So true! This might be my favorite question yet.
I used to work at a restaurant. Well, a few actually, for about 9 years. So I can tell you first hand what your wait staff expects of you, and why. This will help you give a good impression to your wait staff, and up your chances of getting better service. Some of these rules may not seem fair, and you’re entitled to that opinion. I’m not here to argue about right and wrong. I’m here to tell you how to get the service you want. If you decide to go by your opinion, by all means, do so. You’ll be fighting a losing battle. Be warned.
From the time you walk into the door, you’re being judged. This may not seem fair, but understand that guests are also judging waiters. Their tips, which is the ONLY money they get to take home, are based on that judgment. So, they return the favor as a defense mechanism, in hopes that they show the most promising guests the best attention. The fact of the matter is that a server/waiter has several tables and guests to keep happy. Most of which are demanding and needing of attention and flattery constantly. They won’t all get that. Waiters pick favorites, because most of the time, with only two arms and legs, they have little choice. You are literally competing for attention. If the server gets a hint that you’re not worth their time, it will show, because I can guarantee you there’s another table in his/her section that is.
Sometimes you will be judged based on factors out of your control: race is the biggest culprit in my experience. I hate this. I’m black, so I’ve been on the guests’s end of this unfair treatment, and I’m a great tipper! But I constantly have to prove myself, which mean’s that from two ends of the coin, I definitely have some tips to offer.
Here’s what you do to stay on the good side of your server:
When you sit at the table wait patiently for your waiter to come. If it’s busy in the restaurant, understand that the hosts sat you not necessarily because your waiter is immediately available, but because they had a seat available to give you comfort. You waiter will be with you ASAP. (Of course, if it takes a ridiculously long time, consult the host stand and be sure there’s a server in your section. Mix-ups do happen.) When the server gets to your table, all you’ve got to do is smile. Let the server finish their required intro, and then politely ASK for your preferred drink and appetizer. Show some manners. If the server asks you what you want to drink but you’re ready to order, ask the server if he/she has time to take the order. Even if they don’t, they’ll do it for you, but it’s all in how you present it that dictates how happy they’re going to be about doing it. Likewise, if they ask you what you want and you’re not ready, ask them to come back instead of making them wait for you. First impressions are lasting. Be sure to make a good first impression by: 1. asking instead of demanding. 2. smiling. 3. use proper english (I’m pretty sure the US is the only country that operates restaurants this way). 4. saying please and thank you.
Once you receive your meal, your server will ask you if everything looks okay. Actually look at your food and give an honest answer. Don’t be afraid to voice your displeasures if there are any! Just be polite about it. They will come back within a couple of minutes to then ask how it tastes. Again, give an honest answer. If you need something extra, assess your meal and ask for everything you need at once. ‘Running’ your server will result in a frustrated server, because you’re monopolizing the server’s time, which is terrible for overall productivity and maintaining a happy section. Running is: the act of asking for something else every time the server brings the last thing you asked for. The, “thanks for making the trip to get the ketchup. Oh by the way, may I have ranch. Thanks for the ranch, may I get some napkins?”. Don’t do that.
Servers love compliments, and don’t hear them enough. But if you’re going to talk about how great the service is, back it up with a tip that proves it. There’s nothing worse than getting what servers call a ‘verbal tip’. Imagine you asked your boss where your paycheck was for all of the awesome work you did this week and she said, “You did do awesome work this week! Here’s a dollar!” and expected you to be happy with that. How would you feel?
Servers do not get paychecks. They get a $3ish hourly rate that gets eaten up by taxes. The only money they take home is tips. You may think that that isn’t fair, and that the restaurants should pay the servers more. Doing this would only increase your food bill, because restaurants owners aren’t stupid, so you would be paying it one way or another. Also, when you stiff/lowball your server in protest of the system, you’re not hurting the system, you’re hurting the server who just bent over backwards giving you everything you asked for hoping they’ll be able to pay their rent by the end of it. Managers don’t care. Owners don’t care. They make $40+ a year with annual bonuses and raises, and that’s all they care about. Show some support to the wait staff. The majority of servers are students and/or parents, both of whom deserve to be paid for their work, the same way you do.
You undoubtedly expect your server to say “please” and “thank you”. Show some manners yourself. Say please and thank you. Be kind and forgiving. Understand that if your food comes out late or your burger has lettuce when you specifically said no lettuce, it could be the kitchens mistake. If you don’t see your server for a while, maybe another table is running the ragged and monopolizing their attention, and so on. Show that you understand that the server is working hard for you without even knowing whether they’re going to get paid or not. Servers take a risk with every new table that walks in the door. They give each person the benefit of the doubt. Show them that you are willing to do the same out of appreciation. And before you place blame, ask them what happened. Most servers will tell the truth and apologize for it, even when it’s not their fault. Show them the same courtesy if you want their kindness.
Sometimes complaints are inescapable. Even as a former server, I understand that. I had tables that I felt terrible for, because shit seemed to just not go my way that day when it came to keeping them happy. And with those tables, if they made a complaint to management, I understood. Let a complaint be just that: a complaint. You don’t need to rant and rave and demand a discount. Management at most restaurants will offer that, and be happier to offer it to people who don’t ask for it, believe it or not. We value that kindness, because we see so little of it. Those are the people we want to return. The one’s who don’t hate us for accidentally letting the fact that we’re human slip out. You don’t need to call your server names and berate their intelligence or work ethic. If everyone’s order at the table was wrong (it’s happened), simply state that. “We don’t like to complain, but each and every one of our entrees came out with mistakes. This really put a damper on our experience, having to wait for the mistakes to be corrected instead of being able to eat right away. We don’t know if it was the kitchen’s doing or the server’s doing. We’ll leave that to you to find out, but we thought we should let you know.” That’s the proper way to complain. Improper: “This is fucking ridiculous. I had to wait for 10 fucking minutes for my well-done steak to get here just to find out that it’s the sirloin when I ordered a god damn NY strip. If your staff fucking stupid? How hard is it to get a guy what he asks for? I’m never coming here again unless you give me this steak for free. And I still want my NY strip to go.” This doesn’t earn you respect in anyone’s book. Not the manager’s, not your server’s, not anyone else’s. And guess what, if a staff doesn’t want you as a patron, they will show it. They will take you up on your threat to never return, because they won’t want you to.
Tip 20% for overall good service (multiply the first number by two. i.e. 20% of $60 is $12). Above 20% for excellent service. 15% for service you feel is lacking, maybe one too many mistakes for it to be everyone else’s fault. And 10% if your server just straight up had an attitude with you and behaved in a horrible manner and you’re not sure why. Never stiff your server. If you leave less than 20%, leave a note politely explaining what was lacking. This isn’t for your server, this is for you: If you plan to ever return to the restaurant, you want to do everything in your power to have the staff understand that you’re not a bad tipper, but you had a poor experience. Servers talk. Don’t give them reason to talk about you being an asshole rather than an honest tipper. Set yourself up for future success by tipping well and being completely justified when you don’t. If you pay for good – excellent service, you will receive it. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s just dinner to you. To them, it’s business, it’s rent, it’s senior dues and soccer uniforms. Understand that if you’re not worth their time and effort, they will consciously do the bare minimum to make more room for those who are.
Bottom-line: Never come in less than 30 minutes before closing if you’re not going to make it out the door within 10 minutes after close. No one will like you, no matter how nice you are. Another bottom-line: If you were there well before closing, leave when it’s time to close.
Follow social cues. If you’re the last guest in the restaurant, you’re no longer a guest, you’re a hold-up.
Getting Your Server’s Attention
If your server has checked on you and you said you’re good, then it will be up to you to get their attention here on out for anything that’s not a refill, boxes, or otherwise completely visible in passing. If you need to get your server’s attention it is okay to: 1. make eye contact and raise your hand. 2. say their name if they’re close and not with another guest. 3. ask another member of the staff to find your server for you. It is inappropriate to: yell their name across the floor. 2. snap. 3. get up and approach them while they are working. 4. call for their attention while they’re talking to a guest.
Typically making and holding eye contact is enough of a cue. They’ll come over and ask you what’s up.
Camping is a common offense at sports bars, and restaurants that attract studying students and business meetings. Camping itself (sitting at a table for hours, disabling the server’s ability to turn the table and make consistent money) isn’t the offense. It’s tipping properly while camping that’s the offense. This could be because there isn’t a set standard. It could also be because people tend to think “They’re not working for me, so I shouldn’t have to tip them any more.” WRONG. They’d be making more money from the table you’re holding up if you left. Pay your table rent.
I’ve heard some server’s say they expect $10/hr from campers on top of the original 20%. I personally think that that’s a bit much, considering you still have other tables. However, $5/hr isn’t too steep. If you sit at a table for hours in a restaurant you frequent and frequently receive bad service, think about whether you’re paying your camping dues. Don’t be afraid to ask your server what their expectations are. Most servers feel like they will get in trouble for ‘asking’ for money. Let them know you want to make sure you’re taking care of them, and ask them to be honest with you about the etiquette, no harm no foul. Warn them that if you don’t know, you may accidentally short them. They’ll open up and let you know what their preferred rate is.
You should also find out whether your server is leaving any time soon, because you owe them the original 20% plus however many hours for them taking care of you. The server they bring on afterward, you owe a new 20% plus hourly to. Clearly, if you order nothing else, then you just owe the hourly table rent.
Okay, I’m all done now.
Now you know everything you need to know about receiving good service.