10 Things I Don’t Want to Hear My Server Say

10 Things I Don't Want to Hear from my Server

Let’s just get this straight: I was the worst server ever. On my second day as a waitress, I dropped chicken fingers on the floor of the Quito pub I worked in, and under the judging eye of both chef and co-worker, I picked them up and served them. As a pizza server in northern Mexico, I probably ate more cheese than ever made it onto one of the pies I was preparing. This is why I work on the marketing side of the food world. So I understand that serving is not an easy gig. But it doesn’t seem so hard to remember not to ask, “Sir, did you forget to take your shower today?” (True story: this was actually asked to someone at a table with me. Admittedly, I was in the fifth grade, and he was my vice-principal, so this was the FUNNIEST THING EVER).

Luckily, I’m a taste kind of girl. Service is secondary, ambiance tertiary, to me, following how good the food tastes at a restaurant. That said, if I’m laying down the big bucks, or really, more than about $15 an entree, I’d really prefer that my server not say any of the following things:

  1. “Everything!” as a response to “What’s good?” I’m asking because I’d like your opinion, and you’ve told me you’re either a waiter-tron that can’t make decisions for yourself or you’re too concerned with offending me to pick one item. I asked because I want your opinion. Even better if you can back it up with a reason why–that isn’t just “it’s my favorite” (the spot prawns arrived fresh this morning, asparagus is chef’s favorite, so he treats it like gold, etc.)Fish2
  2. “Who had the fish?” If you can’t remember places, write down the orders. Nobody minds if the waiter writes down orders, so don’t treat it as some sort of mental pissing contest to see who can remember the most orders. Please, when my table of six orders a pile of shared apps plus individual entrees, don’t try to keep it all in your head and then auction off our dishes when they arrive.
  3. “And yours will be right out,” Deliver all the plates or don’t deliver them at all. This one feels like it should be obvious, but somehow, it still happens. Three of our four dishes arrive, and we’re told the fourth will be right out. That three minutes? Feels. Like. Eternity. Everyone else’s food is taunting them “eat me, my mashed potatoes are steeeeaaaammming hot,” and the plate-less person is experiencing endless guilt, saying “eat, eat, don’t wait for me.” If they do eat, then conversation is silent, and plate-less is just sitting there, with nobody to talk to. If they don’t, conversation flow is interrupted as the elephant in the room (or the salmon that’s not in the room) blocks it.
  4. “My name is _______ and I’ll be your server tonight,” Let’s be honest, if you’re introducing yourself, you probably already work at a place that makes you wear a name-tag, not to mention I’m going to forget it the second it’s out of your mouth. And telling me you’ll be my server? I’m assuming that’s why you’re over here asking me if I’d like anything to drink. I’d imagine the only people who couldn’t figure that out would be people who are on their first restaurant trip, in which case I hope they stick out their hand and say “Hi, I’m _______ and I’ll be your customer today.” Also, if I need another beer, I’m damn well not going to worry about which one of you is MY waiter, and I’m sorry, I know that’s not convenient. But if my beer gets to empty and nobody’s offered me another one, I’m going to start flagging until somebody brings me my brew.
  5. “Oh, we’re out of that,” when I’m placing my order. Restaurants run out of things, it happens–some nights there’s just a run on the fried chicken. But this is knowledge that should be passed on as the menu is handed to the guest, not when I am attempting to place the order, having already dreamed of crispy-fried bird skin, tender thighs and that fluff-tacular biscuit.
  6. “Is everything okay?” Sorry, waiters of the world, I know this is a common one. But what a watered-down, non-question. Put some spunk into it or ask me a question with meaning. “Are you enjoying your meal?” even, at least gives me the opportunity to be enthusiastic. If my summary of your restaurant is “okay,” are you going to be happy with that? Better yet, just ask me if there’s anything you can get me, because that’s really what you’re asking: do you need more ketchup, water, cocktails, or, worst case scenario, a different entree because this one sucks. Also, whatever the question is, please let me try the food and drinks you’ve just dropped before you ask it. I know it’s hard to time it for when my mouth isn’t full, but just let me sample before you ask.Picnic
  7. “Did you save room for/would you like dessert/a dessert menu/to order dessert?” Even as an infrequent dessert order-er, I still always want to see the dessert menu. I want to see what is on offer, and you, as a waiter who makes more money when I order dessert, should always want me to see the dessert menu, just in case you can tempt me. I’m a big girl, if you bring a dessert menu and I don’t want any, I’ll let you know to just bring the check.
  8. “Are you all finished with that?” If you must ask this type of thing, “Shall I clear this for you,” is a better phrasing, but really, signs I might be done with my meal include: a) I haven’t eaten it for a while b) there’s a napkin over the plate c) it’s pushed away from me d) the entire table is done with eating–as in forks are no longer going to mouths.
  9. “Have you been here before?” Your restaurant is not that special. Yes, I can see these are small plates and those are large plates. If there’s something truly confusing about your menu, you should explain that on the menu. And if you must explain it in person, please, just explain it. The one guest who hasn’t been here before doesn’t need to be called out on that.
  10. “No,” with disdain, or the accompanying eye-rolls that mean “no” while you say “yes” or “I guess,” when I ask for a substitution or special order. I’m pretty low maintenance  but a pregnant friend recently told me about the attitude endured in getting restaurants in town to serve her food that would be safe for her pregnancy. These were not impossible-to-avoid foods (no fresh/raw cheeses, no under cooked meat, that sort of thing), and her requests were consistently met with eye-rolls, eyebrow raises, and general push-back. Another friend, when ordering a non-alcoholic cocktail, reports that the bartender made fun of her for not drinking, going so far as to pretend to snore, insinuating that anyone who doesn’t drink is that boring. Seriously, Seattle servers, this is the best we can do?

What’s your server pet peeve?

Comments

  1. “How is everything tasting?”
    “We cook our fish medium-rare”.
    Mispronounced words delivered arrogantly.

    • Regarding mispronounced words delivered arrogantly: I was as Agrodolce recently and ordered a bottle of Nero d’ Avola (they only have 1 on the menu, a shame for a Sicilian restaurant, if you ask me). The server “corrected” my (correct) pronunciation emphatically, calling it neero DAvilla, and then proceeded to tell me how he “lived” in Italy for a month. It pissed me off so much I proceeded to ask him if he ate a lot of “brooshetta” while he was there, he said yes, actually, and I said, funny, then you should know that bruschetta is pronounced “brusKetta.” I won’t be going back there based on one total idiot, unfortunately. And the extremely loose adherence to pseudo-Sicilian food. And their defense of their mushy pasta saying that Americans can’t handle al dente (Il Corvo is doing just fine with it, thanks).

      • Ha! I love it. Well, not all the things above are specific incidents, but Agrodolce is also heavily implicated in #10. Seems they’ve got some service issues there. (I haven’t been–and don’t think I will, given all of this).

        Also, I don’t believe there’s ever a defense for mushy pasta.

  2. #9 “Have you been here before?” gets me every time. I stop into a restaurant belonging to Mexican chain over at Alki every once in a while, and they always ask me this ridiculous question. Um… it’s a restaurant. I sit down, order food, and it arrives. What do I need to know about that?

  3. Spent 4 years on-and-off as a chain steakhouse waitress so I wouldn’t be an authority for FINE dining, but some of these points are due to corporate requirements and not just stupidity (which did run rampant around me, sadly.) Some were meant to prevent some of these problems, and some create them.

    1. “What’s good?” “I enjoy the ribeye, especially with sweet mashed potatoes. But Johnny over there gets the salmon with steamed greens all the time and swears by it!” –Agreed. If something wasn’t “good”, would it still be on the menu?

    2+3. From the way orders are taken (clockwise, starting from the “server spot” at the table), entered into computer, and trayed up in the back, everything should be in order from seat 1 to seat 4, etc. If people don’t move from when orders are taken, this should never be happening. And if a table’s order doesn’t fit properly on one tray, a second runner is necessary, or YOU run right back around for the last 2 dishes. We were only supposed to run 4 plates at a time. I occassionally cheated and ran 6 when laid out properly.

    4. We introduce ourselves so a) you feel welcome, b) you feel comfortable making requests of us, and c) to show you that we are ACTUALLY HUMAN. Running non-stop for 6+ hours during dinner shift with no break, making $2.13 an hour, and having to deal with people who don’t realize this? We’re hoping you’ll be gracious enough to tip us enough that we can afford the gas to get home.

    6. Sometimes the phrasing is off, I agree. Also, we had timed requirements: 30 seconds after seating to greet you, 2 minutes to get non-alcoholic drinks, check back 3 minutes after dropping dishes, etc. Corporate rules.

    7. We cheated. We had trays with all our desserts (and Crisco ice cream) instead of a menu. They looked tastier than paper.

    8. Again, timing “suggestions”. You shouldn’t feel rushed at all, but we anticipated no more than 40 minutes for lunch (10 minutes to and from restaurant =1 hour lunch break) and roughly an hour for dinner. To make sure you get great service, we were only allowed 3 or 4 tables at a time. If you’re camping for 4 hours, we may not make money that night.

    Before anyone goes out into the real world, they should be required to work a month in both retail and restaurant. It’s hard work and not everyone realizes that.

    • Thanks for taking the time, Becca! That’s a great response. I totally hear you on #4. And I think #6 has good intentions (seeing to it that the customer is attended to–I remember similar time requirements working at the GAP in high school and college), but outside of the corporate arena, service should be more personal/tweaked to the customer.

      Also, EEEwwwwww crisco ice cream. That was a phrase I would have hoped would never see the light of day on my blog!

      And I completely agree on your last point–which is why I wanted to start the post by pointing out I SUCKED at the service industry (I was slightly better at retail, mostly because I fake enthusiasm like a mofo “that looks AMAZING on you! This pink baby doll tee would match perfectly!)

      Thanks again for the input!

  4. I was with friends at Zanzibar’s, an Ann Arbor restaurant, during the Ann Arbor summer art fairs, around 3pm, no lines to be seated or anything (in fact, there were several empty tables), and the whole restaurant had adopted a stupid “no alterations or substitutions” policy for the week. One friend was a vegetarian and noticed quickly that the only vegetarian options on the menu were salads, which wasn’t at all what she had in mind. She asked if it was possible (remember there were no lines and it clearly was slow time) to leave the bacon off of one of their sandwiches, which otherwise sounded wonderful. The waitress–and her boss–were very snotty with her and us (a table of six) when we insisted that it shouldn’t be a problem to make such a small accommodation. So we got up and walked out. I don’t remember where we ended up, some pasta place, but the food was okay and the service was far friendlier.

    And then there was the time hubby & I were on our honeymoon, and I’d finally talked him into venturing past the (absolutely wonderful) hotel restaurant, just for some variation. The place we ended up was down the street a few blocks, and advertised they were open till 9 (it was 7:30-ish when we appeared). We were the only customers. The meals were $20+/plate entrees. And the waitress started vacuuming the dining room when were in the middle of our meal. That was not cool. (We didn’t go back and we certainly didn’t recommend it to anyone else, unlike the hotel restaurant, which had consistently great service and wonderful food.)

    And I don’t mind the server introducing him-/herself as the server. Several times I’ve been mistaken because the person who offered to get our drinks was not, in fact, our server. (That has always confused me.)

  5. Where’s that top photo taken? It looks like Crush.

  6. Nelson Miller  says:

    My peeve that makes me sick when my servers and I have herd them say this to customers is how does everything taste? Or better yet Is everything tastey? I have gone crazy on them for saying that because it shows that you have no thought of trust in your fellow employees or chef. I am a old school chef who believes to taste everything people make even if they have been with me for years.

    • What, are you going to rip on us if we ask if you want steak sauce to go with your steak because we don’t think the steak tastes good by itself? Everyone likes things done to their liking, and this is our way of making sure the customer has everything up to their expectations and so they don’t feel “out of place” by waving us down because we didn’t ask how things were doing. By the way, if you worked in a restaurant with a proper setting, you’d know well enough that this is the right thing to do. Calling yourself a chef doesn’t make you one.

      • Ben, lighten up and don’t make accusations about the person’s qualifications if you have no knowledge about him. He agreed that asking about how things taste or if they are tasty is a bit tacky. He never said you can’t put ketchup on his steak. He never said to ignore the guests and not handle their requests.
        Who is the “our” you are talking about what is this “proper setting” you accuse him of not having?
        As a cook I do cringe when someone orders something with freshly picked herbs (by us rushing to the garden between orders), goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes then covers it with taco sauce before they’ve tasted it, out of habit. Yeah, we friggin cringe. But they pay our salaries, so c’est la vie. That person probably eats fast food most of the time and I’m glad he or she is spending several times more money on our food and making it taste like what he or she is comfortable with.
        But we cringe! and then smile and walk away. And cringe again!
        Also, a couple of times I’ve taken people (who I obviously didn’t know well enough) to restaurants that are great and have seen them pour junk all over their food. Each time I immediately offered my apologies to the chef, asked the waiter to take away our food, bring the bill, paid it, and taken those people to the nearest Taco Bell or burger place – where they were much more comfortable and happy!

  7. 1.” Everything” we’ll do you really think I’m going to say something sucks!! NO,
    I love my job as a sever here why? Reason number 1. THE FOOD!
    Plus when I do say something SPECIFIC AND WHY? 9/10 times, I get ” well I don’t really eat that” so guess what I have to read the whole menu to you, until I hit something you like. Hence ” everything” HOW about you say ” I love fish, what kind of fish do you have?”

    2. ” who had the fish” guess what the server not the one always bringing your food. End of story

    3. ” your will be right out” sorry I couldn’t get your well done steak about at the same time as her rare steak! Plus food may come from different parts of kitchen and cooks. Also YOUR NOT THE ONLY ONES IN THE RESTARAUNT.

    4. ” my name is”. “. I tell you that because if you do need another ” brew” and you wave over another person, ( never wave at staff, you look like an asshole). Anyways, that person may ask you who you sever is, because they do not have the authority to just bring you a beer without inputting in computer, which only that sever can.

    YOU WANT ME TO KEEP GOING I CAN!!!!! BRING IT!!!
    I’m a sever in at high end restaurant in LAS VEGAS!!!!
    I’ve seen it all

    • I do not agree with your points. You sound very bitter and like you hate your job.

      #1 You could choose your words wisely and ask if there are allergies or preferences. Then make your suggestions based on that.

      #2 If using a food runner or another member of the waitstaff, they should know who has what food. Especially working in a high end restaurant, it’s pretty embarrassing they wouldn’t know where the food goes.

      #3 The well done steak should have been cooking for a few minutes before the chef starts cooking the rare steak. Also, if food comes from different parts of the kitchen, the kitchen staff should work as a team to make sure everything is done at the same time. There is no excuse for someone to be done with one dish and have it on the pass before the other five dishes are ready.

      #4 The guest should never have to “wave someone over” for a beer. As a server you should always be paying attention to your guests and making sure they have what they need. I like to know my server’s name so I can: request them next time, commend them to the manager, or complain if they’re terrible, among other obvious reasons.

      I work at a high end exclusive restaurant as well. Stay classy.

      • I sorta get the who-had-what argument but not entirely. I’ve been on both sides of the line extensively and yeah, I always got it right with who-had-what as a waiter, but as a diner I’ve often seen my waiter being monopolized by another table and someone else brings the food because it’s ready and I don’t have a problem with who-had-what? I appreciate the staff caring enough about getting our meals out fresh. Then again, I’ve been living on the coast in Oregon and my standards have taken much punishment. Good to know that y’all care so much about that. Thanks.

  8. Idiots!!!!!

  9. I have no intentions of being a troll or “that guy”, but every point on this article is coming from a very closed-minded, uneducated [in restaurant etiquette] view from a customer’s perspective. I’ve served for roughly 6 years as more of a fast-paced sit down restaurant, and this article peeved me with every “point” made. Although you do make points with the vague responses that the servers made with “everything”, and “no”, more experienced servers will say this in a more sensible and thought out manner. Most of these subjects cover the mannerful approach that we pretty much have to make (including asking to clear dishes, making sure the meals are tasting alright, asking for dessert, etc.), people will write store complaints if they feel their server wasn’t friendly/personal with them or made the customer feel unwelcomed. The restaurant has us push desserts, further drinks, and menu items, it’s a simple question that you can brush off and we’ll leave you be about it.

    I’m well aware that this is your opinion on everything, but the whole article made me cringe. You’re a servers’ idea of a difficult, unfriendly, high-maintenance customer. We do our best to make everything run as smoothly as possible and to not say “no” when we can, but no place will be up to everyone’s standards. We’re human, mistakes are bound to happen.
    Not ripping on you by any means, just my input to this article. :)