Secrets Only Restaurant Servers Know

two large customers at a restaurant
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

A great restaurant is like a finely tuned machine: customers don't notice the gears until they break. Servers understand the internal workings better than anyone, and as such they know that even the most catastrophic failures will be forgotten after a free plate of Brussels sprouts.

That type of secret isn't a dirty one, and from interviews with an anonymous group of servers whose experiences range from casual brunch spots to fine dining, pizza joints, sushi places and more, we learned that most of the insider intel isn't of a nefarious nature. A server's job is to ensure customers have a great experience, and in order to achieve that goal it takes a complex toolkit of sociological profiling and industry gamesmanship. And also lots of comped appetizers.

The up-sell is a myth

It doesn't make sense for a server to push something expensive that won't make the customer happy. That doesn't result in a good tip, or a return customer, so there's no incentive for a server to waste their energy. They have water glasses to refill anyway.

Bigger people are seated strategically

Heavier folks and the extra-tall just won't end up at a cramped two-top near a service lane if it can be avoided, and that's for everybody's benefit. Nobody wants to be crammed in an area where they feel like they're eating the best airline meal they've ever had, and servers don't want to be submitted to a floor plan that makes it feel like they're running through a Double Dare obstacle course full of bodies.

old man and younger woman on a date at a restaurant
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

"Daddy or date?" is a real game

And pretty much server plays it when an older man and a substantially younger show up alone together. A hand on the leg usually gives away the fact that the older dude might be a different kind of daddy.

You'll get your food faster if you heed recommendations

On a busy night, a server won't recommend a dish with a long prep time, and we highly recommend you listen to them. Heeding their recommendations can mean you get your order in half the time it would take something more intensive to come out.

You should always say "yes" to a suggested snack between courses

"Anything else to snack on while you're waiting?" after you ordered basically means "you should order something else, because this is going to be a while."

Cosmos are still amazingly popular

Sex and the City still has a stronghold all these years later, apparently. Which is to say, you shouldn't have reservations about ordering them. Or, really, any drink that makes you happy.

Vegans reading a menu at a restaurant
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Servers spot vegans when they walk in the door

If the unmistakable smell of patchouli doesn't give them away (that's not even a joke!), they'll likely announce their dietary lifestyle as soon as they sit down.

In the game of "who's paying," servers are the referees

The average human restaurant-goer spends hours of his life arguing with dates and friends over who pays the bill while waving credit cards at a server. This game can go on as long as the server allows, and ends when he grabs a card and walks. Now you're just left arguing over who pays the tip.

Giving the server your card at the beginning of the meal is an accidental source of stress

A surprising number of customers will bypass a discussion of who pays by slipping the server their credit card early in the meal. For the customer, that means nobody can fight him when the debate about who's paying starts. For the server, the result is a pocketful of added responsibility and added stress when it comes time to remember which card goes to which table.

Servers hate Groupons and gift cards

The main reason? The overwhelming majority of customers using Groupons see nothing wrong with tipping at a 50% discount, despite the fact that the server is still functioning at 100%. As for gift cards, well, a surprising number of people see them as a free meal, and count tip as part of the deal, leaving those busting their humps empty-handed.

Rude customer at a restaurant tripping the server
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

A high-end restaurant will only cut you off if you're an asshole

Upscale restaurants will accommodate even the most erm... enthusiastic guests as long as they're pleasant. But as soon as the attitude turns sour, service will happily put an end to the evening.

There's no point in lying to a hostess

They've got a bigger bullshit detector than your mom. They know if your friend is “parking” or just late. And your "reservation for three" that really means "reservation for six" is just as transparent. No use lying to them. Maybe try redirecting that energy into a tip.

Weird music means "leave"

The staff is ready to go home if the soundtrack takes a turn towards Metallica's later work or Justin Timberlake's early work. And if it's being played extra loud, that means you're really pushing the goodwill, no matter your feelings about the virtues of "Bye Bye Bye."

Cursing breaks down formality barriers

The interaction between server and guest can be uncomfortably rigid for everyone involved, but letting slip a four-letter word that doesn't start with the letter "C" is a nice way to deflate the tension and let the server know that they can talk to you like a peer rather than a servant.

Chefs don't use specials to get rid of old ingredients

Before service, most restaurants will cook up a large meal for the staff to share, which is where any about-to-turn produce or proteins will end up. Unless the restaurant is truly nefarious, there's no incentive for a chef to trick a diner with a special that they won't enjoy. In fact, it's more likely that the chef is testing out something he or she is truly proud of.

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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He didn't know half of these things. Follow him to apologizing for staying past closing at @Dannosphere.