Food & Drink

7 Things You Believe About Restaurant Servers That Are Totally Wrong

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

People have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what’s true and what isn’t about restaurant servers. Will servers mess with your food if they don’t like you? Are they all powerful god-beings with complete knowledge of every ingredient on every item? Are they secretly rich?! Fortunately, we’re here to shatter the most commonly held myths people believe about servers. 

Myth: Servers will mess with your food if you're a dick

Reality: Nope. In five years waiting tables, I never saw anyone do anything to mess with a customer’s food, no matter how much the customer acted like Hannibal Lecter crossed with Snidely Whiplash. In fact, when I surveyed dozens of server friends on this, only one of them had ever seen anything happen, and that instance was a guy on his first week who thought it was normal (and who was quickly corrected).

Look, servers do have tools to deal with customers we can’t stand: my personal favorite was cropdusting the table. But "messing with someone’s food" is beyond the pale for any server with a functioning brain. You can legitimately get in legal trouble for that, so why take that risk just to spite a jerk? So no... this just doesn’t happen.

Myth: Servers have full and intimate knowledge of every item on the menu

Reality: Sure, servers have to know the menu pretty well, or as well as they can in an environment where the damn thing seems to change with whatever the head chef’s brain weevils told him would please the Rain Gods that week. We can, generally speaking, tell you the basic ingredients in everything, although if it’s something like a soup where they’re all mashed up, sometimes we’ll have to go ask. What we don’t know, because we’re not goddamn supercomputers ready to challenge Matthew Broderick to a game of Nuclear Chicken, is shit like sourcing or calorie counts.

With the exception of something where the source dramatically changes the food content like oysters, in what universe would your server know exactly where the damn peppers on your fajitas came from? Sure, I can tell you if the salmon is farm raised or wild caught, but if you’re upset I don’t know which particular Alaskan river it was fished from, you’re an idiot. And don’t even get me started on calorie counts, because what madness is this that you expect me to have memorized that level of information? I’m not singlehandedly responsible for constructing a viable Mars habitat -- this shit isn’t exactly life or death.

Myth: Servers are paid a living wage before tips

Reality: Incredibly, there are still people who don’t realize servers in the vast majority of US states literally make $0 on their paychecks. I’m not sure HOW anyone doesn’t know this at this point, but considering the number of people who fervently believe the Earth is flat, I guess it can’t be that surprising. So to clarify: In most states servers make the tipped minimum wage, which is usually around $2-$3. Thanks to the requirement of reporting tips as taxable income, the money from that goes straight into taxes, and server paychecks say “This Is Not A Check” on them. If they actually DO have money on them, it means you made so catastrophically little you didn’t even owe anything in taxes, which is actually worse.

Granted, there are a few states -- places you’d expect like California, as well as such liberal bastions as Montana -- where servers are required to be paid a living wage. Somehow, contrary to what Official Tipped Minimum Wage Advocates ("ambulatory bags of filth" for short) would have you believe, the restaurant industry has not collapsed under the crushing weight of pseudo-socialism in those states. Weird how that works. So yeah, you should be tipping

Smart server
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Myth: Serving isn't a server's "real job"

Reality: Many servers use waiting tables as a part-time gig, or a stopgap, until they can get something they’d prefer doing. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s ALSO nothing wrong with those who make a career out of serving or bartending. If you’re good at it, and you’re lucky enough to land in a good situation, it’s not a terrible way to make a living. This includes people who have degrees (even advanced degrees), found out the hard way that they hate the strictures of an office job, and went back to serving as a gig that gives them plenty of free time, even despite its foibles. Every server’s personal situation is different, so stop making assumptions.

On the direct flip side of that...

Myth: Servers aren't smart enough to do anything more "serious"

Reality: Oh, just go fu*k yourself. Seriously, if you’ve ever believed this, do the world a favor and contract dengue fever. Do you know how many of your servers have had master’s degrees (or were in the process of getting one)? It’s far more than you think.

The thing about waiting tables is that while it’s physically, mentally, and (especially) emotionally draining, it isn’t nearly as much of a time commitment as a lot of gigs -- meaning if you need money but are short on time (because, say, you’re doing graduate-level student work), it’s an ideal job. Additionally, have you seen the job market? Even the highly-educated often have trouble getting full-time jobs. I’ve had friends with law degrees and freshly passed bar exams who had to wait tables for upward of a year before they could land something in their field.

So yeah, don’t make assumptions about your server, because you know what they say: When you ASSUME, you are a shithead. I think that’s how the saying goes.

Myth: Servers prepare the food themselves

Reality: This one seems clinically insane, but I’ve been assured by friends that there are far too many customers who seem to believe this. I can’t even begin to fathom how someone could be dumb enough to believe a server would have time to both wait on you AND prepare your goddamn dinner, but it apparently happens to my friends on the regular. I’m not even sure how to respond to this one other than ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Myth: Better-looking servers are better at their jobs

Reality: This, quite obviously, is not one anyone would voice out loud, but damned if it isn’t one of the most prevalent misconceptions. Look, we all know pretty people have it easier in life. That’s just an objective fact there’s no way to get around. But the persistent idea that the more attractive you are the better you must be at serving is so grotesque and insane it might as well be holding a sign at a Westboro Baptist Church protest. This isn’t really a problem for male servers, whom customers tend to rate more on how funny they are than anything else, but for women it’s a massive issue.

Attractive women servers make more in tips, on average, than less attractive ones. It’s not the way it should be, but humans are irredeemable dickhats, so here we are. The best thing you can do if you have enough decency to care about the issue is examine your own preconceptions about what constitutes “good” service every time you’re out for a meal, and honestly consider whether you’re tipping more or less based on how much of a boner your server gives you.

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C.A. Pinkham is a guy who makes inappropriate jokes about Toblerones on the internet. Follow him on Twitter @EyePatchGuy.