Sure, being polite goes a long way. But there’s more you can do to ensure stellar service each and every time you head to a restaurant, whether it’s your neighborhood Olive Garden or James Beard’s newly minted “outstanding” restaurant. We asked wait staff from around the country to share their patron pet peeves so you can avoid unintentionally ordering up spit on a plate the next time you’re out to dinner.
1. Call Ahead With Special Requests
We all have a birthday we’d like to make special, or an ingredient that needs to be avoided (no matter how real or fake). Lauren, who has waited tables in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, suggests that these customers call the restaurant ahead of time with their request. “Ask in a consultative way if there’s anything they can do to accommodate you,” she says. What’s more, “always ask for the name of the person facilitating your request—people feel more accountable when they feel identified.” Most of the time, this can result in a better table, a comp’d round of drinks, or starters compliments of the chef, she says.
2. Keep in Mind the Customer Isn’t Always Right
While most servers will work hard to accommodate special requests, remember there’s always a chance you’ll hear “no,” says John, a server from New York. “If you are so particular that you can barely function in a public venue, you should be cooking for yourself,” he warns.
3. Don’t Question Your Server’s Competency
This offense can take many forms, says Vicky of New York. “Don’t ask me to ask the chef if he’s sure [about something listed on the menu]—I’m sure,” she says. If you’re dining at a restaurant with international cuisines, trust your server’s pronunciation. Vicky recalls how at an Italian restaurant where she once worked, a woman incorrectly corrected her pronunciation of al dente: “It’s what I said: aldilante.”
4. Know What You Want and Where You’re Going
This is particularly important if your server is busy—or you are. “Don’t force your server into mindless chit-chat on a busy night,” says Jennifer of Pittsburgh. Need more time to decide on your entrée? Ask the server to come back. And if you’re the one who’s in a rush, let it be known. “Tell me at the beginning of the meal, not at the end,” Jennifer says; that way your server can help you get in and out in a reasonable amount of time.
5. Clean Up After Your Kiddos
A server is not your housekeeper, or your nanny. Being mindful of any mess your kids make throughout the meal can go a long way in scoring points with your waiter or waitress. While growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Carolina spent one summer waiting tables at a popular chain restaurant at the mall. “Because I was the newbie, I got stuck with all the tables with kids and babies,” she recalls. “Now that I’m a parent, the memory of taking care of those tables resonates like it was yesterday.” So now she does her best to keep her kids’ messes under control when dining out as a family. “I always find that servers appreciate that,” she says. “I know I would have!”
6. Never Forget: Servers Are People Too
“We may be having a great day or a lousy day, all of which may have an impact on your service,” says Michael of San Diego. “Having empathy and treating us like a person will likely assure better service.” Simple gratitude goes a long way, folks.