The REAL Top 10 Things That Tick Off Your Waiter

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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

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184 Comments

  1. The waiters that love their job and do it because they like being a waiter are the ones who get tips. The waiters that complain, hate their job and are miserable with their lives are the ones who don’t get tips. Positive thinking/attitude brings positive outcomes. Negative attitude brings negative outcomes. in the past when i worked at subway I made tips. not much but i still was leaving work with an extra 5 dollars a night on top of above minimum wage. I got those tips because I loved my job. The customers knew that and I had 3 customers who asked for me when they came in. 1 of the 3 never tipped but I still treated him kindly and he did the same. Just the fact that he came in asking for me to make his hoagie was a tip all in itself. he was just a friendly old man, never hit on me or anything. Work at a job you like. Life is too short to be stuck at a job that is killing you. I understand that there are circumstances like bills and kids to pay for and raise but there has got to be a way to take the time to make yourself happy. It’s your life make yourself happy god damn it!!!

  2. I’ve been a waiter for the past 2 years and this post is spot on (especially #6).

    A couple of things I would add. First, its really annoying when I walk up and ask if everyone’s ready to order and they say yes… and then they go back and forth changing their minds 15 times before settling on a salad. And second, when they ask me ‘what comes on the chicken carbonara?’ I seriously just move over to the side next to them and read off the f**king menu for them. I mean really.

    I wanted to also give some wisdom for those *Mike* who think that because ‘it’s my job’ that I should nut-up or ‘look for another’ if I don’t like it. This will seriously backfire for those who use this line of logic. On the grand scheme, if you don’t tip servers well or treat them like dirt, they will go to restaurants that suits them — leaving your favorite restaurant with inept servers. That’s why good servers quit IHOP and Denny’s to go to PF Changs. The good ones leave, the crappy ones are stuck with you. But on the small scheme (let’s say you’re already eating at a fancy restaurant) it’s still not to your advantage. The cold hard facts are this, I don’t have one job, I have seven employers at any given moment when I’m on the floor (I average seven tables). If you think to yourself that I have to bend over backwards ’cause it’s my job’, then I’m giving you less than 100%. Keep in mind that I won’t ignore you, you just won’t be my top priority (in fact it’ll be minimum service). Simply put, time = money. You are not the only boss I have. If sacrificing a good tip (or any tip) from you means getting more from 6 others, then I’ll do it. It’s a simple case of supply/demand.

    • The truth is that unless the wait staff are exceptional in terms of excelling at their job…knowing how to treat customers and radiate warmth towards the customers then the customers are kind of annoyed and revolted at having to even interact with them.You sound intelligent and as if you know how to multi task and work a room. Customers can feel the gloomy negative vibes from the unhappy servers and truthfully who wants to even deal with that? Not me. I just usually say as little as possible…avoid eye contact and leave a minimal tip if and when the wait staff are unpleasant uncouth and not doing even a marginal job.I am a big tipper too. I always bring a large cash tip when I go out to dine because I want to personally hand it to my server while telling them thank you for such nice service BUT if someone is a piss-ant…I do not bother…I just write it on the ATM tip slip and get the hell out asap:) What I mean by being a piss-ant is like “How many times do I have to beg you for a spoon so I can eat my soup that is now cold?” Rarely have I ever had an unpleasant or unprepared server and the only food issue I ever encountered was the cook left the bacon off my BLT once and that was pretty funny…a BLT please..hold the bacon:) Ha!

  3. I have been a server in various restaurants for about 7 years, and people’s stupidity still amazes me. I take pride in my work and I feel like I do a good job, but I do get frustrated when people do not tip accordingly. In my opinion, there should be an 18% gratuity added to everyone’s check, every time, no matter what. Then maybe a lot of these people would stop coming out to eat. Also, one thing this author did not put down, which would be my #1 pet peeve, when the restaurant is on a wait, DO NOT STAY FOR MORE THAN A HALF HOUR AFTER YOU ARE DONE WITH YOUR MEAL!!!! It is incredibly rude to the people waiting and you are taking money out of your servers pocket by not allowing them to turn that table over. Or, if you do want to spend all night at the restaurant, you should be leaving an extra $10-20 per hour that you stay.

    • Brandon
      “you should be leaving an extra $10-20 per hour that you stay.”

      That’s a bit much don’t you agree? I mean $2-$5 more but not that much considering you are probably only giving refills the rest of the time and probably minimal refills at that point. Also, if you don’t do ANYTHING MORE, you shouldn’t get ANYTHING MORE. Tips are for SERVICE, NOT for if you stay long. WHERE DO YOU GET THAT A TIP IS FOR STAYING LONG?

      • You are not paying for service at that point, he/she is suggesting that you cover lost tips from the people who he/she could have been serving instead.

  4. Brandon……you are working in a profession that requires minimal education and almost anyone can be trained to wait tables. WHY have you been doing it x 7 years? I just do not understand the people who are wait staff that come on here and whine about their jobs and those “meanies” (customers).Get a REAL job that requires an education and some skills IF you are not being treated well as a wait staff. To be honest if it were me I would be working on a degree so I could get a better career.Being narrow minded and limiting yourself to that work environment really reinforces a hopeless attitude IMO. Get some career goals and then just do it. Do you want to be some guy in his late 40’s waiting tables?Come on:) I worked in food service when I was young and as I pursued my educational goals to become a psychiatric nurse. I did what I had to do and the moment I was offered a job in a psych hospital while I was in nursing school you are damn straight I took it and NEVER looked back on the food service industry!

    • I completely agree, and I’m currently trying to find my way out of it. It is hard finding a job that pays as well though without having extensive schooling or training, especially in this crappy job market/economy. I have gone to school, racked up $80,000 in debt and am trying to work my way to paying it off now, can’t afford/get approved for any more loans, can’t find a reasonable paying job in my field. You make it sound like its incredibly easy to do it. But without family to help you, paying for school starts most people so far in the hole, they have to do anything they can to pay it off. And why should I work some crappy 9-5 job making 12-15 bucks an hour when I average about $25/hr when I work serving?

      • Sometimes you have to just be practical and look at where the demand is. I agree about keeping that $25.00 an hour job while you scout for a career that insures a great future and retirement. That sucks about the school debt. I actually paid for my own education because I did not qualify for any student financial aid etc.and I refused to take out any loans.What I mean about being practical is that maybe being in nursing is not everyone’s dream because yes it is a difficult gig BUT where I live here in California RN’s..especially experienced speciality RN’s make HUGE $$$$$$$$. Something to think about. AND there is a shortage. All the physicians and nurses I know say “Got to work smarter….NOT harder”:)!!!!!

      • I did want to add to my being practical blurp that when I made my career choice what my heart wanted was to attend the Culinary Institute in San Francisco and train as a pastry chef…Oh how I dreamed of that:) BUT I also compared and contrasted overall earning potentials…….work environments……retirement plans and decided on my other love nursing or in my case psychiatric nursing because there is no way I could have ever earned the amount of money I earn as a Psychiatric RN as a pastry chef not without starting at the very bottom and taking years to build a resume with it. I am fully satisfied with what that choice has brought into my life and the whole Pastry Chef thing lost its gleam and luster as I began accomplishing things in my field of choice.It was like a whim:) Keep working hard Brandon and keep your eyes wide open for each and every opportunity that presents itself to you to get ahead:)

  5. You have no idea what it is like to be on the serving side of the token. Don’t you understand that people’s livelihoods and their children’s livelihoods depend on the tips that we receive? My checks are worth ZERO. Every time. So if I have someone sit at one of the 3 or possibly 4 tables in my section, rack up a $30 bill and leave me $6, and proceed to stay there for the rest of my 5-6 hour shift, and leave me nothing more, that is fair? I should be happy with that? That I can’t pay my bills because you wanted to chat for hours? Something that you could have done at your house, or Starbucks? Or panera bread? Or any other establishment that doesn’t have lines of people waiting to sit at the table YOU are holding up? Think about someone other than yourself.

  6. Some of these comments make me wonder what happened to humanity. I have had an extremely hard life but have managed to pay for coklege out of pocket while maintaining honors. This list does represent things that anger servers. Well some. But overall, no matter how bad you piss me off, i am always accomadating. Its my job. Hey you want your food special, no problem. I am on a diet and do the same. I never have a problem so long as i am respected. Yes you do pay my salary, and guess what? I pay the busser and bartenders. No.matter tge tip, my sales force me to tip out. About 100 dollars a week in fact. Im blessed to have a job, thankful. What i am not thankful for is how unsensitive and rude our society is . Its food! I get your paying for it and you shoukd have it how you want it in a pleasant manner. However, ask tbe kid down tbe street starvibg tonight if they would appreciate it. Wake up.people and look around. This whole country has a self of entitlement and its a shame we are blinded by what suffering goes on around us. O and if you want us to get paid by the reaurant, enjoy paying triple the cost. You get what you pay for. Setvice at Ihop? Normally not comprable to a nicer restaurant. I, and us college kids may be your boss one day, and one of the biggest busibess faux paus when out to a business meal is tipping poorly.

  7. What I find truly hilarious about anyone..be it a *wait* staff…physician…..store clerk….a postal worker.. is that anyone would actually bitch…complain…whine and act out like some kind of spoiled entitled little weinie having a tantrum “because my job is sooooo hard Mommy”:(:(:( WTF? OK I get that I am privileged. I work with super-humans in a hospital……physicians……nurse practitioners….nurse aides….technicians….we see law enforcement daily in our Emergency Department bringing people in etc…..EMT’s bringing people in whose lives they just (barely) saved…..para-medics who have pulled little kids out of mangled cars and the kids have trauma wounds…..are you getting the picture? All of us are educated.skilled….experienced..some of us fought for and slaved for our educations andthe truth is that most of us would make more money in other hospitals or medical venues.The bottom line is in the years I have worked as a Critical Care/Psychiatric RN I have NEVER heard one complaint from anyone about how hard their job is. NOT.ONCE.EVER. And I am laughing because the *wait* staff that are good at their jobs? You know the ones who know about having a work ethic..like how to keep your head down and stay focused on that finish line….how to work smart..make yourself a valuable part of the team…….the ones who have pockets full of tips every shift? Guess what?THEY are not on here whining. It is the ignorant dysfunctional…lazy…sloppy..wimps that whine and want life to be easy for them Gag.

  8. I’ve been a server the past two years and absolutely agree with this list. The restaurant i work at is an Applebees in a small town in SC and Applebees is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to a serving job. That being said i still do not hate my job. Yes i do serve rude people, cheap people, people who look down on me, but i have never let it get to me. Being a small town i serve these people repeatedly knowing at the beginning of the meal, there will be no tip regardless of the service i provide. I still put a smile on and serve these people the best i can anyway. Sure i’m basically not getting paid for my time on this table, but i know that when these people come back and have a different server they will then realize the difference between good and bad service. And while i may never have a tip from them (though i sure would appreciate it) i will hopefully have their respect. And from people like them thats all i really want. Some people just do not tip, i accept that. Who am i to judge what they believe in? The other truly great guests i serve more than make up for the bad ones. And to the people who try to offer life advice or guidance, thank you. It means alot to me that you saw how i worked and my attitude towards a sometimes thankless job and thought “hey kid, you could do anything you set your mind to.” Coming from a broken home with no adults to tell me what i needed to do to have a successful life its nice to know that some people out there care enough to offer advice to a young person who just might need it.

  9. People complaining about tipping is amusing and complaining about paying for the experience. Haha. You pay for all those people who wait on you in any industry you just don’t set what you pay.you pay the mechanic, department store clerk, grocery clerk, hairdresser, etc for their services but they set the amount you pay and make the same whether they give bad service, mediocre service or excellent service. At least with wait staff you decide what they deserve and they are more inclined to treat you well because their pay depends on it. Yes servers could be paid a fair living wage and then they would be less inclined to be polite. Restaraunts like this set up because one they pay less out of pocket but also it encourages the wait staff to put up with more crap from the customers and to turns tables faster so they makes more money. And what would this mean to all the customers.. well you would pay 50% to 100% more for that meal and have a waiter that would treat you like the department store, grocery store, or drive thru clerk does. Think about it. Why do companies offer performance based bonuses? Or telemarketers offer sales bonuses? How about debt collectors they offer collection rate bonuses. You always pay at least with servers you get a say in how much.

  10. I was working on a busy Friday night during lent ( I work in Northeast WI and Catholics go out on Friday nights for fish fry, and ours is delicious) when a child who couldn’t have been more than two toddled in front of me at full speed as I was coming up the stairs. To avoid hitting the kid I leaned back an lost my balance. I had one of those moments where you know something is going to happen so I tilted my tray (with two coffees a hot tea and shake on it) towards me so it didn’t spill on the kid who stopped in the middle on the aisle. I wound up with coffee all over my chest and the floor. The busser who was out clearing a table ran towards me and started cleaning up the mess while the mom grabbed the toddler and walked away. She didn’t say a word. No I’m sorry or can I help? I walked in back, grabbed one of the uniform shirts in the closet, went to the bathroom, wiped myself off, and changed. Then I went back out there and did my job even though all I wanted to do was cry, I smiled while I waited on the table with the kid (who left a four dollar tip on on a fifty dollar check) and all of my other tables. Once we slowed down I asked the manager to get one of the other girls to cover my closing shift so I could leave. I had mild burns on my chest but mostly I was mortified and angry. How could someone let their kid run around like maniac and not even apologize then leave a horrible tip because they had to wait for their drinks that I spilled on myself instead of their kid. I love my job and I need it to pay my tuition, but I can’t believe how some people treat others sometimes.

  11. it’s really sad that people expect basically slave-like service from waitstaff. but it’s to be expected in a country that was based and built on the backs of slave labor. when legal slavery ended, the united states tried to reinstate it in any way possible– and it manifests itself in the modern-day service sector. notice how hours at work keep getting longer yet wages have remained stagnant? the u.s. is hellbent on bringing slavery back in some way.

    related to one of the points in this list: i absolutely hate it when cashiers at the grocery store remove herbs from the plastic bag and lift them to their nose to SNIFF them in order to know what price to ring up! aaaggghhh!!! do not sniff my fucking food!!!! i’ve had this happen a few times, and it always makes me cringe. i even had to go ‘off’ on one person once because if it. people can be very rude, clueless and barbaric.

  12. And I dare ALL of you to work in a kitchen or dining room at a nursing home. You’ll find out what (or how little) you’re made of.