Few jobs are more demanding than being in the service industry, specifically waiting tables. Dealing with the general public aside, the physical labor of schlepping trays and running food is taxing. As such, people who aren’t complete and total assholes are generally likely to cut servers a little slack, especially if they look like—as they say in the business—they’re in the weeds.
It’s not nice to snark on servers, considering that most of them are just executing what their occasionally incompetent bosses are telling them to do. But let’s not pretend that there aren’t a host of things that servers do that don’t drive us completely up the wall, even if they’re done with the best of intentions. These eight things really annoy us, and even though it’s maybe not your fault, servers, this shit has got to stop.
Introducing yourself is a normal, human thing to do, but when you’re waiting tables, the likelihood is that a table is much more interested in mozzarella sticks than whether or not their server’s name is Megan or Michelle. No one ever asks for their server by name once they’ve been seated unless they’re a regular, in which case you won’t have to introduce yourself at all. Diners could do better in treating their servers like human beings—that’s certainly true—but this meaningless exchange isn’t doing much to further that cause.
In walking through the doors and possessing a set of eyeballs, I have likely noticed that your establishment is “Asian fusion” or “comfortable Southern,” and I don’t need a full explanation of the restaurant owner’s vision of refined buffalo wings. A restaurant is a restaurant. Sure, ask if we’ve been in before and explain the menu, but no one cares how the bossman chose the restaurant’s name.
Going through specials and house favorites is a common component in the dining experience, even if most of us tune out that discussion and just read the menu instead. When the menu is particularly complicated, especially at some of these modernist, New American joints, servers have a tendency to tell you every ingredient that is in every dish we can choose from. Tell us the specials, and then let us decide amongst ourselves, please—we’ve probably already looked up the menu on Yelp!
Not surprisingly, adding another step to reaching across someone’s plate of food to set down a drink or clear dishes does actually make it more annoying. In saying “pardon my reach,” you’re just highlighting the fact that your arm (and whatever kitchen gunk is attached to it) is currently wavering over my plate of agnolotti. It’s understandable if they’ve got to reach across the table, but can we not make it an event?
It’s part of the job. You’ve got to ask us to buy that more expensive bottle of wine or spring for dessert, and we’ve got to politely say no. That’s just how it goes. There is a point, though, where servers move past service-oriented directly into used car salesman territory. If your table isn’t drinking anything, they’re probably not springing for that $400 Cabernet.
In the vein of upselling, it always seems weird that a server’s favorite, “earth-shattering, mind blowing, best-food-ever” (actual quote) dishes are those that just happen to be about ten bucks more expensive than the rest of them. In fact, there is nothing more refreshing than when we asking you about a dish, and you candidly say “eh, it’s not my favorite, but some people like it.” That’s real honesty, the kind that earns a hefty tip.
Even if you’re dealing with a perpetual lingerer, there’s no excuse for clearing a plate that someone isn’t finished with. The universal knife-and-fork-across-plate symbol seems to be going the way of the white tablecloth (aka: disappearing), so it’s probably in a server’s best interest to wait until the table is very clearly done with their dinner to take away a plate.
Everyone complains about their jobs, even (perhaps especially) servers, but there is no chance in hell that a table of diners cares whether or not the bartender is being a bitch or about your aching feet. Being in the service industry means being service-oriented, and complaining about your crappy job isn’t doing much to inspire confidence in the food I’m about to eat. If you need to bitch about your job, go to the kitchen and make sure that table is thoroughly out of earshot.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. Yes, she has waited tables before.
Photo by Neil Conway CC BY