5 Ways Restaurant Workers Wish You'd Be A Better Customer

Even if you think you’re a great patron, the people who serve you say there might be room for improvement.
Don't forget to credit the chef who created that meal in your photo caption.
d3sign via Getty Images
Don't forget to credit the chef who created that meal in your photo caption.

Your favourite restaurant isn’t what it used to be. Staff shortages are an ongoing issue, food costs are soaring and customer behaviour can be off the rails. With so many food service professionals under more stress than ever, those of us on the other side of the serving tray could use a little brush-up on the basic manners and common sense that make their lives just a little bit easier.

As much as we need restaurants, our behaviour is making it harder and harder for people to find fulfilling careers in food service. “This is one of the hardest businesses to work in, filled with thankless days and hard bone-crushing hours, but vitally important for neighbourhoods, community and joy,” said chef Rossi, an author, executive chef and owner of New York’s The Raging Skillet. “Folks forgot how lonely and depressed they were when restaurants shut down during the pandemic. Be grateful and be nice, for crying out loud, and treat others as you want to be treated.”

We spoke with chefs, bartenders, caterers, servers and restaurant owners to discover the ways they wish you’d consider behaving better this year.

Respect your reservation.

Unless you’ve had a job at the host stand of a bustling restaurant, you probably have no idea how many unending requests, changes and customer goof-ups that someone in this role regularly encounters. So when you make a reservation, be clear what you’re asking for and make your own notes as confirmation.

Of course, changes happen, but your attitude makes a difference. “If you want to add additional people to a reservation, for example, be patient,” said chef Eric Adjepong, host of Food Network’s Alex vs. America.” “Keep in mind that the people who are serving you are also people, so be kind to them.”

On the date and time of your reservation, be front-and-centre at the hostess stand, dressed appropriately for the space, with your entire party in tow. Anything less than that is putting a strain on the delicate house of cards that any set of restaurant reservations represents.

“My big thing is showing up on time,” explained Robert Irvine, a chef, restaurant owner, author and 22-season host of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible.” “When you’re late, it creates a ripple effect for everyone — not just the staff, but also the customers who’ll get that table after you. Remember that the restaurant isn’t just doing business by serving only you. They need to turn the table over to make a living, and when you show up late, it makes that much harder to do.”

Don’t say you have an allergy just because you don’t like an ingredient.

Roberta d’Elia, head chef at Pasta Evangelists in the U.K., has this plea for customers: “Please don’t say you have an allergy only because you don’t like something. We take allergens extremely seriously and put in extra time and care for customers who report having an allergy. So save restaurant staff the stress if this is something you don’t really suffer from.”

Also, consider the impact of your special requests. “Please don’t ask the kitchen to ‘leave out’ certain ingredients like garlic from sauces, because these are not made individually, but in batches,” she said. “It’s not practical to leave out one ingredient from a prepared dish.”

If you can afford to eat out, you can afford to tip.

For food service workers, tips aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity. Industry wages are set very low, with the rationale that tips will make up the difference. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers who receive tips on the job legally can make just $2.13 an hour from their employers.

A standard tip is considered to be 15 to 20% of the pretax bill. And if you’re tipping in a sit-down restaurant, be aware that the amount you tip probably won’t all go to your server, since they often pool tips with the bartender, busser, hostess and food runners. You may even have noticed menu options to include “beers for the kitchen,” so you can easily tip the folks behind the scene.

Plenty of us are getting it right. A recent Bankrate survey reported that more than two-fifths (44%) of U.S. adults at sit-down restaurants typically tip at least 20%. But there are still some people who don’t tip, or who don’t tip well, and that’s an issue for many in the industry.

“I’ve always felt strongly that there is a special place in hell for lousy tippers,” Rossi said. “Often, lousy tippers are the same folks who expect great food and great service while being very demanding. If I could be hired as a consultant by God, I would suggest sentencing these people to spend eternity working for tips-only, with customers just like them.”

Don’t use a raised voice or snap your fingers to get your server’s attention.

“Aside from lousy tippers, there is nothing worse in the world than folks who think it’s OK to bully and abuse restaurant staff,” Rossi said. “Why on earth do these people think they are better than their waiter?”

And if you want better service, here’s a news flash — that kind of attitude isn’t the way to get it. “Before I became a chef, I was a bartender,” Rossi recalled. “The moment a customer raised their voice or snapped their fingers at me, I ‘went deaf.’ I no longer would hear anything they had to say or ask for.”

Andrew Zimmern, host of Outdoor Channel’s Wild Game Kitchen,” has done every possible food service job, from dishwasher to executive chef to restaurant owner. He despairs at the breakdown in civility that customer service workers are experiencing: “Anyone behind a counter, from airline employees to deli workers, hotel staff to restaurant employees, is getting abused in greater numbers today than ever before,” he said. “Who do these entitled people think they are? Buying a sandwich or a $500 bottle of wine doesn’t give you the right to be discourteous and offensive, to behave poorly or raise your voice to someone.”

Adrianne Calvo, owner and chef of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant & Bar in Miami and host of the Searching for Maximum Flavour” YouTube series, offered up a hard agree to that sentiment. “I wish customers would show more kindness and empathy toward service staff. Those that want to serve others are a dying breed, and I’m concerned for the health and longevity of our industry. We are a people business — for people, by people. To be able to continue to staff and grow our industry, respect and kindness must be at the centre of it.”

She’s joined in this sentiment by Keyatta Mincey Parker, the Atlanta-based chief curating officer at Pictures and Cocktails, and founder and executive director of A Sip of Paradise Garden, a community garden for bartenders. She’s worked in hospitality since age 16, and has hosted, served, bartended, managed and worked as a fry cook, as well as having run bar programs for restaurants, nightclubs and hotels. What does she want from customers? “The one wish I have for restaurant patrons is to be kinder to the people taking care of them in these spaces. It takes more effort to be mean, and it takes nothing to smile and be kind.”

She offers this tip for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes: “It’s hard to wake up every day and choose to serve. A lot of times, people in our industry are the last stop of the day for a customer who’s already experienced a lot of things that have nothing to do with us. But people take it out on us. We’re just as human as you are, so please give us the same kindness and respect you would want for yourself.”

Have grace when posting about your experience on social media.

“I wish that every less-than-perfect moment in a restaurant wouldn’t make it to a social platform or consumer site immediately, without the poster giving the establishment a chance to correct or make it right,” Calvo said. “I wish guests wouldn’t do things like give one-star reviews because they didn’t agree with your dress code policy.”

The experts we spoke with also suggest giving credit to the geniuses behind your Insta-worthy entrée. “Social media has foodies who take pictures and share what they’re eating, but rarely do they give any credit to the chef who created that dish,” Irvine said. “They use posts as their own ego boosts to brag about eating out and loving life. But it’s so important to credit the chefs themselves and help to build their following, too. Please, celebrate chefs the same way you would a musician at a concert.”