The customer is not always right and no one knows this better than restaurant wait staff. Any conversation about dining should include the estimated 2.5 million servers in the United States, and the steps they take to bring the kitchen’s creation to your plate. I would know, as I served tables at a local chain restaurant for three years. Since my current job sometimes allows me to share my own thoughts, I consulted a few other past and current Reno restaurant wait staff to explain how not to treat your server.
As the adage goes: if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to eat out. America’s restaurant industry by and large operates on the basis that your server needs at least 15 to 20 percent tip to make a livable wage. Some, like Anneliese Hucal, who’s served at a local Italian restaurant for the past three years, are fine with that.
“Any time I go to a restaurant, even if the service is terrible, I will try to leave some sort of compensation because I’m respecting the culture that we’re given,” Hucal said.
But tips are expected to be monetary. I once waited on a table that left me an invitation to their weekend church service and a note saying “Hope to see you there!” on the receipt. This kind of unhelpful compensation also applies to what Hucal calls “verbal tips.”
“I hate when you tell me that your food is really good and then you leave me a dollar on a hundred dollar tab,” she said.
Customers have a right to withhold a tip if they really believe their service was unsatisfactory, but it’s important to understand that tips aren’t just added bonuses to the wait staff—and under-tipping essentially sends them home under budget for the month. And a little generosity goes a long way.
“I get very annoyed when I go out with friends who are getting their calculators out and exactly need to calculate 15 percent,” said Megan Ortiz, a server with 10 years’ experience in places like Mel’s Diner and the original Café DeLuxe.
This also goes for gratuity charges, which are tacked on to large parties that require extra attention from servers.
“Gratuity is not a tip,” Ortiz said. “Gratuity is a pain-in-the-ass charge. Gratuity is a, ‘You took my time and attention away from all of the other tables that I could have been dealing with and all the other money I could have been making, and therefore you are getting a service charge for that.’”
And perhaps the most unhelpful sort of tip assumes that your server is more interested in a date than paying their bills.
“Leaving your phone number and not leaving a tip, like that’s somehow going to make my fucking day and pay for my next meal, because it’s not going to,” Ortiz said.
Which leads us to …
As a male server, I’m lucky to have had few interactions with my customers that made me personally uncomfortable doing my job. But that’s a lot more than I can say for my female counterparts.
“I did have a customer who used to stick his hand up my skirt, and he would make comments, and he would try to, like, slip me extra money and get me to come out with him to the bathroom,” Hucal said.
Gross displays like this are all too common in an industry predicated on the idea that someone is there to “serve” you in any sense of the word. But, as a rule of thumb, never assume your server wants anything more from you than your money, and maybe a few laughs.
“You’re coming in, and I want to provide you with an experience,” Hucal said. “But that experience doesn’t include me having to bend to your sexual whims or whatever just because you think I’m hot and because you think I’m in a vulnerable position.”
Regardless of sexual advances, harassment can come in the form of unwanted touches in general.
“Like if someone’s not finished eating and I go to pick up their plate, and they kind of slap my hand—no touching servers,” said Maricela Hernandez, who has been serving for over 11 years.
Communicating with your server should never extend beyond the verbal realm. This is part of what we would call …
These are simple, basic and yet somehow still ignored by a huge percentage of the dining population. Some of the greatest hits include:
“I hate people that snap their fingers at me and try to get my attention,” Hucal said.
As a rule, the guest who snaps is almost universally mocked for it in the back of the house for their haughty demeanor.
“I think it’s very rude not to greet somebody when they greet you” Ortiz said. “Like, ‘Oh, hi. How are you today?’ ‘I’ll have a diet Coke.’ ‘Great, I am so good too. Fuck me, right?’”
I can’t see why this exchange would be acceptable unless you really believed the person in front of you didn’t deserve basic courtesy.
“If food takes a long time, it’s not our fault,” said Hernandez. “Sometimes we are really busy, and it’s not when you get there, ‘Oh, we’re going to make your food because now you’re here.’ It goes by time, and whatever prints out first on the ticket is what they start cooking.”
Restaurants follow a specific work flow from ordering to serving, and if the kitchen is bogged down, getting snippy with your server is less than helpful to everyone.
Personal taste is paramount in most restaurants, and if you’d like something prepared a certain way, then good wait staff will do their best to accommodate you. However, at a certain point, menu additions begin to defeat the point of coming out in the first place.
“These people that are opening these businesses … are trying to bring something specific, and when you’re changing menu items, aside from obvious dietary restrictions, that’s offensive to some degree,” Hucal said.
While a server might know the menu in and out, it’s of little help if the customer can’t clearly communicate what they want. Or even worse, lie about it to get preferential treatment.
“If you know that you just came in for drinks and appetizers, just tell the guy,” said Stephen Patterson, who has been a server for the past 25 years. “They will be taking up a table, and they know they’re just going to have calamari and a glass of wine, but they’ll act like, ‘Maybe we’ll order some dinner.’ But they know they’re not going to order some dinner, so you have to keep coming back and bugging them.”
Essentially, a successful dining interaction requires a customer to at least be able to speak up about things they want, or specifically don’t want. Anything other than that creates a point of contention that could otherwise spoil a pleasant evening.
“I will go find out,” said Patterson. “I will make it right as best as I can. But if you don’t tell me what it is you want, how am I going to get it? Communication is key, or just order something off the damn menu, which is not hard to do.”