35 things restaurant servers do wrong
While you're much worse to them than they will ever be to you, servers have the power to make the next time you dine out a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience.
To help identify the differences between the heroes of the serving world (and the ones who fall short), we consulted experienced (and very honest) servers to fill us in on the things that they notice about their inexperienced coworkers. Here are their many gripes:
Leave food in the window
This is a big one. When God closes a door, he opens a window, but if you're a server and you leave food in that window for more than a minute, you are going to server hell, where there are no tips, and only the worst customers eat there.
Use a cell phone
Don't carry a cell phone on your person unless it's totally silent and not visible in your pocket. Never take it out on the floor.
Ignore a table because it isn't in your section
Any time the customer has a negative impression of the staff, even if you're not their server, it's going to come back to haunt everyone.
Forget small details
If someone asks for a side of mustard, they really want that mustard, which is weird because mustard is terrible. But regardless, it's only going to make their experience worse, and cost you more time having to go back and get it for them.
Take the right of way from a customer
If you're carrying a tray of four hot entrees, then maybe this can slide. But if you're just walking through the floor, you shouldn't be stiff-arming customers.
Leave empty glasses on the table
Sure, a graveyard of empty cocktail glasses makes you look like you're having a GREAT TIME. It probably also means the server is also having a great time not paying attention to you.
If you forgot to ask if someone wants their Negroni up or on the rocks, go back and ask. It doesn't make you look forgetful, it makes you look like you actually care.
Forget to write the seat number on the ticket
You know how sometimes when the food arrives they magically know who ordered what? There's a system in play to make sure that happens. If the server doesn't write down the seat number on the ticket, the magic show is ruined.
Use a glass to shovel ice
It's going to break. You're going to have to throw out all the ice. You're going to get fired.
It's not hard to just put down a damn set of silverware when the customer arrives. If their food comes out, and they don't have the necessary utensils to eat it, then it's getting cold, and they're getting angry. Mainly because you're lazy.
You should be like a duck -- desperately kicking your feet underwater while giving off a calm and easily huntable appearance. If you let your anxiety show, it rubs off on the customer.
Bring entrees out separately
Then everyone's waiting for one person's meal to arrive, or they're not and just digging in while that sad person waits for their enchiladas.
Sit down at the table
Unless the customer is a really good friend, taking a seat at their table is inappropriate and just kind of weird. You weren't invited to dinner, and it's not making anyone feel more comfortable.
Give incorrect information and think it's close enough
Obviously this is bad for the diner, but it will come back to haunt future servers. Ignorance breeds ignorance, and if someone mistakenly tells a customer that Campari tastes like sweet tobacco, the next server is going to have to correct them, and then there will be more than just one type of bitterness.
Be afraid to write things down
This one's divisive because many servers feel there are pluses to memorization (more eye contact, personalized service, writing isn't cool), but the reality is that, unless you're perfect, this leads to mistakes. So if you have a savant-like memory, congratulations! Throw your pad in the trash. And begin practicing for Jeopardy!
Not repeating back the order
At least once.
Say "are you still working on that?"
Eating is not work. The customer isn't clocking out at the end of the meal.
Gossip on the floor
Your restaurant should appear like a heavenly, bitch-free zone where anyone would be happy to spend their days.
Call in sick and then Instagram yourself at a swimming pool
Everyone follows you, and now everyone hates you.
Touch the top third of someone's glass with your hand
Yes, I like my water with ice, lemon, and fingerprints.
Pass the blame
You're the face that the customer sees, so it's your responsibility. It's fine to apologize, but dodging guilt is never a good look.
Wait more than a minute to greet a customer
You should immediately offer a greeting to let them know that you're taking care of them and not just angrily staring at Instagrams of your coworkers at pools.
Be unfamiliar with the menu
It doesn't instill confidence in a diner if you haven't tried something.
Wear an apron into the bathroom
It should never be anywhere near a urinal.
Face the label of a bottle away from the guest
Beer, wine, or otherwise. The customer might not notice, but it's part of the show.
Stick the bill in the back of your pants
Sure, your shirt might be tucked in, but who knows how far down it goes and it's really sweaty down there.
Position yourself in such a way that it's easy to make eye contact. It allows the customer to feel like they're being watched over when they're not.
Treat each table as a separate entity rather than the section as a whole
If table two needs mustard and you run to get them their gross condiment, then check in on table three and see if they need a fresh IPA (which are terrible! or great?). Make the rounds before fulfilling any tasks so as to properly prioritize.
Occasionally everyone needs a little "attitude adjustment". Just keep it together.
Have poor dirty plate etiquette
If someone's still eating, you shouldn't start taking away plates unless the customer has pushed the plate away. If you start clearing plates halfway through the meal, people feel rushed.
Complain about customers showing up just before close
Sure, it sucks when someone comes in 15 minutes to close and orders a bottle of wine, but sweeping the floor loudly and sending death stares isn't going to solve the problem. If the customer complains, it could easily get one of your coworkers fired. And there's plenty of side work to be done while those last customers enjoy their mussels.
Lack empathy toward all types of diners
A server who is only good at serving one type of person is not a good server at all.
99% of the problems happen in the last hour of service. The kitchen is running on steam, customers/staff are more likely to be a couple drinks in, and everyone just wants to get out of there. Which is why it's important to be most on-point during these final hours, and maybe just smoke a cigarette to chill out while that couple finishes their bottle of wine.
Up-sell or over-sell
You might bank a couple extra dollars in tips, but a customer who feels falsely sold to isn't going to come back. And you're probably going to get a better tip if the customer ordered the thing they'd most enjoy.
Also, mentioning the $9.99 specials first inclines the customer towards price shopping.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. His least favorite phrase in the world is "are you still working on that?". Follow him to not-quite-finished entrees at @Dannosphere.