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Tips for Dining Out: Things That Annoy Your Server

Updated on February 17, 2019
LindaSarhan profile image

L Sarhan is a former server and worked in restaurants for over 15 years.

Most people these days eat out at restaurants quite frequently. In fact, according to Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey in 2013, 58% of American adults eat out at least once a week. Even still, 14% of Americans will eat out two to three times a week. With more and more people going to restaurants to enjoy their meal, there are some people who fail to exhibit common courtesy and respect toward their server.

How much do you tip your server?

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Low Tip or No Tip

There is a major rule of thumb when dining out. If you can not afford to tip your server don't eat out; stay home and serve your own food. Nothing annoys your server more than working hard only to find out that you having left a tip or barely a tip at all. Most people do not realize that while the minimum wage for most workers across the country is around $7.25, the national average for minimum wage for servers is considerably less. In fact, most servers only make $2.13 an hour from their employer, according to United States Department of Labor. Therefore, tips from customers are how these servers pay their bills. So don't be stingy.

Most customers are stuck in the thought that it is conventional to leave only 10% to 15% of their total bill. With the cost of living on the rise, this is not an ideal rate. Let's say are at your favorite diner for a cup of coffee. Let's say that coffee cost $1.75 and you sat there for a couple of hours. At 10% that is a $0.18 tip. At 15% that is $0.26. How is the server supposed to pay his or her bills? Would you like to serve someone and work hard for less than a dollar? Even still it is hard to survive on $2 to $3 tips these days.

Now you are probably thinking about adding that to the $2.13 an hour pay, but in most cases, this check that the server receives is minimal at best and is usually just a pay stub. Why? Taxes, Social Security, and other deductions such as medical, dental, and other benefits. In the end, that paycheck from the employer mostly covers deductions. Even if it didn't, let's say the server works 40 hours at $2.13 an hour. That's $85.20 a week; $340.80 a month. Can you survive on that?

Another thing you are probably thinking is that the server has other tables to rely on. Sure the server has other tables but not always will his or her station be full at all times. Sometimes, especially during low peak times, a server may not have a single customer.

As a former server, here is the formula that I use for tipping. At a minimum, the average base tip should be at least $5.00. From there, I judge on whether the tip increases given the service, not the bill. Here are some things to consider:

  • Is the server prompt and courteous? Did the server arrive shortly after we were seated? Did he or she introduce him or herself? Is the server polite or rude?
  • Is any delay caused by the server being busy? This means if my glass is empty and the server is goofing off then they aren't earning my money. However, if my glass is empty and I look around to see the server busy working with other customers, I am patient giving him or her time. The server is only human after all.
  • How busy is the restaurant? Again any delay or lack of attentive service could be due to the restaurant is busy due to a lunch or dinner rush.

Your Not the Only Table

Your server has an assigned section in most cases. Often, especially during peak times, the server is taking care of several tables at one time, not just yours. So don't be so demanding and impatient. If you need some extra sauce or are ready for dessert, give the server time. Look around. Is he or she taking an order, getting drinks, delivering food, or putting in an order? Most restaurants and servers are trained to work a section in rotation with certain steps and procedures so a good server won't just simply ignore you.

Are You Ready to Order?

In most restaurants, the server will greet you and take your drink order. Once he or she brings back the drink order he or she will ask if you are ready to order. If you are unsure, politely say you need a few minutes. The server will then check back with you in a few minutes and ask you again.

One of the most annoying things is when a customer says they are ready to order but still really aren't sure yet. It is one thing to ask the server a few questions about the dishes on the menu because that is one of the things they are there for. However, do not take too long to decide, holding your server up at the table. Why? It's simple really. Remember, again, you are not the server's only customers and it is unfair not only to the server but the other customers as well to try to stall or monopolize his or her time.

Again, if you decide that you are not actually ready then politely inform your server of that. Take your time but not too much time. After all, the table means income for the server and the longer you stay the less money the server has to pay his or her bills. Plus, there may be other customers waiting to be seated so be courteous and don't stay for hours on in.

Complaining About the Food

There is something you need to realize. Your server doesn't cook or prepare the food. If there is something wrong with your food, be polite about your concerns. Also, do not expect your complaint to be believable if you have already eaten half of your meal. For example, let's say you order a steak that is supposed to be well-done but instead you received a steak that was medium-rare. You have had your food for a while now. In fact, you have eaten half the steak. This is not the time to complain about the steak. Obviously, it wasn't too bad since you have already eaten most of it. Servers know that 8 times out of 10 you are just complaining to try to get a free meal or extra food. Besides, this is ill-mannered and very crass behavior.

Now if you have an issue with how your food was prepared, by all means, let your server know, but do so early on in the meal. Most servers will check back with you a few minutes after delivering the food for this very reason - to make sure the food was prepared to your liking. So don't say yes, everything is alright and then decide later that it wasn't okay. Also, don't ignore your server purposely just so you can get your complaint scam on.

No Snapping or Whistling

Your server is not your slave or servant. It is rude on all levels to be raising your hand and snapping like the server should jump at your every command. Be civil and display manners when out in public.

Whistling is annoying not only for your server but for other customers around you as well. Most restaurants and servers consider you to be a valued customer but not their only customer.

If you need to get your server's attention, first look around to see what he or she is doing. Try to be patient for your server to come by. After all, most servers are going to be at their station a lot. Also, pay attention to the server's name. As the server walks by, simply ask in a polite tone, “Derek, could I get some more tea when you get a chance?” Servers are more likely to make your request a priority when you use some simple, common sense manners when dealing with other people.

Make Room for Plates

Going to a restaurant should be about dining, not unloading your pockets or bag. Nothing annoys your server like trying to set down hot plates when there is no place to set them because you have your phone, keys, wallet, or iPad in the way. Even worse is when customers aren't making any effort to move them and behave annoyed when the server hasn't set the plate down. Where do you expect him or her to set your food? And seriously, some of the plate bottoms can be quite hot so, in essence, you are sending your server through painful discomfort while you are in your own little world.

It is fine to have out your cell phone or other devices and such but keep the area clear where your plate would go. Not only is this courteous to your server but you will get to enjoy your meal much fast. Same goes for drinks.


In some restaurant settings, it is common to find some friendly flirt initiated by the customer to the server. Be careful not to make your server feel uncomfortable. Again, have some manners and realize that sexual harassment is not just something prohibited among coworkers. It is also not allowed even if you are the customer.

In fact, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment can be "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature" and is against the law. This also includes offensive comments regarding a person's gender or sexual orientation. However, simple teasing and offhand comments are permissible only when it doesn't make your server uncomfortable.

Be careful of using nicknames for your server. Granted, in the southern region of the United States honey, darling, and sweetheart are commonplace and often not meant in an intrusive way but you should still try to refrain. Again, pay attention to the server's introduction and learn his or her name.

Above all, do not touch your server. Patting on the butt or grabbing any part of the server's body is rude and invading. He or she is not your toy or source of entertainment. He or she is there to take your order, deliver your food, and try to make your dining experience pleasurable within reason and boundaries.

No, Your Server Cannot “Hook You Up”

No matter how much you flirt or suck up to your server, no your server cannot “hook you up” with free items or extra servings. He or she is there to do his or her job and follow company policies. But “hooking you up”, he or she risks getting fired. Then how will he or she pay his or her bills? You probably won't “hook your server up” with all of his or her bills paid now, will you? So the bottom line is...don't ask for a “hook up”.


Overly Messy Diners

Some diners are neat-eaters. They treat their eating space with respect. However, others do not. They seem to have a “no worries, the server will clean it up” kind of attitude. Sure, the server will clean it up but the more time it takes to clean up a table will be less time spent on helping other customers, not to mention longer it would take to seat the next customer. Now imagine that you are the ones waiting for a table? Or perhaps you need another drink? Well, your server may be able to get to you faster sometimes if it wasn't for overly messy diners.

Keep in mind that messes do happen. What is being referred to is people who have to shred their straw wrapper or sugar packets or drop the wrappers on the floor. Or pull out a hundred napkins from the dispenser just to use one or two.

Then there are the customers with kids. Kids will be messy; that is a given in most cases. However, as a parent or caregiver, you can still pick up the crayons from the floor if your child dropped them. That includes the paper kids' menus. Would you leave that on the floor in your own home? Also, do not allow the child to color all over the table, chairs, and walls. Again, you wouldn't let your child do that at home, would you?

Keep Control of Your Kids

Speaking of kids, parents control your kids or don't eat out with them. Don't allow your child to run all over the restaurant. Don't let your kids yell and be so loud. Encourage them to use their inside voices. Teach your kids manners of dining out early on.

If you are in a group and you want to sit the older kids off at a separate table, still keep an eye on them. Your server is not your babysitter. Consider having at least one adult sit with them. You would be surprised at how many spitball wars have started because parents aren't watching the kids they just set aside.

Splitting the Check

Splitting the check is another annoyance for some servers, but mostly after the fact. Let your server know ahead of time if the checks are separate and who is paying for who. Trying to separate the checks after they have been tallied can be a hassle with some restaurants. Sometimes it calls for a manager approval not to mention the step it takes to separate them may be lengthy and time-consuming.

Also, if you have kids sitting separately, you need to be clear on which child you is on your bill. Otherwise, you may be getting two checks to be joined at the register. In a large group setting, trying to split the checks properly can take a while sometimes. So keep it simple for your server.

Walking Out on the Check

This cannot be stressed enough – If you cannot afford to eat out, then don't. You would be surprised at how many people walk out without paying the check. Not only does this affect the company but it affects your server in a variety of ways.

First, chances are if you walk out on a check you didn't leave a tip either. Some people who walk out on a check actually tip their server. However, in most cases, he or she won't get to keep it and it will have to go toward the cost of the check.

Next, some restaurants hold the server responsible for the check. This means that not only did your server lose money from you not leaving a tip but he or she may lose even more money if the restaurant makes the server pay for the check.

Some restaurants also write-up the server and after so many write-ups the server could lose his or her job. Not to mention most walk-out incidents are followed by a stern verbal reprimand from management that can sometimes destroy the server's day.

Also, if you think you couldn't afford the menu prices now, the more people that walk out on checks the higher the price will increase on the menu. So the next time you think about walking out on a check, remember it is not just you that is affected. You adversely affect everyone else around you.

Basically, treat your server with respect and use the Golden Rule: "Treat others how you wish to be treated." So you have to ask yourself, is your behavior toward the server the way you would want to be treated if you were in his or her shoes? And would you want another customer around you behaving badly and interrupting your meal? Probably not, so why should you be the ill-mannered, disrespectful customer?

Be kind to your server and tip well.

© 2015 Linda Sarhan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the author.

© 2015 L. Sarhan


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