11 Things Food Service Workers Wish You Knew

Some simple ways you can make life easier for your food servers
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treating food servers nicely
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Most of us want to be empathetic and generous people in our lives, but it seems that many people forget or do not know how to do this in restaurants. For this reason, I have compiled this list based on my own and other servers' wishes for customer etiquette.

Here is what you can do to cause your servers, cooks, and fellow diners to be happier and safer.

1. Acknowledge your server when they come to take your order

acknowledge your food server at a restaurant
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When servers come to take your order, don’t immediately tell them your order. Especially if the server asks you how you are first. Be sure to take a moment and remember that this is a person working for a living and not a machine.

It is also awkward to take someone’s order if they are on their phone or not looking at the server. If your server comes to your table, be polite and stop talking to each other so that the server can ask you if you need anything.

Many tables will get upset if their server does not check on them often, while other tables prefer not to be interrupted by their server. Your server cannot know which type of table yours is, but they still need to check if you are okay at intervals because they cannot read your mind to know when you might need something.

2. Wait to be seated

wait to be seated
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Oftentimes, if there is not a host at the host stand, customers seat themselves thinking they can sit anywhere that is open. The reason to not do this is a server may not be assigned to the table that you sit at.

Servers get assigned specific tables to take care of, so even if the servers see you, they may think that you are being helped by someone else.

By the time you get someone’s attention, they will either have to assign this new table to someone who may get overwhelmed by the workload, or you will have to get up and wait again for a new table to open up.

3. Only ask your server for things

Only ask your server for things
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Sometimes customers will ask a server for a napkin, or some sauce, and that server goes to get it, but they get held up by another customer asking them for something, so they take a moment to get back to you.

Therefore, you might ask a different server for the same thing. This leads to one of the servers wasting their time. It is of course reasonable to be irritated if something you asked for is taking too long.

However, if each table only asked their server for things, your wait would be much shorter. Of course, if you have not seen your server for a while, stop another server and ask them for what you need. Simply do not ask another server for the same thing.

4. Watch your children and avoid hassle for the servers

image source: chicagotribune

When big parties come into a restaurant, they often have little children. The adults are there to have a good time with each other and sometimes ignore their children or let the children play together.

This means the children may get away from the table and run around the restaurant. This is very unsafe for the children, the servers, and the people at the surrounding table.

If the child runs into the server while they are holding a tray of drinks, the drinks will likely spill on them both and the floor, causing a safety hazard. You also should not assume your child is safe because they are in the restaurant. The staff does not have time to watch your children.

5. Decide who is going to pay and hand the credit card to the server even before the check comes

unable to decide who pays the bill
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It is always smart to decide who is going to be paying the bill at your table before the check comes. I have often had customers fight over who is going to be paying while I was standing there waiting to take the book.

When two separate customers are reaching toward you with their own credit cards, it is difficult to know which one to take to cause the least disruption. You can always ask if you can have your bill split and it is usually no problem to do so.

6. Don’t order 20 lemon slices

If you want lemon or two in your water, that is perfectly fine. However, if you keep asking the server to bring you lemons, you may as well have just ordered lemonade.

This goes for most of the free items you can get in restaurants. Most servers do not mind bringing you sauce, rolls, napkins, etc. But it will start to get inconvenient for them if you keep asking for these things.

7. Ask for everything you need at once

It may feel like you are bombarding your server if you go ahead and ask for a side of dressing, extra napkins, sauce, etc. right after they take your order.

However, if you ask them for everything you need at once, they will likely be able to bring it all to you at one time, rather than having to go back and forth between your table and the kitchen multiple times.

8. Don’t start chatting if your server is busy

chatting with busy server

Of course, a part of a server’s job is customer service. Most servers like to chat with their tables for a minute. However, if the restaurant is packed, your server probably does not have time to stand and talk to you.

The servers do not only have to bring out food to their tables. When the restaurant is busy, they have to bring food to other tables, fill up the ice in the drink stations, make tea, refill dressings and butter, put rolls in the oven, and bus tables.

Specific servers are generally assigned specific tasks; however, things may need doing at a time when the specific server is busy, so every server must be on the lookout for tasks that need to be done.

9. Do not blame the server

do not get furious with the server
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Sometimes mistakes happen. Sometimes they are the server’s fault. For instance, if they forgot to put a lemon in your water.

But if the restaurant is out of an item, that is entirely not the server’s fault and there is nothing they can do about it.

The restaurant probably had an unexpectedly busy past few days or their supplier could not bring specific items for some reason.

10. Know when the restaurant closes

It is always a good idea to do a quick Google search for the hours of operation at whichever restaurant you are going to. If it is an hour before closing when you get there and you have a small party, you should have plenty of time.

However, 20 minutes before closing is barely enough time for your server to put in your order and for the cooks to prepare it. Most servers do not have a set time when they can clock out.

They have to finish helping their tables, clean their section, do their assigned tasks in the kitchen, and roll 45-90 rolls of silverware each. So, if you come in close to closing and you are still there after the restaurant is supposed to be closing, the staff will wait for you to leave, but it makes them have to stay even longer.

11. Read the menu and decide what to order before calling the server

read the menu before the server comes
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If you still need a moment to go over the menu when your server comes back to your table, they will not mind giving you another minute. Please don’t ask servers to explain the entire menu to you.

Of course, if you are confused about an item or if you are allowed to get aside, the server would be happy to explain it to you. But to ask them a general, “What’s good here?” or “What are all of the sides?” instead of taking a moment to look at the menu, is a waste of the server’s time.  

This list is to help you make your server’s life a little easier, which will in turn make the entire restaurant run smoother, enabling you to have a wonderful dining experience.

I love science podcasts and mystery novels. I am an aspiring journalist and spend most of my free time writing.

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