Despite what some (probably terrible) people think, servers do a lot more than bring food and bills. Your entire restaurant experience, from the moment you sit down to the second you leave, involves interacting with your designated server. And while they're predisposed to ensure you have a great time (it's their job, and tips are on the line!), there are things you as a customer can to earn a little extra love. Follow these simple rules and you'll soon be among your server's favorite customers.
Patiently wait for your server's spiel to be over
Look, servers don’t like the spiel any more than you do. In fact, they hate it A LOT more than you do because they're required to give it to every goddamn table. But I swear to God if I ever have to do this job again and I only get to “hi, my name is Colin, and I--” one more time before the customer goes “WATER,” I’m finding a way to put my billfold through my customer’s left nostril. If you’re a regular, we won’t worry about it, because we know you’re not a secret shopper who’s going to NARC on us for not following the stupid Chili’s intro script to the letter. But if we’ve never seen you before, this is a thing we have to do for our job. Just sit patiently until we’re done.
Say "please" and "thank you"
This is the simplest possible thing, and you’d think everyone who wasn’t raised in a barn would just know to do this with everyone as part of the baseline level of the social contract. You would be wrong. You’d be shocked how many people don’t seem to understand the basic niceties of human interaction. “Server” does not mean “servant.” This is not the 19th century, and you are not a J.P. fu*#ing Morgan deigning to create jobs for the plebeians. Dave Barry once wrote that someone who is nice to you but not nice to the server is not a nice person, and no truer words have ever been spoken.
Come in early for dinner
This might be a bit of an unexpected one, but the thing about waiting tables is EVERYONE comes in from 6:30-8 (especially on weekends), so that’s going to be the time your server is going to be slammed. This isn’t to say “don’t come in then,” but we get there at 5, and for that first hour and a half, we’re generally bored as hell. If you really want to establish a connection with your server, show up at 5:30, because we’ll dote on you like you’re our childless elderly aunt who’s about to croak. In that same vein…
Treat your server like a human being with a brain
It’s a sad reality that a surprising number of customers assume servers are doing their job because they’ve somehow failed in life. This isn’t an issue unique to servers -- people do this to employees at virtually any food-service or retail-adjacent job. The thing about serving in particular, though, is that it’s the single job that offers the greatest amount of free time for someone to pursue other work, like, say, acting, writing, music, or really any other creative gig. Still, others choose to wait tables when they could be doing something else -- I don’t understand these people any more than I understand astrophysics, but I’ve known more than a few human beings who were smart people who legitimately chose to do this for a living. The point is: Don’t assume your server is a server because they’re dumb -- just because you work in a damn office building doesn’t make you smarter than them.
Be aware of your server's time constraints
Sometimes we really like talking to customers and just shooting the shit; if we’re lucky, we’ll establish a rapport and they’ll wind up becoming regulars who will tip us well and ask for us every time they come in. But this comes with a caveat: Be aware of the situation around you. If the place is empty, the server has plenty of time to hang out with you. If it’s packed, they’re not going to have time to listen to you talk about your damn screenplay, KEVIN. Just try to make our job as easy as possible -- trust me, we notice and appreciate it.
Be willing to forgive a mistake
Mistakes happen. Be a human being for five minutes and understand that simple fact. First, as long as the server immediately works to correct the issue, if you’re going to hold it against them and hold their income hostage to one simple goof-up, you’re an asshole. Second, you have no way of knowing whether the mistake was the server’s or the kitchen’s -- it really could easily be either in the vast majority of situations. Don’t be the dick-knocker who uses any mistake to prop up your smug sense of superiority -- forgive it and move on.
If there's an issue that can easily be fixed, point it out when it can be fixed
This might seem confusing, but most servers who are good at their jobs don’t have a “just shut up and eat it no matter how unhappy you are” mentality when it comes to customers. We WANT tables to be happy, because happy tables give us more money and allow us to pay for more illegal narcotics that we might use to forget the fact we’re waiting tables. But don’t wait until the very end of the meal to mention it if there’s an issue -- if your steak isn’t cooked the way you ordered it, tell us so we can actually fix it. Finding that out at the end of the meal is just frustrating for us.
Be a regular who tips well
I mean, this is the single most obvious thing you can possibly do. If you’re a regular and you tip well/are nice (basically, you follow everything else on this list), your server will LOVE you. If you ask servers to tell you about the best customers they’ve ever had, roughly 90% of those stories will feature regulars who the server knew were going to be a good table the minute they walked through the door. I still remember a couple who would come into Applebee’s, ask for me specifically, order the exact same thing totaling $30, leave me a $10 tip, and be extremely nice to me every single time. They didn’t have some massive order, but they were my favorite people to see walk through the door during a terrible shift. If you like a place and you establish a rapport with a particular server, they’re going to love you for it.
Leave a thank you note
You’d be surprised how far this one can go. If you leave a nice little note saying thank you to your server on your receipt, it’s actually surprisingly encouraging. If you’re a regular and you want to make this a silly regular thing you do, that’s fun, too. NOTE: Do not A) leave this note in lieu of a tip, or B turn this note into “helpful tips” as to how your server can do their job better. Dear God, do not do these things, or we will find you and burn your house down, and you will deserve it.
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C.A. Pinkham is a former server who somehow fell ass-backwards into this whole getting paid to make words good thing. He will blog for and about food.