Essay: 40 Tips On How To Be A Good Waiter



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40 Tips On How To Be A Good Waiter

(The Flipside to Waiter Rant's 40 Tips on How To Be A Good Customer)

It seems like Steve Dublanica, the Waiter who penned Waiter Rant, is everywhere these days: The Today Show, Oprah, you name it. As is the case with any hot subject, the various interviewers seem to ask mostly the same questions, in this case focusing mainly on tipping and customer behavior. That might be because one of the easiest sections of Waiter Rant to read is Appendix A: 40 Tips On How To Be A Good Customer. Most of it boils down to simple respect and consideration, but it's a great list and I agree with every single one of his tips. However, disrespect and inconsideration are not monopolized by the customer; waiters are often just as guilty. Here, then, is my list of 40 tips on how to be a good waiter. See how many of these hit home with you.




  • Pay attention to your area to see when new customers arrive. If you're busy with other customers, I don't need to be greeted immediately, but a quick "I'll be right with you" helps. If I'm staring at your butt cheeks for five minutes not because I'm admiring them but because your back is turned the whole time while gabbing with the kitchen crew, that's not so cool.

  • Tell me your name, so I can use it to catch your attention respectfully (without screaming, snapping fingers or waving) or ask another waiter for you specifically if I need something.

  • Be friendly. Be very friendly. But don't try to be my friend, at least on the first visit. Don't touch me. Don't eavesdrop on my conversation and try to join in.

  • For restaurants near a theatre, concert hall or sports stadium, ask me if I have an engagement that requires departing by a certain time and then plan the pacing accordingly.

  • I'm pretty open minded about Mohawk hairdos, tattoos, jewelry (in conventional and unconventional locations) and shaving habits, but there are a few grooming non-negotiables. You should not smell like booze or like you just fertilized your lawn on a hot summer day. You should not have filthy fingernails. You should not have facial scabs or eye problems that require you to insert your finger in your eye every few seconds. You should brush your teeth before your shift, not only for breath control but also so I don't have to watch you pick tuna from your teeth with the same fingers that might touch my food. You should wear pants that make you look like a waiter, not a plumber.

  • If you have another table of customers who are regulars, VIPs or friends, I fully expect you to give that table more attention than mine, and that’s okay. Giving them all your attention and having that affect my table's service is where we might have a problem.

  • Speaking of gabbing with the kitchen crew, or other waiters, or other customers: keep in mind that we can hear you. I don't want to hear about whom you slept with last night, what your proctologist said to you yesterday or your bitching about the tipping styles of certain ethnic groups. Save that for your after-hours drinking binge, when I'm asleep and out of earshot.




  • Don't sit with me to take my order. If I purposely sit at the edge of the booth in anticipation of your trying to sit with me, don't ask me to move over so you can sit with me.

  • If you've just handed me a 60-page wine list and I haven't selected a bottle within seconds, don't assume I'm a complete nincompoop. I'd like a little time to see what you have.

  • If I don't know what confit is and ask you to explain it to me, please do so without eye rolls or other displays of attitude. Just as you'd like me to not think of myself as superior to you because you're a waiter and I'm not, please don’t think of yourself as superior to me because you know a few cooking terms I may not.

  • When answering questions about the menu, don't lie. If you’re not sure about the answer, it's perfectly acceptable to ask the chef and get back to me.

  • When asked for a menu recommendation, choose something you honestly think is a good dish and tell me what makes it good. I really do want to know what you like about it. If you recommend a specific dish unsolicited and I ask a question about it, you should be somewhat prepared. Otherwise, I can only assume that you're either trying to upsell or push an undersold mistake the restaurant is trying to move before it goes bad.

  • When reciting the specials, include prices. It's not a big deal if the specials are roughly in line with their equivalents on the regular menu, but if the asparagus with imported French truffle oil is $79, that information should be disclosed before I order it.

  • For that matter, if there are specials, make sure you recite them at all. If you forget and I later learn that there's a hossenfeffer flambée I could have had instead of the turkey fricassee, I'm not going to be happy.

  • If you're going to correct my pronunciation of a menu item, you'd better be sure you're right, chipolty-breath.

  • Help me out if I order redundantly or missed out on a deal. If I order an appetizer and entree that just happen to be on your prix fixe menu, mention that to me and charge accordingly, noting that the dessert is included later. If I order an appetizer and entree that both happen to have the same sauce or same key secondary item, point that out to me so I can opt out of the duplication. And if I order a side that happens to already come with my entree, point that out to me so I don't over-order. It may lower the bill, but it will raise your tip.

  • Don't "trick" me into a camouflaged upsell. If you ask whether I want soup or salad, the same words can be uttered with a cadence that implies it's included with the entree, while another cadence implies it's extra. (I usually prefer ethnic/BBQ joints with no salads or upscale restaurants with $16 salads, so for me it's a non-issue. But it's still a pet peeve.)

  • Use a pen if you can't remember the order.

  • If we've only ordered appetizers and defer the remainder of the ordering (whether by your suggestion or ours), take the rest of the order either before the appetizers arrive or after we've finished them, not the moment they arrive. I'd rather eat my crispy ham hock surprise while it's still crispy than watch it sog up out of the corner of my eye while giving you my order.




  • After taking our order, enter it into the system before taking another table's order. This helps ensure a much smoother flow of orders into and out of the kitchen. It also helps turn the tables faster for you (more tips), and if there's an issue with what we ordered (kitchen ran out of something or can't accommodate a special request), the menu and specials are still fresh in our minds. And if you ignored the tip about using the pen, our order is still fresh in your mind.

  • Enter the orders into the system to ensure that the entrees do not arrive while we are still "working on" (to use your term) our appetizers.




  • Keep me informed. Lame: "Your entrees will be right up." You know you have no idea if they're 1 minute away or 45 minutes away. Better: "There's a large party ahead of you whose orders just got fired, so it may be another 15 minutes for your entrees, can I get you some more bread?" It's not that I need an explanation, but sometimes the information is helpful for someone who might want to make a quick phone call to a babysitter or have a smoke outside in the meantime.

  • Make sure I have the proper cutlery before my dish arrives (and for that matter, a dish before a shared dish arrives). That means a steak knife for steak or chicken or anything that a butter knife won't penetrate. That means a fork for my entree if you've cleared a single fork used for my appetizer.

  • For a burger or similar dish with expected condiments, make sure that I have them before my food arrives or that you have them when delivering the food.

  • Before bringing the food to the table, examine it to make sure that all of the items that belong are present, all of the selectables are as selected, all of the requested omissions are omitted and any other special modifications have been executed. A mistake may be the kitchen's fault (or you may have forgotten to enter a key detail into the system), but if you bring it to the table, it's clearly your fault too now for not paying attention.

  • If the above examination uncovers a mistake that requires minimal correction, get that corrected before bringing all of the dishes to the table. If it requires re-cooking, do not under any circumstances bring the other dishes to the table so that the victim who ordered the botched dish has to wait while everyone else eats. This is probably outside your control, but if re-cooking is necessary to correct a mistake, the other diners' dishes should not have to sit under heat lamps, compromising their quality during the re-cook, making them the victims too. In a restaurant that takes itself seriously, those should be cooked over as well.

  • When delivering a plate whose contents need explanation, give me a verbal roadmap. For my "assiette of seasonal sausage," navigate me to the beef, the pork, the ostrich. If there are six dipping sauces with my deconstructed pheasant wing, tell me which one is which.




  • Check back with us about 90 seconds after serving. I empathize with you on this one, because there's a fine line between too soon and not soon enough. Too soon and we haven't really had enough time to assess everything. Not soon enough and you're potentially compounding an error by making us wait longer for a correction.

  • When checking back, ask if there's anything else you can bring and if the food was prepared as ordered: medium rare versus medium, correct choice of vegetable or sauce. The "How is everything?" question is too open-ended. If you use it and get the unexpected "Why, I've had better steak at Attica" response, you need to follow up, not walk away stupefied.

  • Check our drinks throughout the meal. They shouldn't get any lower than 1/3 full before you ask for another. Conversely, conversing is difficult when you’re trying to replace my water after every sip.

  • Look for clues that there may be a problem, even if nobody speaks up: a scowl, a mostly uneaten pile of food left defiantly on the plate, a hushed comment to a dining companion while pointing at the food. Ask if there's something wrong with the dish or if there’s something you can do.

  • On the flipside, if you notice we're really enjoying a particular dish, feel free to fish for compliments. If I rave about something, by all means pass this feedback along to the chef, who deserves to hear the positive comments along with the complaints. Or if we're really enjoying a particular wine, be sure to tell us about an upcoming wine dinner with similar wines from the region that you're having later that month.

  • Be alert to non-food issues as well. If you see my wife wearing her winter coat in August, maybe the air conditioner is turned up too high and you should look into adjusting it. If there's a loud table nearby or an out-of-control toddler AWOL from his table and sticking his fingers into my pasta, I’m not saying it's your job to police them. But a quick heads-up to a manager may lead to a suggestion that the loud party be more comfortable in the unused function room around the corner. An expression of concern for the child's safety to the parents may be just the hint to get their heads out of their Mojitos and their hands on their annoying tyke.




  • Plates for each course should be cleared only when everyone at the table has finished that course. If you or your management has a different philosophy—and there's certainly an argument for clearing as soon as possible—always ask before clearing.

  • Never clear a plate or even ask to clear a plate if the diner is in mid bite or has fork in hand. I can appreciate that you may have customers waiting for a table, but as long as we're not hogging the table by lingering unreasonably, they can wait until we're done.

  • If everyone's plate has a fork placed across it and nobody has taken a bite within the last five minutes (remember, you're supposed to be noticing these things), you can safely assume that we're done and can clear the plates. If they're appetizer plates, make sure these are cleared before the entrees arrive.

  • When placing my second beer or glass of wine on the table, never ever remove the first one if there's still a sip or more left.




  • At some point shortly after the entree plates have been cleared, ask if there's anything else you can get, whether that be additional drinks, a second whole suckling pig, coffee or a dessert menu (or a second cup of coffee if we’re having dessert). That's my opening to ask for the check. Incidentally, if you don't ask about dessert and I see the most fantastic-looking cheesecake pass by on its way to another table, it'll be reflected in your tip, even though I hate cheesecake.

  • If I pay with cash, don't ask if I want change. Just tell me you'll bring me the change and leave it to me to tell you to keep the whole thing. If you do bring change, bring it promptly. If the bill is $44 and I give you three $20 bills, don't assume your delay tactics will win a war of attrition, earning you a 36% tip if I’d rather walk away than keep waiting.

  • When you do bring change, bring bills that allow me to leave you a tip that's both fair and generous. The change from that $44 tab should be two $5 bills and six $1 bills. Leaving a $10, a $5 and a $1 forces me to leave at least $15 (unlikely), leave no more than $6 (not so good for you) or leave $10/$11 (likely for me, but you shouldn't assume).


Oh, and one more thing: a sincere thank you goes a long way.


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