At Your Service: Top 10 Etiquette Tips for Restaurant Servers

Categories: Top 10

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Photo by Florian Plag
Waiting tables is no longer the venerable position that it once was in America before World War II. It's still a fairly prestigious job in much of Europe, but even in the United States, waiters used to pay for the right to work at good restaurants. If a head waiter position opened up at a fancy, well-known restaurant, a person might have to get a financial backer in order to bid on the position. The financier would then receive a portion of the waiter's tips after he got the job.

Today, waiting tables is more of a punchline. Most waitstaff don't even make minimum wage. They rely solely on tips to pay their bills, and many members of the public see waiters as people who have to serve because they can't get any other job. You know, all those unemployed actors and singers and high school drop-outs.

While this is definitely not always the case in America, waiting tables is a largely thankless job. Because it's not always a job that people seek out anymore, and because the pay is fickle, some servers have lost a sense of propriety that should come with any service job. Most waiters I've encountered in Houston are great, but some could use a reminder about a few specific etiquette tips. I've talked to waiters around town to get their impressions about how to behave properly at work, and this list reflects their suggestions.

In my last post on diner etiquette, I gave the impression that I'd never worked in the business, when what I should have said was I've never been employed by a restaurant. I have family in the industry, and I've volunteered in restaurants on more than one occasion, taking a turn in the kitchen or on the floor to see what the job is all about. And it's hard. So be nice to your server, and chances are your server will be good to you as well.

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Photo by Haabet
10. Don't touch me
I know that sounds like a super rude way to start an etiquette post, but seriously, there is no need for you to touch me. I'm not one of those people who's weird about strangers touching her, but I'd rather you didn't place your hand on my back to guide me to my seat or pat my napkin in my lap. If you want to shake hands as I'm leaving, that's fine. But any other touching is unnecessary and, frankly, kind of weird.

9. Don't touch yourself
It's somewhat gross to watch a waitress play with her hair and pick at her zits then grab your dinner plate and silverware to bring them to the table. You could be a very clean person, and you probably are, but I don't want your germs on my food. And I definitely don't want your hair on my food. Please refrain from rubbing your eyes, nose, mouth or other orifices while on the job, and if you must, go to the bathroom to do so, and then wash your hands. It's not just a matter of politeness, it's a matter of cleanliness.

8. Don't sit at the table
I want you to feel comfortable around me and my fellow diners. I want you to feel like we respect you, because we totally do. I don't really want you to feel like you're out eating with me though. Don't sit at my table or booth while you take my order, and please don't squat down and look up at me like you're super chill and we're all best buds. Let's have a little decorum here. I understand that you get tired, and I'm often an easy customer to talk to, so I understand that I might give off the impression that it's OK for you to take a load off at my table for a sec. But I don't really want you to do that. I might be talking about something personal with a friend or enjoying a date with someone new. Later, maybe you and I can hit the town. But tonight, you're working.


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29 comments
jamesbtowle
jamesbtowle

NO NOT INSULT ME BY TELLING ME THE PRICE UNLESS I ASK! Really what could be more insulting than a server looking down at me and my guests and telling us the price of every item...like can we afford it! PLEASE PLEASE do not give me the price.unless I ask.....McDonalds is just down the street folks go there if your worried about PRICE! 

Ellen Bigelow Jones
Ellen Bigelow Jones

the worst is coming to take away plates when not everyone is finished..and/or asking "are you still working on that" if you put your fork down for 30 seconds...horrible ettiquette

Jeff Berlat
Jeff Berlat

If I keep putting lemons on the table, stop bringing more lemons when you refill my iced tea and if you see the whole glass is full of ice, feel free to stop pouring more ice into my drink when you refill it.

jasonofthesea
jasonofthesea

Yesterday at a certain Montrose Tex-Mex restaurant my wife and I had two servers stand right next to our table and list off reasons to each other why they couldn't take care of us before one of them finally turned to us and said "Hi, I'll be taking care of you."  

Don't fight over us or anything, geez!  We're super easy and good tippers.  I've run a few wine bars and was a damn good waiter before then.  I know when you're giving me attitude.

Then she broke #10 a few times. 

ALSO: Don't resent your restaurant's specials!!  

khoa_98
khoa_98

OK, these were all generated by one visit to Federal Grill (maybe it was just one guy, but still).

1.) Don't recommend something else when I've already ordered something (unless it is terrible, which you should probably be telling the kitchen/chef.)

2.) Wine present to the person who ordered the wine.

3.) You don't have to tell me you are giving me new sliverware.  You can just put it down, and I will assume it's new based on the fact it is clean.

4.) Don't ask if everything is wonderful. Give me some leeway.  It may just be "good."  And you certainly don't have to ask it multiple times a course. 

5.) I don't get the shaking hands thing.  I don't know you.  It's especially awkward when I'm seated.  If the customer offers, sure, but I personally don't really want to shake your sweaty hand.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

and please don't wait until I have a mouth full of food to ask me "how is everything".....

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

0. Don't tell me that "everything's good" when i ask for a recommendation. It's not helpful.

sugarpie
sugarpie

I'm with you on everything except number 2.  Can't say we ever finished a patron's left over drinks (except maybe wine from an unfinished bottle), but the bus-tub buffet was a regular part of all our (well, the waiters anyway) routine back in the day.  Not in front of the customers, of course. 

MadMac
MadMac

Waiting is HARD work. Mutha' McClellan raised me and my sister on diner tips and I have nothing but RESPECT for waiterstaff. I've done restaurant work from dishwashing to prep, to line cook but never waited. Some folks have the gift--and it is a gift--for customer service, the rest of us need walls and appliances between us and the customers.

It's reasuring to me that I've only seen one or two instances of over-chummy servers--projecting their winning personalities to others--and none of the other behaviours listed here. But then I'll bail on a restaurant in a second if I have a moment's doubt about hygiene, food, or service. I took a date to Joe's Crabshack in the 90s and the waiter cracked wise with me at the door. We left for a joint down the street and I've never gone back. I honestly think that among the myriad other things that sunk Sierra Grill, poor service was at the top of the list. Meanwhile Danton's--at an equally awkward location--thrives in no small part due to the wonderful service.

Great article, Ms. Steinberg. Oh, and we're right here--fingers to eyes--on the touchy-feely bit. No touchy, no touchy!

lisa.a.odonnell
lisa.a.odonnell

@jamesbtowle  Actually I feel awkward if I have to ask the price.  We went to a very nice steak house and the server told us the specials.  My fiancee ordered one.  We were shocked on the bill to find the Waygu $69.99.  If you explain all the specials and the prices at the same time, it's not being offensive or demeaning or judging, it's just stating the price so a customer doesn't have to feel lame asking.  

lisa.a.odonnell
lisa.a.odonnell

@Ellen Bigelow Jones I don't mind.  If someone else is slow, I don't want to sit 20 minutes with a dirty plate in front of me.  Also, "are you still enjoying that?" would be the preferable question.  

mandolin2712
mandolin2712

@texmex01 you're there to eat!! 90% of the time you are going to have food in your mouth!!!

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@texmex01 Haha that's what the thumbs up or down are for!

zebra56
zebra56

@sugarpie OMG, we pretty much existed on leftover food (which we ate in the kitchen, of course).  And I never died as a result!

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@sugarpie Yeah, I don't know how prevalent it really is, but I'm sure my dad appreciates me announcing publicly that he used to finish customers' steaks off their plates. So gross, Dad! The unfinished bottle of wine I can totally get behind though.

Houstess
Houstess

@MadMac Well you know... that banter at Joe's was/is part of the schtick.  They sing and dance too so's you know you're having fun.  Talk about a difficult gig.  And yeah, Danton's wait staff are as fantastic as the food.

The "no touching rule" goes both ways also.  I cringe when I see someone grab a server (that is what I call  them, you sexist KS) especially if it's a woman.  Just don't.  I'd club someone that did that to me.


KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@MadMac Haha glad you approve! I'm sure waiting tables is crazy hard work, and most people take it seriously and are able to support themselves and their families doing so. But yeah, just don't touch me! (PS. Is that an Arrested Development reference?)

jamesbtowle
jamesbtowle

@lisa.a.odonnell @jamesbtowle  well I see that can happen...I have asked but I usually call the waiter to me and do so in a low tone as not to involve the other guests....I have done this when I order french wine that is aged...there is a great deal of price difference from restaurant to restaurant depending upon their reputation.....

MadMac
MadMac

Yeah, I watched guys paw all over a poor woman serving drinks at the old Sky Bar while she professionally pushed their hands away. That was assault and they need to be clubbed like fish. Seriously am I the only dude who's ever been maced?

Why'd it get so quiet in here? 

MadMac
MadMac

Sadly--my Mrs. says with a sigh--I'm not that mature. It's an "Emperor's New Groove," reference and you have to do it with Karate hands. Otherwise it's not funny.

MadMac
MadMac

@KaitlinS @MadMac I need to go shower now. On behalf (or bewhole even) of men e'rywhere, I'm so sorry. Honestly, I about as sleazy as it gets--ask my Mrs.--but I draw the line at assault.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@MadMac I worked at a cocktail bar for a week once cause I couldn't handle all of the skeezy guys touching me. So yeah, it definitely goes both ways.

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