When I asked Wichita servers to share horror stories of dealing with customers, my intention was to put together a useful, light-hearted guide to being a better-behaved diner.
Several past and present servers shared their thoughts, nitpicks and complaints, though several also said they thought I should focus on the mistreatment and poor working conditions servers often suffer at the hands of restaurant owners.
In the meantime, I’m sharing a list of the offenses and breaches of etiquette that diners most often commit, according to the waiters and waitresses I heard from. Some can be easily corrected by conscientious diners. Others were clearly perpetrated by people with little or no regard for other people’s feelings.
Either way, many servers (some of which asked to remain anonymous) told me they were happy I was giving them a place to vent.
“I’m thankful that you’re writing a guide for good diner behavior for Wichitans,” wrote a current waitress who asked to speak anonymously, for fear her boss or customers would identify her. “I think a lot of people just don’t know good dining etiquette. And some people are just plain jerks. Ah well.”
The top server complaints were about:
Your servers do not like your cellphone, mostly because it slows them down.
“If people want good service, they really need to put their phones down,” said waitress Jennifer Smith. “I can’t tell you how many times people want me to take an order while they have a conversation with someone else on the other line. Not only does it slow service to their table but to the other tables in my section as well. If we’re slow I can deal with it, but when it’s during a rush it is simply rude to everyone trying to have a good dining experience.”
Stefanie Megan Brown said she is far more concerned with bad management than rude customers, but cellphones bug her, too.
“Cellphone/short attention span/entitlement culture is a huge problem,” she said. “So many times when one person’s service is slow, it’s because someone somewhere else wasn’t paying attention, was talking or texting instead of interacting.”
General impatience radiating off diners is something else that bugs many servers. Some said they’ve been brought to tears by customers who treat them as less than human.
When Sarah Samuels worked as a waitress, she said she’d often have the following (lack of) conversation with customers:
“Hello, welcome to (restaurant)! How are you toni-”
A waitress who identified herself as Adrienne said it always bothered her when customers weren’t patient enough to let her do her job.
“Something that bothers me is when a group comes in to eat in a restaurant, but throughout the entire experience seems bothered by the steps of service in the restaurant. If you don’t want me to do my job, it’s hard for me to help you, and it makes the entire experience uncomfortable and unpleasant. Some people get irritated when you tell them the special. But how else would you know that we had one? Some people love hearing about it. And it’s my job to do it.”
A waitress named Natalie shared a particularly horrifying story about a customer who lost her cool while waiting for a table.
“I had a table of eight walk in and had a table sitting with takeout boxes for a while, so I told them it would take around 15-20 minutes. Also, this particular restaurant I worked at only had about three places to seat eight people all together, which is always told to the customer when they come in. We always asked them to be separated and let them know it could take longer to sit all together. Anyway, the table with takeout boxes stayed for an hour, which in the time I worked there, literally only happened that one time. The leader of the group of eight waiting (a middle-aged woman, old enough to know better), which I had informed multiple times that the table was taking longer than normal and I recommended other options to, screamed at me, then a 17-year-old girl, to the point of tears in front of the entire restaurant and ended up leaving when I told her her table was ready. I wish customers would recognize that hostesses really have no control in how fast tables come and go. They give you their best estimate and do their best to help the servers, clean tables, etc., to keep things moving. Yelling at them, criticizing them, telling them that you’re going to time them when they give you a quote time, really isn’t going to help anything.”
Another waitress said she wished customers would understand that if she’s not there, it’s because she’s trying to help other people. Interrupting her is rude.
“Most servers have several tables at once. A good server will balance their time, order the food and drinks to come out a good pace. I aim to provide anything you might need – drink refills, ketchup for your French fries, sugar for your tea, new silverware or napkins. I promise, I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to wait on anything. Calling me over, tugging on my sleeve, waving me down as I am serving another table is so rude! It is important to me to do an excellent job. I try to think of anything you might need before you even have to ask. I will help you promptly. But please, do not interrupt me as I’m waiting on another table. I haven’t forgotten you. I will be right with you.”
Samuels also had her fair share of tipsy customers who took her cutting them off from ordering more alcohol as a personal affront. It was actually the opposite, she said.
“If you get cut off by a server, bartender or manager, it is not because we want to ruin your night,” she said. “We do not want to start a fight. We are responsible for serving you responsibly. We do not want you to get a DUI. We do not want you to get in a car accident, where you or someone else could be injured, or die. When anyone drinks, judgment is impaired. We think we’re okay and having a good time and can keep on keeping on, but trust us, you don’t want to do that. It’s not me, it’s you. Have a water and let me get you an Uber.”
When you try to get something for free – or have several birthdays a year – your waiter notices and he is silently judging you.
J.D. Young remembers a customer who demanded a free entree after eating nearly all of what she’d ordered.
“We were out of a certain item, so she said she would settle for something very similar. She was a small woman and this entree was pretty big. She ate 3/4 of it and then said she didn’t like it and she wants a meal to go, complimentary,” he said. “It’s one of those moments you’re about say something but you’re holding back so hard not to say anything.”
Paul Wo, who has worked as a waiter and bartender for 17 years at places like On the Border, Old Chicago, YaYa’s, Piccadilly and more, said he has overall enjoyed working with Wichita diners. But he’s had his moments.
“It is true that there were times that I lost my mind in frustration, like the guy that always wanted six half-caff/half-decaf, but only half a cup of coffee, because it would get too cold for him before he finished it, with his meal. The stiffs that would always hit you up for free extra booze in their drinks were always a favorite too. And let’s not forget the people who had birthdays once a month.”
5. Tip ripoffs
Brown said that people who have discount cards need to realize that the waitress didn’t do 20 percent less work and still brought you that free appetizer.
“One of the worst things as a server is when people come in with coupons, especially for large amounts, and tip on the total of the bill after the coupon as been applied. Really you’re supposed to tip from the total before the coupon was put in.”
Another longtime waitress, who wished to remain anonymous, had a long list of tipping complaints. Among them:
▪ Diners who don’t leave the part of the receipt with the tip and signature:
“Aaargh! It’s so frustrating! Servers at my restaurant are required to tip out 3 percent of their total sales. That 3 percent tipout goes to the bartenders and hosts. If a table gives me no tip, I must still pay out 3 percent of their bill. If you go home and see that you inadvertently took the signed copy with you, call the restaurant and make it right! For the love of god!! Tip your server!! If it’s the same night, we can adjust the tip. If it’s the next day, I’m not sure that we could adjust the tip. But you could come back to the restaurant and leave a cash tip. It would be greatly appreciated. Everyone make mistakes. Try to correct it. As a server, I would be so thankful.”
▪ Foreign diners who don’t understand the American tipping system:
“I remember once I served a nice family from England. There were six of them. They were very nice. Everything went well. Their bill was about $150. The tip was about $6. Terrible. Not even 10 percent. I’m glad they were nice people, but it’s just frustrating. Know the local custom. Know the appropriate action. If you’re traveling abroad, be respectful. I would do the same.”
A server named Melissa said she just can’t understand why it’s so hard for people to make accurate reservations. When they don’t, it throws everything off.
“Make reservations for the amount of people you will actually have in my restaurant. Stop saying 20 if you mean 10 because that is a waste of a server’s tables and thus a lost opportunity at them to make money, plus it equates to empty tables that I could have sat and made money off of for my establishment. Also, stop saying 20 if you mean 35. I don’t hold the entire restaurant until you get here because you made a reservation and then seat around you. If you say 20, I map out for 20. Don’t get here and expect me to pull tables out of thin air when 20 is actually 35.”
7. Bill banter
It’s sweet when people want to buy dinner for their friends. It’s not sweet when they put the server in the middle of the feud over who gets to pay.
One waitress who responded said you’d be surprised by how often this happens.
“Diners, if you want to pay for the entire meal, arrive early and hand me your credit card, or discreetly give me your card. It is so rude when people yell at me, ‘I’ll pay the bill!’ ‘No, I’ll pay the bill!’ As a server, I want to make you happy, but if you’re arguing over paying, it puts me in the awkward position of having to decide. Usually I’ll let the first person who wants to pay, pay. Also, is it really necessary to say, ‘If you want a tip, then make sure I pay!’ What kind of person says this? But these are actual words humans in restaurants say.”
“People who fight over the bill and then once they pay for the entire bill give a crappy tip percentage. If you can’t afford a decent tip, then don’t clamor to pay for your friend’s meal! It’s crazy how often this happens.”
8. Large parties
If you bring a large group to a restaurant, your waiter is happy for the opportunity. But it’s also hard and sometimes complicated work.
“Large parties require extra finesse and planning,” one waitress said. “We have a system for handling large parties, to make sure all goes smoothly. When large parties are all separate checks and paid in mostly or partly in cash – simply put, this is a nightmare. Cashing out all the checks will take a long time. I understand wanting a separate check. Just know that it will take longer to close out the checks.”
And if you want separate checks? For the love of all things holy, don’t switch seats.
“This is another nightmare. We keep track of the drinks and food you order by your seat number. If you order a drink in one spot and then switch seats, it’s hard for us to track you and it’s hard to get your bill correct in the end. Imagine all the faces we are seeing. If you’re in a party of say, eight or more, don’t switch seats.”
One waitress who responded said the worst part of being a server is being treated as a servant by rude people.
“Some diners have a sense of entitlement. They barrage you with questions, which I am happy to answer, but come on! Some people are so rude. I think, ‘Is this how you treat other human beings? Is this how you talk to the people in your life?’ Other diners truly seem to enjoy bossing their server around. Tables like this are just sad. I just have to deal with it, be as patient as I can, and hope for the best.”
Lexi Michael, who has completed the introductory level certification for the Court of Master Sommeliers, never forgot the treatment she got from a couple she was trying to help select a bottle of wine.
“I was tending bar on a typical weeknight when a husband and wife who I had served once before saddled up to the bar. I got into initial conversation with the gentleman about his wine preferences and then he asked for my assistance in helping him choose from our list. The wife immediately jumped in and said, ‘Don’t ask her. She’ll just sell you the most expensive one.’ Needless to say, I was offended, though kept a smile and let them work out his selection together.”
Don’t hit on your server. Just don’t.
“Dear creepy old men,” wrote one waitress. “NEVER tell a woman to smile. Never hit on a teenager and make her feel uncomfortable at work. Never say inappropriate things to young women or men. Never stare at a teenager as she walks away.”