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I don’t want to sound like an asshole here, but it’s probably inevitable. I waited tables for the past five years, most recently in a popular café in Soho, in a fancy East Village place before that, and in some Brooklyn joints back in the day. I had to stop when waiting tables turned me, a nice girl from Pennsylvania, into a vile monster who hated everyone.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re jerks because they’ve never waited tables before. I’m a totally oblivious shopper because I haven’t really worked in retail before, so I’m sure those guys wanna to kill me when I try on 50 pairs of sunglasses and don’t buy one. (Sorry, Warby Parker employees.)
Just, you guys, let’s all be more aware of our surroundings so your waitress doesn’t ruin her relationship with all that pent-up anger. Here are some universal annoying things that have happened in every single restaurant I’ve ever worked in.
Getting a table
When you walk in, try to locate the host or maître d’ to inquire about a table. Please don’t flag down a server and ask her, especially if the place is busy. The host has a waitlist and the server has no idea when the next table will be available. If she seats you, whoever’s on the list will be pissed.
Your experience at the restaurant is all about trust. You have to trust the process -- we are skilled professionals who do this every day. When it’s your turn, we will get to you. If a table does become available, please don’t seat yourself. The host will tell you when it’s ready. Trust.
Please DON’T sit at a dirty table. It’s a horrible pet peeve for everyone in the restaurant industry. A) It’s disgusting. Why you want someone’s leftover couscous in your face? And B) It’s disgusting. If you’re sitting at a table when someone cleans it, you’ll get dirty. Trust me. Watch someone wipe a table with a rag. Crumbs go everywhere. Why do you want blue cheese all over you?
After you sit down, take your time and look over the menu. Again, it’s about trust. Trust that your server will come over and greet you, explain the specials, and take your drink orders. Please don’t flag her down. She’s real busy and doing everything in sequence and she will get to you when it’s your turn. I swear she will.
But, yes, OK, please look over the menu. I can’t stress that enough. I know you’ve had a long day and are probably a very important person. You’ve been making decisions for hours and the last thing you want to do is look through a huge menu and try to figure out what to eat. I get it. But guess what? You came to a restaurant and that’s the way it works.
Please do not say you’re ready to order when you’re not and then say, “Hey, just tell me what’s YOUR favorite thing on the menu.” The truth is, I’m a gluten-free vegetarian who doesn’t drink. I have no idea. Everything I say is a lie. BUT, I can give you recommendations based on what the chefs and other customers tell me about the dishes.
Therefore, I can give you my opinion but, sadly, you’re still going to have to decide for yourself. I know it’s hard. It really is. Especially when you’re starving. Take it in stride. Everything here is good and if you choose something people say is bad, trust that I’ll be honest with you about that one. I will be, I swear.
If you have weird dietary needs (gluten-free vegetarian over here), do your research before going to the restaurant. Many won’t modify their dishes to suit your needs. The chefs think their food is perfect. It’s also a time thing. If the kitchen has a million tickets and they’re in the weeds, they can’t make fried chicken, no breading, sub salad just for you. They just can’t.
That said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for modifications (if your requests are within reason), just don’t be an asshole if we say no.
How to treat your server
OK, when you do order, can you please put your phone down for a second? I’m a person and I deserve your full attention. I went to college and graduated at the top of my class. My only mistake was studying English.
PLEASE, PLEASE don’t talk down to me like I’m dumb. Your server is waiting tables because she’s probably pursuing some artistic venture that’s really ballsy and difficult. Don’t treat her like she’s scum. It’s just bad karma.
And let’s talk about boundaries with your server. Don’t ever tell her to smile, grab her arms and ask her about her tattoos, or otherwise touch her when she’s walking by. That’s extremely inappropriate. Just don’t do it. And if you’re gonna hit on her, don’t be a creep. (Actual quote from a customer: “Is your name Bernaise? Because you’re saucy!”)
Also, don’t complain about the prices. I don’t set them. And please don’t complain that your favorite thing isn’t on the menu any more. I didn’t 86 it. I’m sorry for your loss.
Don’t ask us to charge your phone. In the restaurant where I worked, there was only one extra outlet in the whole place. We said it was broken, as per the owner who didn’t want an expensive electric bill. But think about it like this: if you give us your phone and something happens to it, like we spill some shit on it, then you’re gonna hold us responsible and that’s a risk we just can’t take.
I can’t afford to pay for your iPhone. My own screen has been cracked for four months because I don’t have the money to get it fixed.
If you’re sitting at the bar, please don’t reach over and eat the bartender’s garnishes. She will kill you.
Also, try to ask for everything at once. Don’t make your server take several trips because sometimes there are stairs and stuff.
If it’s not what you want, return it. We don’t care. The kitchen can get a little whiny but it’s not your server’s fault. She honestly wants you to have the best experience possible and to get your money’s worth. So don’t sit there and be mad and eat something you don’t like on her account. Just don’t be a dick when you return it.
Sorry your eggs are runny. I didn’t cook them. I wrote “over hard” on the ticket but the kitchen must have missed it. Don’t treat me like shit or it’s gonna take you a long, long time to get those eggs back. (But no one ever spits in a food. That’s a myth.)
Now, regarding children. Listen, I know that it’s hard to be a mom. I get that. I know kids require a lot of equipment and are impossible to control. I totally understand. But don’t let your shitty kid go nuts at the table just because he’s a kid. Have some discipline.
It’s not OK for him play with the sugar cubes -- he gets his germy hands all over them and then we have to throw them all away. It’s especially not OK for him to paint on the table with maple syrup. If that happens, he’s not a shitty kid -- you’re a shitty parent.
If he makes a mess, clean it up to the best of your ability. I know being a parent is a lot of work and you probably go out to eat just so you don’t have to clean up, but, like, just wipe up his napkin water, OK? And don’t expect us to drastically modify the dishes because your kid has a baby palate. We won’t.
DON’T CHANGE YOUR KID’S DIAPER AT THE TABLE!!!! I shouldn’t have to explain this, but APPARENTLY I DO. I know you have to take care of your kid and they’re crying and stuff, but it’s PARTICULARLY UNSANITARY for you to change them on top of the dinner table.
If you want to split the check 15 ways, whatever, it’s fine. I’ll do it. Just do me a favor and split it evenly -- and be quick about it. I’ve seen tables of eight spend half an hour calculating the bill down to the penny. UNACCEPTABLE. If you can’t afford the restaurant, don’t come! I’m broke. I would never eat here!
If the restaurant is busy, please do not take your sweet time sitting there after you’ve paid your check. Remember how long you had to wait for your table? There are other people waiting just as long. So you better skedaddle before we start throwin’ you some shade or, worse, the manager asks you to leave. If the place is empty, then, please disregard.
Also, if it looks like we’re closing and it might be a pain for us to serve you, it is and we are. We’re obligated to say it isn’t, but just go somewhere else. If you do stay and you’re the last table, and the staff has clearly done their sidework and is trying really hard to be nice, just make sure you leave a huge tip.
Keep in mind one thing: servers work for tips. They have a base pay, but (at least in New York State) it all goes to taxes. If they do get a paycheck, it’s usually in the amount of zero dollars. No joke. I hear crazy shit happens in California, like people getting minimum wage, but NYC is a different beast.
Hey, tourists? Don’t PRETEND you don’t know how to tip. We all know you do. It’s 20% in addition to your bill or $1 per drink. Don’t order a bottle of wine, tip 8% in quarters, and then say you didn’t know. WE KNOW YOU KNOW. THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE US RAGE MONSTERS.
Speaking of which: oh, god, PLEASE DON’T LEAVE COINS. This restaurant is not a Coinstar. If you don’t want a pocket full of change, what makes you think I will? It’s disrespectful. Do you know what I do with a penny if I see it on the ground when I’m sweeping the floor after work? I sweep it into the dustpan and throw it away. Then I spit on it.
And Americans? Just tip 20%. Don’t spend time figuring out what 18% of the pre-taxed amount is. Just be a nice guy and do what’s common. Yes, I know, if I’m grumpy and messed up your eggs, then I should, in theory, get less money. But if you have an office job, you don’t get paid less because you have a case of the Mondays.
Listen, it’s not your fault my boss doesn’t pay us enough, but this is a really tough job and I am just trying to do my best. I have two cats to take care of who get dandruffy when I feed them the cheap deli food and then my allergies get bad and I don’t have health insurance, so just be a buddy and leave 20%.
NOTES NOTES NOTES
Most waitresses are grumpy but try real hard to be nice. I start a shift with a positive attitude, but then some European tourist will tip 8% on a $150 bill and be totally rude and my smile turns into a grimace.
Seriously. My tips felt like blood money.
Let me also qualify this by saying that these things apply to busy restaurants. Slow restaurants have their own set of rules. Maybe small town restaurants do, too. I have a lot of qualifiers here. It’s because I’m not normally a mean person -- restaurants just make me that way. But in NYC, we gotta keep things moving.