiter will not take it personally, solve your problem, and we can all move on.
8. Offering Life Plans
Okay this one is tricky and people always do it with the best intentions. After a great meal and good service many guests ask me if I’m still in school, what did I study, what do I “really” want to do? And you know what, if I wanted to do something else I would be doing it, maybe I already am. You are not a guidance counselor and if you actually are, I don’t care. I appreciate you thinking that I can do more than “just be a waiter”, but you don’t know how hard the job is, or hard it is to wait on you. You know why you don’t know? Because I make it look easy and that takes skill. Waiting tables is not my life plan, but I take pride in what I do and I take extreme pride in doing it well, that’s just my work ethic and any good waiter feels the same. Please don’t bring into the conversation that waiting tables is below my abilities or not something to get “stuck doing”. I don’t like having to justify my job, and I don’t like having to explain my life plans to a stranger anymore than you do. I know you mean well and I know that it’s a compliment in many ways, but it feels like being talked down to, and it truly is. You wouldn’t say “so what do you really want to do” to a mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, or any other skilled-worker job. Serving tables is a skill-based job, and I am a skill-based worker, please regard me as such.
7. Examining other Patron’s Food
Every now and then I’ll have a tray food and someone stops to ask me what the dish is. Great question, I want to tell you about it, I want to showcase our menu. Then this someone will put their face to the dish, and smell it. Don’t do that. It’s not your food, it’s not on display. If I’m on the floor with food it’s because I’m bringing it to someone, someone who probably doesn’t want to see you stick your face in their food. Of course the solution seems easy, I just don’t let you do it, but how can I do that if you seem reasonable, if you seem polite. I like to answer questions and I like to help our guests, but people that do things like this make me paranoid. Use your eyes only please, no noses and, if you can believe it, no fingers. Yes it has happened, do not be one of those people.
6. Not Asking All at Once
If you want lemon, more napkins, a side of butter, and more water, great, let me do all that for you. If you ask me for each of these things one at a time in the same 2 minute period, go F&^% yourself. Everyone does this, I’ve done it, and it doesn’t seem like that big a deal but if you’ve ever uttered the phrase or been with someone who had to say “Sorry, I promise this is the last thing I’ll ask for”, then you or the person you’re with need to learn how to behave in a restaurant. Running me back and forth because you think of ten things you have to have right now is like a child asking for things from Santa Claus. And I will regard you as a child. If the dish is incomplete or the restaurant is busy and I haven’t been around, I’m sorry and I understand, but that goes back to number 9, just let me know as soon as possible, don’t wait until I’ve brought you food and then make me do laps. It slows down the dining process, slows down my pace overall, and makes you look difficult to me, the cook, the manager, and the other guests.
5. Getting Upset That I Don’t Sing Happy Birthday
When I worked at IHOP, I sang Happy Birthday. When I worked at a sushi restaurant and beyond, I didn’t. Not every restaurant is like that place your parents used to take you when you were a kid. Maybe it seems cruel and unfair that I don’t want to (and don’t have to) sing to you now, but we all have to grow up sometime. Don’t take it personally and don’t act like I owe you a song, this is not American Idol, this is a restaurant and we have our traditions and policies. If our policy is not to perform for you, not my problem and certainly not my fault. I’m sorry you’re disappointed but I’m not so sorry I’m going to sing or “make an exception”. If you go somewhere else next year because we didn’t sing or give you free dessert, by all means please do. Granted this is mostly an issue with college aged patrons, and when you’re in your early twenties and learning that the world does not revolve around you the way it did at home or in college life seems unfair. Because life is unfair, but I am not.
4. Not Understanding That We Are Closing
You have every right to come in and be served right up until our posted hours. However, if we close at 11, and you come in at 10:59 and ask for dessert around 11:45-12:00, guess what? We probably can’t do it because our pastry chef probably went home. Blame the restaurant all you want, you come in for “last call” at your own risk. Yes we are open and yes we are serving, but the longer you stay the least likely our full menu is available. It’s about controlling hours for labor cost, it’s about food safety violations for storage and cleanliness, it’s about basic electricity and gas bills. We are a business after all and unless you’re willing to spend the money to pay to keep everyone and everything on until you’re done, respect the fact that you came in at the last minute, so you get last minute options. Whether you came in or not we would be closing down because that’s how we run the restaurant. Don’t get mad, don’t be disappointed, if you want full service and full options, ask before you decide to order at 10:59.
3. Walking your Child
We are not a daycare, this is not a place to teach your children to walk. Do it outside or better yet, at home. Almost every night some parent either lets their toddler run around or holds their hands while they walk around. Not a good idea. Lots of people rushing, lots of plates, trays, glasses, forks, knives, and many other non-child-proof materials are flying about. I don’t want anything to happen to your kid, and you certainly don’t want anything to happen to your kid so don’t tempt fate by waddling behind your toddler in a crowded restaurant. Dangerous, careless, and rude to the other guests.
2. Customizing Your Meal
We have a menu for a reason. Chef offers specials for a reason. You are not the cook and this is not your kitchen. Making something vegetarian or switching the starch, no problem. Adding different sauces, baking instead of grilling, salmon instead of chicken, get out of my face with that stuff. Tell me what kind of meal you’re looking for and I’ll find it, or not. Just because you’re sitting at a table doesn’t mean I have to serve you exactly what you’re thinking of. There is a concept behind the menu and there is a concept behind the meals. If none of them are what you want go somewhere else. If you don’t want to leave, be brave and try something new. Telling me to go ask the chef won’t work either, trust me when I tell you we don’t make it this way and we don’t offer those options. It’s not good business to tell a guest “no”, so if I’m telling you we can’t do it, it’s not because we don’t want you to have a good time, it’s because we simply aren’t what you’re looking for. Respect that. Accept it. Don’t blame us for not being your mom’s cooking.
1. Snapping your Fingers
Honestly this happens pretty rarely, but it shouldn’t happen at all. I am not a dog, I am not a child. I am another person doing their job as best they can and there is no reason to treat me this way. If it’s busy and you can’t get my attention, I apologize. But if you snap your fingers at me, then you don’t want service, you want a slave. I have many other guests during the night, I don’t need you. The restaurant doesn’t need you. You are one among many, not the master of your table and certainly not of me. Snap your fingers and I might break them off, and I’d be completely justified. Try snapping your fingers at your significant other sometime, or your parents, or the police when you need them. Let me know how that turns out. If you can’t treat me with basic respect then you are a jerk, and I hope you don’t come back.
by Keith Watabayashi