As a veteran of the service industry, I’ve spent over a decade of my life waiting tables, and there are a million things I wish people knew about this business. It takes a whole lot of endurance, energy, patience, problem solving, empathy, and a really good sense of humor to survive as a server or bartender. It’s a draining job, but there’s a reason that so many of us depend on the industry for our living.
Our coworkers become our family, our guests become our friends, and we get to be involved in special moments in people’s lives — if only for a couple hours. We thrive here, but there are still things we wish we could tell you about being in our shoes. The next time you sit down for a meal in a restaurant, keep these few things in mind.
1. Be realistic with modifications
We want you to have a wonderful meal, but we can’t create special dishes for you out of thin air. The menu is designed in such a way so that the kitchen can crank out an entire table’s order in a timely fashion, so when an order comes through that looks nothing like what the menu offers, it throws a huge wrench in their flow. Leave out an item or two or switch out a protein, but try your best to be modest with your requests.
2. Don’t lie about food allergies
We completely understand that you might not eat gluten for dietary reasons or that you just really don’t like shellfish, but PLEASE don’t tell us you’re allergic to these items if you really aren’t. Kitchens have to take major steps to avoid cross contamination to handle allergies, and it can slow down your food being prepared (and therefore everyone else’s) in the process.
3. Please put your phone down
A lot of miscommunication can happen when all parties involved in a transaction aren’t paying full attention to the process, so please take a moment to put your outside life on pause to engage with your server fully for a few minutes at the beginning of your meal. We know you’re busy and this might be your only opportunity for a phone call or to catch up on emails, but a little eye contact and your full attention helps us out tremendously.
4. Tip on to-go orders
Very rarely do restaurants employ a specific person to handle to-go orders, which means that they’re usually taken, submitted, and packaged up by a server or bartender whose attention will be taken away from the customers who are dining in. It’s a lot to juggle when you have a packed section during lunch or dinner rush, so even if you’re skipping the table service still throw in a 10-15 percent tip on your to-go order.
5. Please remember: we only have two hands
It might look easy — and a good server can usually make you think it is — but this job is challenging, and we have a lot going on when we’re not at your table. Try to be mindful of the fact that you’re most likely not our only responsibility and be patient with us. If you need extra silverware, a refill, and a side of sauce, try to group together your requests rather than waiting for us to come back each time and then asking for something else.
6. Our whole life depends on tips
While there are a small handful of states that have a higher minimum wage for tip-based workers, the federally-mandated minimum wage is only $2.13 per hour in the United States. Due to taxes we pay on our tips, a server very rarely receives a paycheck from their employer. All of our bills are paid by the generosity of our guests. The standard expected tip is 20 percent, but an extra couple bucks on top of that amount can really make our night.
7. We can’t read your mind
If you’re not pleased with your order or we forgot to bring you that side of sauce you asked for, please tell us. We’re humans who make mistakes and we can’t always remember every single tiny detail. If you don’t like your food, give us the opportunity to fix it for you. Punishing a server by leaving behind a low tip when you aren’t satisfied with a meal is disheartening and frustrating when you haven’t been given the chance to redeem an oversight.
8. Be mindful of what’s happening around you
We want you to enjoy your time and our service, but please be aware that there is an entire system at work around you. If you have finished your meal and you see a packed lobby of people waiting for a table, every minute you sit and chat once you’re finished is money that we’re not making. If you have small children that like to wander around, please keep an eye out for a server carrying a tray full of drinks. A little mindful attention to your role in the restaurant helps us out immensely.
9. We can’t give you things for free
Every single item that leaves a kitchen or bar has to be accounted for, and in almost every restaurant and bar, a server cannot just decide to cut you a deal on something. If the kitchen is running behind or we made a mistake with your order, we can’t simply decide not to charge you for it. If there has been a major mistake on your order, please bring it up to management in a constructive way. They might decide to comp an item for you, but please be aware that someone will take the brunt for the mistake.