The Server’s Manifesto

I’ve been waiting tables on and off for five years now. I’ve never had it worse than working here in DC. This post has been a thought storming in my head for a long time, and it concerns the proper behavior that is so rarely used in restaurants. It involves how you, the customer, should treat us, the staff. To save all of us a headache, I’ve decided to enumerate a list rather than deluge you with a rant of how horrendously atrocious and thoughtless your behavior has been. Enjoy, and please forward to your friends.

1. Don’t seat yourself. I work at a mid-level restaurant with an average entree of around twenty dollars. We are by no means a Waffle House or a Denny’s. In fact, we employ several hosts and have a host stand at the front of the house. Do not walk off the street and sit on our patio without announcing your presence to the restaurant. Do not walk into the restaurant and sit in our section without consulting with someone first. It’s one of the rudest things you can do to a waiter. If, for some reason, you have decided to be a dick and seat yourself, you have absolutely no right whatsoever to cop an attitude with your server (or any server) for not running to your aid immediately.

2. No complicated orders. We understand if you have a food allergy, and we totally get the fact that we’re in the service industry. Yes, we will most likely accommodate your demands. But when we walk up to the table and you immediately override all of our policy, with three drink orders per person and completely changing whatever our menu states, that pisses us off. That makes our kitchen pissed. That makes our lives more shitty than before you walked in. By all means, if you want the burger with mashed potatoes instead of fries, that’s fine. But if you want your omelet minus half the ingredients and no butter but with egg whites and sub fruit with a side salad with no jicama but extra beets and your dressing on the side, that’s going to make us hate you. A lot.

3. This restaurant is not your living room. Don’t walk into our restaurant and put your feet up on our chairs or lay down in our booths. Don’t stay at your table for four and a half hours (I’ve had it happen) or sit on a check for over an hour. If you ask for the check or we drop the check on your table, that means you need to leave. What it doesn’t mean is that you just bought yourself an hour of playtime at your fucking table. And please, for Jesus Fucking Christ’s sake, never EVER breastfeed your child at your table. I have seen way too many saggy tits. If you find it absolutely necessary to breastfeed your child while in a public dining location, please use a blanket to cover the act somehow.

4. Only return things if necessary. When you order a bottle of wine , there are only two acceptable reasons for you to send it back. The first is if the wine has gone bad, usually indicated by an intensely acidic flavor, which some might compare to vinegar. The second is if the waiter has, in some way, misrepresented the wine to you, such as saying it was a dry wine when it’s actually quite sweet. You are not allowed to send the wine back simply because you don’t like it. That’s basically your own fault for not knowing what wines you like, and we shouldn’t have to comp a $64 bottle of wine because you realized you don’t really like Cabernet Sauvignon. In a similar vein, try not to return food unless absolutely necessary. Know your meat temperatures and the difference between a medium rare steak and a medium well steak. By all means, if you ordered medium and we deliver it well, or vice versa, let us know. You deserve to have the mistake corrected. However, it’s universally considered bad etiquette to return something simply because you weren’t blown away by how much you loved it.

5. Know and use proper reservation behavior. If you have placed a reservation for fourteen people, don’t send two people in to hold that table for the rest of your group. Have the majority of your group at the restaurant within ten or fifteen minutes of the reserved time. We understand if one or two people are late, but when you have a large party, we have most likely blocked off a large part of, if not our entire section in order to accommodate you. Please don’t waste our time and money by letting empty tables exist. Finally, by all means, if you’re not going to show up, cancel. It’s as simple as calling us ahead of time and letting us know that you won’t be able to make it. It’s not embarrassing at all and makes our lives much, much simpler.

6. Don’t use your cell phones. I’m not kidding with you. I had a woman who came in for brunch once and stayed on her phone the entire time. She was seated by the host, gave her drink and food order, ate her meal, took her check, and paid for everything while on one single phone conversation. This shit should never happen. That true but excessive example simply denotes a larger trend of obnoxious cell phone use. When we approach you to greet you, tell you the specials, and take your drink orders, there is no excuse for you staying on your phone. If you need to take a call, please step outside. Don’t leave your Blackberries and iPhones on the table so you can text, email, and talk through your entire meal. It’s rude to the staff, it’s rude to your friends, it’s rude to the other customers. Besides, your electronic devices on the table translate to less room on the table for us to place food and drinks and increase the chance of a spill.

7. Tip 20 percent….Seriously. 20 percent is considered standard in 2008. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Don’t go out to eat if you can’t afford to leave more money than the total of the food you order. You should never, for any reason, tip someone 10 percent. 15 should only be used if you know the server was personally performing poorly. However, sometimes our sections are too large, we’re training someone in the back, our kitchen is slammed, or we’re a strong server who has to pick up the slack for the shitty ones. Things that you don’t even see affect how we can serve you. You need to understand that we’re doing everything we can to make you happy, but you’re not our only table and the only wage we get at all is from you. And don’t you dare even THINK about stiffing a server. There’s a special area of hell reserved for people like that.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Server’s Manifesto

  1. kerrie

    I have one to add:

    Don’t arrive 5 minutes before closing and expect to enjoy your meal at a leisurely pace, particularly if you are the only customers left in the restaurant. Your appetizer plate is going to be removed and replaced with your entree as soon as you finish that last bite. That’s that.

    And, if you choose to linger for hours after your meal has been eaten and the check has been dropped, at least throw in a few extra bucks for the server who was forced to stay and wait for your departure.

  2. old man

    Spoken like a true industry servant… well done.

    I’d like to add that lingering at the bar while the staff is OBVIOUSLY trying to get you to leave (having LOUD conversations with one another, turning up the lights, washing your wine glass in front of you) is equally heinous. This matter is even more so compounded when the offender is on her mobile throughout the entire ordeal.

    After years of industry service (and yes, I’d return to it in a heartbeat) I’d love to see a reality show that brings these inexcusable behaviors into the homes of the offenders.

    What about just know the hours in general? We spend way too much time telling people to go away because we’re still setting up our restaurant. We’re standing in t-shirts and scrubbing tables, but you want your lunch. Know when we open and when we close; all restaurants have to, by law, post their hours at the entrance.

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