At Your Service: Top 10 Etiquette Tips for Restaurant Servers
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.
Photo by Florian Plag
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.
10. Don't touch me
Photo by Haabet
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.