You mean well, but those little gestures you’re doing to help the server might make their job harder.

Kimberly Holland
Updated: April 04, 2019

Customers come to restaurants for a pleasurable experience—you enter, sit down, peruse the menu, order, dine, make small talk, pay, and leave. All around you, however, a world of busy bees keep drinks filled, cook the food, and make sure every element of your encounter is enjoyable.

While you likely know how hard people in restaurants work, you might not realize the small ways you actually make their job harder.

Here, we explore things well-meaning patrons do that make servers and restaurant staff work harder, even when you absolutely don’t mean to.

You wait to split the check at the end

Some diners find it gauche to discuss payment before a single bread basket has been served, and we certainly suggest you feel out the level of formality before discussing the bill. However, at your local Thai spot or pizza joint, don’t be afraid to help out the server by letting them know before anyone orders are given how the ticket will be split.

Be nice: Making the arrangement clear helps them—and you—get faster service and prevents possible goofs on the bill. This is an especially good idea if you have somewhere to go after the meal and are crunched for time.

You don’t say anything about a meal you don’t like

If something is wrong—your steak is undercooked, your salad is soggy, your chicken is stringy—speak up. Don’t sit in silence, thinking it’s too much fuss to raise a flag.

Your server, the kitchen staff, and the restaurant’s manager shouldn’t learn about your poor experience at their establishment with a semi-anonymous online criticism. They should hear about it right then and there, when it happens, so they can correct it and learn from it.

Be nice: Flag your server, and explain the issue. Give your server and the restaurant a chance to fix whatever is wrong. Don’t sit there and plot your vicious one-star smack down. If it’s still wrong after that, type away, keyboard warrior.

The server is occupied, so you help yourself to the tea pitcher

It’s easy to see your waiter is busy, so what’s the harm in sneaking over to the bar and filling up your cup of tea? Actually, a lot. If the manager spots you, your waiter will likely be reamed out for not getting you what you need. You could also make a mess of the beverages, which makes someone else have to stop their work to clean it up.

Be nice: If you’re getting bad service—the waiter isn’t keeping your glass filled—talk to the manager. Otherwise, just try to flag your server, and perhaps consider asking for another glass if you’re downing a lot of drink that night for some reason.

You stack all the empty dishes

Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness of bussing a table. Waiters and restaurant staff are trained in the best way to gather, clean, and sort dishes. If you stack up all the plates, bowls, and silverware—and then toss napkins on top of the pile—you’re making a bigger mess for your server or the person who has to clear the dishes from your table.

Be nice: Leave the plates in front of you. Don’t push them away either, as that makes them harder to reach. The staff will ask you before removing your plate if you’re finished. Let them do the bussing.

You seat yourself

You walk into your favorite little restaurant (where, yes, they probably know you by name), eager to get dinner so you can get back home to chores. You notice the host is busy with another group, so you just grab a menu and seat yourself.

While you think it’s no big deal, the host has an intricate system for making sure tables are distributed evenly among areas of the restaurant and servers. If you seat yourself (at least anywhere other than the bar), you may throw off their system.

Be nice: Hang out for a minute. The host will see you and make sure you get a seat. If the host disappears to the back of the restaurant, you can flag another member of the staff and ask to be seated.

You try to clean up your own accident

It happens—you get carried away telling a story and knock over a glass of Merlot. Ruby red wine and shards of glass are everywhere. Your first instinct may be to start grabbing the pieces, but the restaurant staff don’t want to compound the issue with a bleeding hand.

Be nice: Alert the staff, and let them clean it up. They have the tools for cleaning up the wine as well as the broken glass. Thank them profusely—leave a bigger tip, too—but don’t put your hand into the shards.

You don’t listen to the specials

Contrary to urban legend, most daily specials in restaurants are not dishes that use up foods before they spoil. Indeed, in a lot of cases, they’re special dishes the chef wanted to cook with seasonal ingredients, or she’s testing them out on a smaller scale before placing them as a full-time item menu.

Be nice: When the server starts rattling off the day’s specials and things not on the menu, listen. You might hear something that strikes your interest and changes your mind about what you plan to order. Also, it’s just plain rude to interrupt.

You’re too chatty

It’s lovely to have a good rapport with your server, especially if you’re a regular at their restaurant, but keep in mind the server is working. That means they need to place orders, pick up food, fill drinks, and more. When you occupy them to chat, especially when the restaurant is busy, you’re preventing them from doing their job. Not only can that get them in trouble, it could affect your own service.

Be nice: Follow their cue. If they stop to chat for a second, you can engage. But don’t flag them down just to chat. Friendliness goes a long way, as does a generous thank you and a good tip.

You order from another server

You’re ready to order, but your server is two tables over with another group of patrons. You flag down a server and ask to order. They likely won’t tell you no (though they should), but confusion could unfold. If you have any special orders, the server that’s responsible for your meal may not know all the intricate details. You may also have errors on the bill if they don’t know what everyone ordered.

Be nice: Instead of asking the server to take your order, ask them to alert your server. This way you get the best service possible and there’s no back-end confusion.

You take items off the full tray to help

As the server approaches your table, you spot your pint of beer on the side. In an effort to “help” him, you reach for the beer. Big mistake! The server has all the items on that tray balanced beautifully, and removing one item unexpectedly could throw it off kilter.

Be nice: Let the server empty the tray at their own pace. If you want to be of assistance, help pass out things to the table as he takes them off the tray.