Restaurant Etiquette-Part I

Alright, prepare yourselves. This will probably turn into a mini-rant. I’ve decided to break it up into two pieces for that reason… and because I want to give both points of view; the server and the customer.

Update: Click Here for Part II.

Terrible picture, but this was taken on a busy night at one of our favorite dinner spots..

First, we have the Server’s Position….

Having worked in the restaurant business for a few years now, doing everything in the front of the house from hostessing/busing, serving/bar-tending, managing the floor and planning big parties, I feel that I have some expertise when it comes to knowing how a restaurant works.

Therefore, as an insider, I want to let you (the customer) in on a few things.

*First-and this is probably my biggest pet peeve-if you go out with more than 6 people and arrive during the busiest time on the busiest night of the week, call ahead. If you walk in without a reservation, don’t get ticked off if you have to wait ten minutes for a table. In fact, don’t get ticked off if you wait fifteen minutes. If you pull into a full parking lot, you should expect that it’s busy. I understand, sometimes, people do spur of the moment dinners with a large group of friends-and that’s fine.  But even if you call a mere ten minutes beforehand, it helps. And you’ll be seated a lot faster….just make a reservation.

*On that same note, if you see that every table is full, don’t be surprised if you have to wait more than five minutes for your food…especially if you are at a non-chain, where actual cooking occurs. You’ve probably also noticed that your server is stressed out, give them a break if they can’t deliver your dirty martini or your extra cocktail sauce in less than 15 seconds.

*If you make a reservation for a large party, call to confirm. If you can’t come, then call to cancel. It’s a waste of time, money and space to set up a large section for you and to schedule extra staff, just to have you pull a no-show. Not to mention it’s rude.

*Speaking of reservations, let’s say you call for a table of “about 6-10 people,” it would be nice if you could confirm that number…again, even ten minutes ahead of time. If you are coming on a busy night, tables go quickly and other diners get ticked off seeing 5 people sitting at a table set for fifteen.

*If there is something wrong with your food, tell someone. And make sure to tell them before you clean your plate. If your steak is overcooked, let your server know after the first or second bite, not the twelfth. It’s not very convincing if you complain about your meal when there is nothing left, and honestly, there isn’t much we can do about it at that point.

*If you’re picky, ask questions. That being said, don’t try to order a special entree and then ask for 321146356434134234 changes to be made. Asking for no mushrooms is one thing. Asking for no mushrooms, sauce on the side, stuffing on the side, a different kind of meat and broccoli instead of peppers is ridiculous. If that’s how you roll, stay home. Or order something else.

*If you have allergies, let us know. Again, ask questions. If we don’t know, we’ll find out for you.

*Please remember that you are in a restaurant, not at a frat party. If you are telling a story that would make your grandmother blush or your five-year-old  should not hear, it’s probably not appropriate to yell across the table at your bros. I once listened to a group talk about watching a girl who had too much to drink show off things she could do with a bottle. I’ll spare you the details, but it was absolutely revolting and I was pretty offended. Remember that you aren’t the only people in the room.

*Continuing with this, using the F-word does not make you cool. In fact, it makes you sound like a moron. It’s also offensive to the people around you. Remember-restaurant. Not a frat party.

*Control your children.

*I admit, this one is a personal thing; there are two kinds of zinfandel. White and red. If you order a pink zinfandel, I’m going to judge you. Just a little bit. That’s just how it is.

*Don’t forget to tip: 12-14 percent is a no-no. IF you had terrible service, then…maybe. 15 percent is okay, but if your server did a hell of a job, going above and beyond, you need to leave at least 20 percent of the bill. The “dollar per number of people at the table”  method does not fly. I have actually stopped going out to dinner with some friends because of their issue with tipping. Servers depend on that money. Bartenders, too. Not only that, but you will get better service. Amazing service. Trust me.

*If you get especially bad service, talk to the manager. They will usually bend over backwards for the customer.

*DO NOT SNAP YOUR FINGERS to get your server’s attention. They are a person, not a dog. Your server will probably tell you their name, therefore, snapping or yelling “waitress!” across the restaurant is unacceptable. And again, just plain rude. I had someone do this to me once and I promptly informed him that my name was Noelle, not waitress. He remembered after that. I cannot tell you how much this irks me.

*If you are in a large group and ask for all separate checks, it may take a few minutes to ring everything in and then run the 326 credit cards. Especially if they have to hand-write tickets and there is only one register and/or credit card machine. Please be patient. Another solution? Pay with cash.

*If you are finished with your meal, place your knife and fork at the 4-5 o’clock position on your plate, this signals that it can be taken away.

*If you are waiting for your card to be swiped, place the book upright on the table or move it toward the edge, again, this signals it is okay to take away.

*Be nice to your server.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Waiting, but things like that do happen in real life. I, personally, would never do that, no matter how angry someone made me, but I’ve seen and heard some questionable things done by others. Just…be nice. Trust me.

*Have fun. Chat with your server, ask questions about the menu and just have fun with your dining experience. It makes our lives easier and the entire dining experience will be more enjoyable for all involved.

Thanks for reading. Did I miss anything? What are some of your pet peeves with dining out?

Again, this is a two part post. You can read Part II by clicking here.

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7 Comments on “Restaurant Etiquette-Part I”

  1. Tipping? says:

    Feeling entitled to at least a 20% tip is a little presumptuous. I generally tip well, but recognize that waitressing is a job that doesn’t require a college degree… or even a high school degree, actually. If a table has a 100 dollar bill for a 1 hour dinner, why do you feel like a waitress should earn AT LEAST 20 dollars/hour just for that table? That’s more than a lot of people who work jobs that require an investment of tens of thousands of dollars in a degree tailored to that field. Or, for that matter, why should you earn 2x the wage for the couple that orders surf and turf vs. the couple that orders spaghetti and meatballs when you do the same amount of work?

    Basically, it’s one thing if you have a preference as a customer to tip well but to point it out as a waitress is crossing the line. It’s called a gratuity for a reason, you should be happy with anything that a table leaves you.

    • Dear Tipping,

      Thanks for reading. Again, this is a two part post, so I will be elaborating more on tipping from the customer’s point of view in the follow-up, as I said in this post, I want to give BOTH sides.

      But to respond to your comment, you misunderstood what I wrote. I stated that if a server “does a hell of a job, going above and beyond,” then you should leave at least 20 percent. If they, for example, have 7 other tables and are still able to deliver your food in a timely fashion, get refills on your drinks, pour your wine and keep your table clear of extra dishes, all while keeping an upbeat attitude, then yes, I do believe that at least 20% is due, regardless of how much your bill is.

      However, if, let’s say, you are the only table in the restaurant and your food comes out cold, and your dishes never get cleared, then no. A twenty percent tip is obviously not deserved. Don’t put words in my mouth.

      I think you are also forgetting that, in the United States, servers are paid below minimum wage. They also have to tip out a bus-person and the bartender, which means that they don’t actually make $20 per hour. And let’s say you are their only table that day. Then that is the only money they will bring home.

      That being said, how dare you say that because this type of work doesn’t necessarily require a diploma that a server does not deserve to make a decent wage. I know that I worked my way through college and hold a dual degree in Communications and Spanish. I currently work in a restaurant in addition to my full time job in order to help pay down my student loans. I think you’ll find this is the case with most people who are working in a restaurant, especially given the current state of the economy. And even if they do not have a degree, at least they are out working, instead of sitting on their butts doing nothing.

      I know many people who went to college and are still ignorant and lazy. I also know many who did not go to college and are far more intelligent, with a much better work ethic, than those who did. Just because they don’t have that piece of paper does not make someone undeserving of making a living.

      So again, how dare you.

      I don’t like to make assumptions, but based on this statement alone, I don’t think you’ve ever worked in a restaurant. Or needed to.

      Again, thanks for stopping by. I hope that you’ll read the follow-up to this post.

  2. embamford says:

    Question about tipping…do servers in the US not get paid a regular wage? In Europe you would barely ever tip more than 10%, maybe 15% if you were super happy, and in Japan there’s no tipping at all! Tipping 15% if you had terrible service seems kind of crazy, isn’t the whole point of tipping to say thanks for a job well done?

  3. Hi Em!

    They get paid below minimum wage, so tips are built into their income.

    As far as the amount, in the US 15% is the average, I try to leave at least 20% percent unless I had terrible service. But that is a personal preference. There was one time…that I’ll get into in the next post that I left less than 15….but it was the worst service I have ever had.

    A lot of people don’t take other factors into consideration. The kitchen for example, can make or break it. Sometimes they forget to fire an order or they overcook a steak. Also, if it’s busy, you may have to wait a little longer than usual. Diners tend not to take this into consideration..

    I’ll get more into tipping from the customers perspective in the follow-up…don’t worry, I don’t automatically think that a server should demand a 20% tip, regardless of their work ethic. I included this section on tipping mostly because a lot of people just don’t know or don’t get it.

  4. Liz says:

    Last weekend I went to a new restaurant literally around the corner from my new place, that my friends were raving about. The food, fantastic. Our waitress however was not. In the hour we were there she promptly took our order and delivered our food, and that was it. We had to track down the host if we had a problem, I wasn’t once given a refill (Granted I got water, but since I don’t drink soda or juice it wasn’t out of cheapness). Half the time she was too busy flirting up the guys at another table or was no where to be seen. Almost every order was screwed up, and the guys at my table had to wait 35 minutes for their beer refills. The restaurant wasn’t full and there was enough staff on hand. I am usually a very generous tipper and probably would have left a good tip if it weren’t for the icing on the cake. When bringing us our bill she said, “Usually for parties of 6 we add in the 20% gratuity, but I can’t find my manager so I TRUST you will do the RIGHT thing.” Then gave me attitude for paying cash when everyone else was using a card. I tip 20% almost all the time, but this time I left the lowest tip I’d ever, ever, ever left. I would have been embarrassed by it, but then I realized she was only wearing half a shirt with her bellow button ring in my face the whole time, so half a shirt must cost less than a whole shirt anyway. I am weary to go back again just because I don’t want her as a waitress. Sadly, I would go to a place with lower quality food but better customer service over that place.

    On a side note Noelle, I think your a fabulous waitress 🙂

  5. See, that is a case when you have every right to not leave a good tip. I promise, I’ll cover this in the follow-up post… don’t worry!

  6. […] both points of view; the server and the customer. If you haven’t read Part I, I suggest you click here. Condiments, water and cold drinks. All very […]


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