The Not So Obvious: Restaurant Etiquette

As a former waitress and bartender (and cook), the way people tip (and act at a restaurant) can either make me very happy or upset.

I waited tables for four years in college and for a little while when I moved home before I found a job to use my degree in.  Let me start out by saying that I think that everyone should have to wait tables at some point in their life (for a week at least) to truly understand my frustration.  If I were the president, this is one of the first laws that I would make.

Serving has truly shown me the best and worst in people.  I have seen immense generosity, courtesy and respect as well as intolerable levels of entitlement, disrespect and selfishness.  Because of this, I even did my senior thesis in college on “Tipping in the Service Industry”.  I did an econometric analysis on the attributes that account for higher or lower tips.  If you’re lucky, maybe someday I will post it to bore you (SIDENOTE: I got an “A” on it).

***NOTE: the parts about tipping are specifically geared toward readers in the U.S. I understand that in other countries tips are not as typical/common***

My guide to restaurant etiquette, starts now:

1. Servers are “paid” $2.13 an hour.  By “paid” I mean that we never actually see a real paycheck.  I think the highest paycheck I ever got was maybe in the range of $20 (for two forty hour+ weeks of work).  This clearly is not enough to live on.  We work on tips.  I’ve heard all the excuses in the book on why you shouldn’t have to tip but the fact of the matter is (here’s where my economist mind comes out) service would greatly decrease if wait staff were to be paid a flat hourly rate.  Here’s why: If I got paid, say, $10 an hour there is very little incentive for me to give you anything but sub-par service.  I can do the bare minimum to keep you happy and get you on your way.  The fact that my pay is supposed to be based on the service I give you incentivizes me to work harder, better accommodate you and pay make sure you have a great experience. Afterall, I’m going to want you to come back!

2. You are not my only customer.  While I would LOVE to have only had a table or two at a time to make sure everything is perfect for you, the fact of the matter is that more than likely I’m scrambling around trying to keep 20+ people happy at once.  Do you realize how hard that is?  Be PATIENT.  Sometimes we forget things (we are, afterall, human), kindly remind us!

3. A ten percent tip just isn’t what it used to be.  Cost of living has gone up.  Not only for you, but for the server that is waiting on you.  Lets say a server is working a very slow lunch shift.  You (naturally) order the special that costs maybe $8.  please, Please, PLEASE do not leave someone 80 cents.  Well lets just go ahead and say don’t ever leave less than a dollar.  It’s quite frankly, insulting to say the least.  I don’t care if it was the worst service ever.  Leave at least a dollar. PLEASE!  A standard tip should be at least 18% for lets say, average service.  They weren’t bad but it wasn’t the best service you have ever gotten.  Really should be 20%, but I digress…  If you have horrible service, you should still tip – I’m going to say, at least 15%.  Try and talk to a manager or the server and see if you can get something taken off the bill or figure out what happened.  A lot of the time slow food is NOT the servers fault and they should not be punished.  If you have great service, go ahead and tip above 20%.  The sky’s the limit 🙂

4. If you order something extra, expect to be charged for it.  Restaurants have to pay for their food and you have to pay for what you order.  Don’t act shocked when the chicken and avocado you added to your salad adds on a few bucks.  Things come as is for the most part.  If you want to substitute things and do not want to be charged, just ask!  Chances are that you can’t sub black olives for steak but restaurants are usually pretty accommodating.

5. Splitting checks.  Oh the joys of the split checks.  This is not a problem – I didn’t even mind splitting checks 10+ ways.  Let your server know in the beginning that you would like separate checks and realize this may add some time on at the end when everyone is paying.  It is what it is.  In order to speed things up, PAY WITH A CARD or EXACT CHANGE.  Servers typically have their own “bank” of about $20 each shift.  When a ton of split checks are paying in cash, we may not have the cash needed to give you change.  This is also super time consuming.  Swiping a card is really fast!  Also, don’t get mad about getting gratuity added on to big parties.  Even though you may tip great, Cheap Charles may not tip well on his $75 bill.

6. The price is on the menu.  I guess this goes along with #4.  Please don’t ask us “how much is…”, “how much will it be if I…”.  Just look at your menu.  I am already remembering so many things including your 2 extra sides of ranch and half coke half coke zero that I don’t really remember the prices.

7. Speak when spoken to.  This is something that my mother and father taught me.  It is extremely useful in restaurants as well as all aspects of life.  If I ask you if you need anything or what you want to drink, your blank stare does not tell me anything.  I was not majoring in mind-reading when I was at school at the University of Georgia serving tables.  Use your words, I won’t bite.  (SIDENOTE: Dear girls that whisper in your boyfriend’s ear what you want to eat when I ask you, please know that you can just tell me, I do not want to play telephone with him and get your order wrong!!!)

8. Allergies & Dietary restrictions.  Please inform your waitstaff if you have allergies.  We just met, so I have no clue that you are a vegan or that you are deathly allergic to corn.  Tell me!  I am here to make sure that you don’t die while eating our delicious food.  I don’t have a spare Epipen and I probably cannot successfully resuscitate you using CPR.  When your pizza comes out with cheese and you are a vegan, I really can’t help you (the ingredients are also on the menu and I am assuming you can read).

9. Specials.  Specials are just that – special.  Sometimes we have them, and sometimes we don’t.  Please don’t be upset with me because we do not offer what you want on special at that particular time.  It’s not up to me.

10. You are not “better than me”.  One of the most terrible things I got while serving was people thinking you are their slave or servant.  They were highly mistaken.  I am here to provide a service to you, please respect that.  You came to me – I did not ask for you.  I’m trying to make money just like everyone else.  Do not tell me that serving is not a “real job”.  It is very real.

11. Servers do more than just deliver you food and take your order.  A lot of people, surprisingly, do not realize that servers are responsible for much more.  We roll silverware, clean your dirty plates, carry dishes, scrub floors, clean unspeakable things out of the bathroom, mop, dust, etc.  You name it, we do it.  There is no “cleaning crew” – that’s just another part of my job.

12. Bar Etiquette.  As a bartender at one of the biggest SEC football schools in the country, I’ve seen it all.  This may merge with a previous number, but don’t leave me less than a dollar on a drink.  I understand that I “only” opened it.  You’re forgetting that I am going to have to deal with you as you get more and more turnt-up.  I think I deserve a few extra cents for that.  A little tip – if you are ordering liquor and not tipping or not tipping well, please know that your next drink will likely have less alcohol in it.  If you’re tipping good, you will probably get a heavier pour.  I have friends that don’t tip until the end.  DON’T DO THAT!  Tip consistently (unless you have a tab)!  Seriously.

13. We have bad days too.  Somedays, I was just not “on”.  Please be empathetic.  You do not know what your server is dealing with or what is going on personally for them at that time.  Although this should never constitute rudeness, just know it’s not always easy.  I remember one shift while I was working, a dear friend of mine passed away.  I got about five minutes to cry, compose myself, and put my happy face back on.  Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a tough battle.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my guide to restaurants and can learn something from it.  My experience has greatly shaped me as a person and I am so glad to have done it.  I met some of my best friends and learned some valuable life lessons.

Never trust or date a bad tipper.

(photo courtesy of


29 thoughts on “The Not So Obvious: Restaurant Etiquette

  1. yosef brolaf

    im sry, if you were making 2.30 thats just rediculous… you were working at a run down shack or dennys. i know waiter wage is lower then minimum, but none of my waiter friends have made anything close to as low as 2.30… i feel that doesnt accurately represent most waiters…

    waiters where im from makin on average 6-8 bucks an hour plus tips, which is why people dont realy feel bad that waiters love to complain about every little thing.

    and please, stop giving relationship advice… it sucks.

    1. Selene Ramos

      I work at Dennys, and trust me when I tell you that we get paid 2.13 per hour + tips. Have you ever thought that maybe with tips included they average out about 6 to 8 dollars an hour?

  2. yosef brolaf

    this article is super biased and deliberately tries to skew facts to mislead people. example:

    While I would LOVE to have only had a table or two at a time to make sure everything is perfect for you, the fact of the matter is that more than likely I’m scrambling around trying to keep 20+ people happy at once.

    ok, first you start off saying you wish you would have 2 tables or 1 table. very nice. you must not be a waitress, as all the hardworking ones complain about having 1-2 tables, some will even quit their jobs if they get 1 or 2 tables…

    ok, second you say 2 tables but then you go on to change the units to “people” it goes from 1-2 tables, to 20+ PEOPLE. its misleading. you changed the factor so you could create a bigger visual from 1-2 to 20, instead of 1-2 to 5-6 tables.

    would not be suprised if my comment was moderated even though i didnt break any terms of service.

    1. allie danchez

      you seriously are an asshole
      why did you even comment if you were a real server you would be able to relate!

    2. Patrick

      The reason waitresses like more tables is because more tables = more tips. So many people tip poorly (hence the point of the article) so servers like more tables to get more money. However, in a perfect world (which is what I think the author intended) servers would get a table or 2 and their impeccable service could get them a 50% tip. The article is in a perfect world where everyone tipped, but the fact of the matter is that people don’t and that’s why servers like having more tables, simply to pay the bills.

  3. yosef –

    Thank you for your input. I will start off by saying that I did not work in a “run down shack” or a “Denny’s” and that I did in fact, make that hourly wage. I don’t know where you are from but in the United States, this IS the minimum wage and that is the same wage that everyone I know in the industry makes/has made. I could have easily not allowed your comment on here but I want people to see it incase they too are thinking what you are.

    In saying that I wished I “only had a table or two” I was referencing the fact that it would have been nice to give that much attention to my customers. I also was not trying to do any tricks to create a “bigger visual” it’s just the way that I happened to write that so I’m sorry if that was misleading.

    The fact of the matter is that this is a very tough job and it is very under appreciated and I believe underpaid. Many people do not know that servers do not bring home a paycheck (you included) and that is why I wrote this article. To bring awareness and share my personal experience.

    1. I’m not criticizing, because I’ve served & know how crappy it is. “Do not bring home a paycheck”, is that hyperbole? Because even at $2.19 minimum, there’s a (miniscule) literal paycheck involved. Unless your point is that taxes/FICA took it all.

    2. allie danchez

      also employers can pay you whatever they want but can only go as low as the 2.13 it is very sad that this wage is what they pay their employees they know whats up!!

  4. fricafrac

    You know what might be really interesting? Doing a breakdown of the kind of people you served and how their tipping habits. Like Families with kids vs adults on a date vs college kids vs retirees. Could be enlightening. I really enjoyed this article.

  5. I have long thought it wrong that companies can pay servers as little as $2.10/hr and make them claim their tips. Tips are a gratuity, which means “thank you.” They should be given by a customer because the customer wants to give it, not because the server needs it. However, that being said, I have worked the management side of restaurants, and know that a company must pay the legal minimum wage, and is allowed to deduct tips, so if the server gets tipped poorly, the company is supposed to pay the difference to ensure that the server at least made minimum wage. Because of this, I’ve often wondered why some servers act like they absolutely need their tips, complaining when they were stiffed a tip, knowing the company would cover it if they didn’t make enough. That said, I’ve seen some servers make more in a weekend off tips than I made for the entire week working management. Also, when I was short-staffed, I waited tables, and I’ll tell you, I’d rather wait tables than deal with the headache of management, and on the right nights, serving pays better.

    1. I don’t know a singer server who gets the difference in their tips, anywhere. Of course that’s anecdotal, but it would be an interesting study to see if restaurants are actually following the law.

  6. Angel

    I feel an abundance of people do not understand at almost any restaurant a waiter has to tip out a percent of their sales. Sometimes it’s a busser, bartender, food runner, host etc. Depends on the restaurant of course but if you stiff a waiter they likely have to pay for waiting on a guest… Great points made in this blog. Thank you.

  7. Jacob

    Would you get paid more or less working $10/hr? You mentioned it would not be better for the customer, but it would be helpful if you mentioned how that would impact the server. If more, why not have that be the hourly wage? I go to UGA and server is usually one of the highest paying jobs a student can get (better than what I get).

    1. Jacob-

      I’m not 100% sure if it would be more or less, it really depends on the shifts and sections that you get. Serving in a college town has it’s ups and downs. I got to meet so many amazing friends but a lot of my customer base was ‘struggling college students.’
      I don’t want to come off as complaining-I was/am super grateful to have that job and experience.
      I honestly wish that I’d left out the part about tipping because it seems to be the entire focus to most people. It is only ONE of many points I am trying to make…no one seems to have commented on those.

      Thanks for your comments, and GO DAWGS!

  8. Jacob

    Also, Dyrian made a great point about the wage difference being covered. After everything is said and done, servers make $7.25/hr, same as most working college students (me).

  9. Marian

    I have been a server and know how difficult it can be. That being said, I abhor bad service. There is nothing that make me madder than to have a waitress fawn over male customers to increase their tips while neglecting female paying customers. I have had this happen more then enough times that I feel like it is not just a random event. For example: I had to ask for something I had ordered three times, thus making my food cold, while the men sitting at a nearby table had the condiment before they even got their food. Very irritating.

  10. “A lot of the time slow food is NOT the servers fault and they should not be punished.”


    Sorry to burst your bubble, but here’s why you are wrong:

    Ask yourself these questions as a server:

    1. WHEN do you put in my order? Do you wait or do you go put it in immediately after taking it? If you are double sat or triple sat, you can still go put in each order into the computer after taking each table’s order. By not doing that can result in a much longer wait and that would be YOUR FAULT.

    2. FORGETTING to put in an order. My husband and I have experienced this for REAL that servers ADMITTED to our faces they have FORGOTTEN TO PUT ORDERS IN. All of them were appetizers, bar drinks, and a cup of soup.

    3. Did you put in the order CORRECTLY into the computer? Have had many times servers ADMITTED to our faces they did not do that correctly. Have had wrong entrées before due to our server putting in the order wrong. Have had wrong bar drinks too due to the server putting in the order wrong.

    4. Did you FORGET ANYTHING I ORDERED such as a SIDE DISH? We have had this happen a number of times as well.

    5. Did you DROP anything I ordered? Luckily, we have not had this happen, but I have seen a server once drop some fries from a plate before and I did have a waiter spill some margarita martini when pouring into a martini glass. In other words, it is possible, not likely, but very possible.

    6. Did you remember to GET my food? We have had a server do that before. Also, we have had a number of servers forget bar drinks.

    7. Did you bring out my food obviously correctly if you bring my food out? Do you realize how many times OUR OWN SERVER brings out DUH mistakes like the side dish is wrong, the entrée is wrong, something obvious is not correct bacon that isn’t covered up isn’t extra, extra crispy when you can clearly notice that it isn’t without touching anything, etc.? Every DUH mistake you bring out is YOUR FAULT I am waiting for what I did order by you wasting my time bringing me the wrong item or wrongly prepared item or forgot something. While we all make mistakes, I would have to say a good 90% of the time, servers NEVER COMPARE THE WRITTEN ORDERS TO THE FOOD, because they are TOO LAZY and DON’T CARE!!

    8. Servers DO wait to put in entrée orders when appetizers, side salads, or cups of soup are ordered. THAT *IS* THE GOD’S TRUTH! Sometimes it’s TOO LONG THEY WAIT! If it’s another server, it still doesn’t make it the kitchen staff’s fault I have the wrong side dish for example since that is something that’s obvious. It’s either my server that didn’t put in my order correctly or this other server that didn’t compare the ticket to the food or that this other server did compare the ticket to the food, but just missed it(HIGHLY UNLIKELY, but possible).

    9. WHEN do you come to GET MY ORDER? That part is covered in #2 below.

    10. WHEN do you DECIDE to LET ME ORDER? That part is covered in #4 below.

    11. WHEN do you decide to DELIVER MY FOOD? That part is covered in #1 below.

    12. Do you, because they are out of something, decide to assume everyone wants the closest thing so you do the ordering for me? That part is covered in #3 below.

    1. Once, we had a Red Lobster waitress had our 2 entrées on the tray as well as 2 side salads that were for a couple that wasn’t even there when we ordered. Anyway, instead of bypassing their table to hand us ours first since WE DID ORDER FIRST(common sense would tell you that it takes more time to cook food than it does to fix a side salad anyways even if it wasn’t our server that delivered our food, but it was our waitress that delivered our food), she decided to hand them theirs first off the tray. THAT IS SOMETHING THAT IS IN THE SERVER’S CONTROL TO HAND OUT THINGS OFF THE SAME TRAY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH IT WAS ORDERED IN!!

    2. Once, we had a waitress that greeted us which we ordered an appetizer as well as our drinks when greeted. I saw she tucking in chairs at empty tables and pretty much doing everything but coming back to get our entrée order. Well, I found out what happened. She brought out our appetizer and when I asked she said that she wanted to wait to put in our entrée orders. The thing is, that delayed us more by not at least coming to GET our orders. That way, when the appetizer was ready, we wouldn’t have gotten delayed eating our appetizer since we then had to give our entrée orders when we could have given our entrée orders WELL BEFORE THAT and we would have gotten our entrées faster due to that she could have just left to put our entrée orders into the computer after delivering our appetizer instead of taking time to order when our appetizer was sitting in front of us. The point is, SHE delayed our entrées as well as to be able to start eating our appetizer because she could have at least TAKEN our entrée orders and then when our appetizer would have been brought out, could have immediately gone to the computer to put our entrée orders in. What she did was make us wait while our hot appetizer was sitting in front of us, we couldn’t touch it, because we had to order our entrées and could have done that wayyy before that. She also delayed our entrées because we had to spend extra time AFTER our appetizer arrived to give her our entrée orders when we could have done that wayyyy before that.

    3. Once, we had a waitress that assumed that because they were out of raspberry topping for a cheesecake slice when we had ordered dessert that she’d bring us strawberry. Turns out, she knew when she put in the order that the computer had it the manager told us. So she did it on PURPOSE to be so lazy and uncaring as to not come to ask if we wanted the next closest thing. We didn’t, we sent it back, so she had MORE WORK. Also, she didn’t even think about what if someone is allergic to strawberries. I just honestly can’t believe someone would do that. If they are out of something, common sense would be to come to see if the next closest thing is ok. Not everyone wants the next closest thing. So it wasn’t like it was just getting the order wrong by accident or by not verifying the written order with what she was bringing or putting in the order wrong by accident, this was on PURPOSE to be LAZY and to ASSUME. I didn’t know at first that she did that. I thought at first she just was that stupid(or truly just messed up(highly doubt it)) to bring us strawberries on top of a cheesecake when we ordered raspberries.

    4. Your server delays coming to get your order or delays you ordering due to personal conversation. We have had that before as well. Once, we had a waiter that we didn’t know after waiting 15 mins. for a table on Mardi Gras day ask us BEFORE we ORDERED ANYTHING “How’s y’all’s Mardi Gras” “Go to any parades.” See, I don’t mind chit chat with a stranger, but be considerate to do it AFTER we have our orders into the computer so you don’t take up our time.

    We have also had servers not come to get our order due to playing around. Sometimes taking a long time or a longer time has A LOT to do with the server: My husband and I have had 3 TIMES where servers FORGOT to put food orders into the computer. We also have 6 times servers forget to get bar drinks from the bar. Once a waitress forgot to put in a bar drink into the computer. Two of the 3 times it was an appetizer and the servers ADMITTED doing so. The third time was a cup of bisque which is normally served before a meal just like a side salad is. My husband and I also have had delays due to that the servers delayed putting orders into the computer when they COULD have such as deciding to buss a table first or decide instead of a mini-greet(I’ll be right with you all), one waiter I saw decided to take a party of 6 people’s drink/appetizer orders instead of putting in our food orders into the computer. I can understand if they call you over, but if they don’t, you should be putting that order into the computer not delaying our food. The longer you wait to put in orders, the LONGER WE WAIT!! So truly think about that MOST of the time when you wait a LONG TIME for your food or bar drinks even, it could be the server’s fault. 9 times out of 10, your server had *SOMETHING* to do with the delay in most cases! That’s the GOD’S TRUTH!

  11. To Springs1:

    To write such a large comment and putting in that much hate in it, you should really hate life. Don’t reply because I will not read it.

    PS.- Tipping is appreciation and tolerance is caring for others despite imperfections (because nothing is perfect).

  12. Pingback: A full year of blogging is complete! | not for nothing y'all

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