20 Secrets Your Waiter Will Never Tell You

By Michelle Crouch, Reader’s Digest

Commentary by your server

What would two dozen servers from across the country tell you if they could get away with it? Well, for starters, when to go out, what not to order, what really happens behind the kitchen’s swinging doors, and what they think of you and your tips. Here, from a group that clears a median $8.01 an hour in wages and tips, a few revelations that aren’t on any menu. 

$8.01 an hour?  Really?  Sounds like a lot of servers aren’t claiming all their tips. 

What we lie about
1. We’re not allowed to tell our customers we don’t like a dish. So if you ask your server how something is and she says, “It’s one of our most popular dishes,” chances are she doesn’t like it.
—Waitress at a well-known pizza chain

I get so annoyed by this question.  I’m paid to sell you food so what do you think I’m going to say?  The other question I find annoying is, “What’s good?”  I recommended the chicken to everyone who asked that for a week.  Guess what?  Not one of them ordered it.  If you are trying to make small talk, tell me I’m pretty. 

2. On Christmas Day, when people ask why I’m there, I might say, “My sister’s been in the hospital,” or, “My brother’s off to war, so we’re celebrating when he gets back.” Then I rake in the tips.
—Chris, a New York City waiter and the founder of bitterwaitress.com

Hmmm…I might have to try this.

3. If you’re looking for your waiter and another waiter tells you he’s getting something out of the stockroom, you can bet he’s out back having a quick smoke.
—Charlie Kondek, former waiter at a Denny’s in Central Michigan

I tell people the server is unavailable then they think she’s taking a dump.  HAHAHA!  Yet another reason my co-workers love me.

4. If someone orders a frozen drink that’s annoying to make, I’ll say, “Oh, we’re out. Sorry!” when really I just don’t want to make it. But if you order water instead of another drink, suddenly we do have what you originally wanted because I don’t want to lose your drink on the bill.
—Waitress at a casual Mexican restaurant in Manhattan

Obviously this server has never met my Manager.  She would have a job for about 2 seconds after she told someone we were out of something when we weren’t.

 What you don’t want to know
5. When I was at one bakery restaurant, they used to make this really yummy peach cobbler in a big tray. A lot of times, servers don’t have time to eat. So we all kept a fork in our aprons, and as we cruised through the kitchen, we’d stick our fork in the cobbler and take a bite. We’d use the same fork each time.
—Kathy Kniss

That’s disgusting.  Every one of them should be banned from food service.

 6. If you make a big fuss about sending your soup back because it’s not hot enough, we like to take your spoon and run it under really hot water, so when you put the hot spoon in your mouth, you’re going to get the impression — often the very painful impression — that your soup is indeed hot.  —Chris
That’s not nice.  I would never do something which might harm a customer.
7. I’ve seen some horrible things done to people’s food: steaks dropped on the floor, butter dipped in the dishwater.
—Waiter at a casual restaurant in the Chicago area

That’s disgusting.  We have security cameras all over the restaurant and if anyone served food that had been tampered with, they would be fired.

What you’re really swallowing
8. If your dessert says “homemade,” it probably is. But it might be homemade at a bakery three miles away.
—Charity Ohlund

Anything that says ‘homemade’ in our restaurant is.  We make almost everything in house.

 Hmmm…Charity Ohlund used to write a blog called ‘In the Weeds’ and she was fired from her job for making fun of customers in her blog. 
9. I knew one guy — he was a real jerk — he’d go to Costco and buy this gigantic carrot cake for $10 and tell us to say it’s homemade. Then he sold it for $10 a slice.
—Steve Dublanica, veteran New York waiter and author of “Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip — Confessions of a Cynical Waiter”
o_O  Uh…I guess it would work until someone challenged him on it.
What drives us crazy
10. Oh, you needed more water so badly, you had to snap or tap or whistle? I’ll be right back … in ten minutes.
—Charity Ohlund

Yeah, that is freaking annoying.  How about just asking?

11. We want you to enjoy yourself while you’re there eating, but when it’s over, you should go. Do you stay in the movie theater after the credits? No.
—Waiter at a casual restaurant in the Chicago area

No lie.  I hate campers.

12. My biggest pet peeve? When I walk up to a table of six or seven people and one person decides everyone needs water. I’m making a trip to deliver seven waters, and four or five of them never get touched.
—Judi Santana, a server for ten years

Our tables are set up with glasses and silverware stacked at the end of the table.  Leave the glasses alone.  Unless I have Inspector Gadget arms I don’t know about, I can’t pour water for you when you put them at the back of the table. 

What we want you to know
13. Sometimes, if you’ve been especially nice to me, I’ll tell the bartender, “Give me a frozen margarita, and don’t put it in.” That totally gyps the company, but it helps me because you’ll give it back to me in tips, and the management won’t know the difference.
—Waitress at a casual Mexican restaurant in Manhattan
Stealing and grounds for immediate dismissal.  Also, people tend to tip on the ticket total.  Giving away free drinks doesn’t increase your total so your tip will be less.  And what happens when the restaurant goes out of business because no one paid for drinks?  Have fun in the unemployment line.
14. If you’re having a disagreement over dinner and all of a sudden other servers come by to refill your water or clear your plates, or you notice a server slowly refilling the salt and pepper shakers at the table next to yours, assume that we’re listening.
—Charity Ohlund

Oh yeah, we all love it when you make a spectacle out of yourself.

What tells us you’re trouble
15. I get this call all the time: “Is the chef there? This is so-and-so. I’m a good friend of his.” If you’re his good friend, you’d have his cell.
If I have to leave a table and walk my happy ass across the restaurant for this type of call, I say something incredibly rude and hang up.  Personal calls aren’t allowed and NO ONE wants you calling them at work.
16. The strangest thing I’ve seen lately? A man with a prosthetic arm asked me to coat check it because the table was a little bit crowded. He just removed his arm and handed it to me: “Can you take this?”
—Christopher Fehlinger

HAHAHA!  Don’t know what else to say.

17. We always check the reservation book, scan the names, and hope for someone recognizable. I’m happy if the notes say something like “Previous number of reservations: 92.” If they say something like “First-time guest, celebrating Grandma’s 80th birthday, need two high chairs, split checks, gluten allergy,” then I start rummaging through my pockets for a crisp bill for the hostess and I make sure to tell her how much I love her hair fixed like that.
—Charity Ohlund

Oh to be so lucky.  We don’t take reservations so we have to size people up as they walk through the door.  I am the WORST about doing an immediate profile and seating who I perceive to be problem customers somewhere other than my section.  Three screaming kids and two fighting parents?  I think it’s Amanda’s turn.

How to be a good customer
18. Use your waiter’s name. When I say, “Hi, my name is JR, and I’ll be taking care of you,” it’s great when you say, “Hi, JR. How are you doing tonight?” Then, the next time you go in, ask for that waiter. He may not remember you, but if you requested him, he’s going to give you really special service.
—JR, waiter at a fine-dining restaurant and author of the blog servernotslave.wordpress.com  
Few of us introduce ourselves for some reason.  Several years ago we had a server named Jody.  She was joking around with one of our regulars and it pissed off a man at an adjoining table.  He berated her for being rude and demanded her name.  She said, “Kathy?”  Since then whenever something goes wrong we introduce ourselves as ‘Kathy.’
19. Trust your waitress. Say something like “Hey, it’s our first time in. We want you to create an experience for us. Here’s our budget.” Your server will go crazy for you.
— Charity Ohlund
Uh…maybe.  I don’t like picking food for people because what I think is fabulous, other people think is disgusting.  I’m not going to be responsible for ruining your meal based on my taste when I can ruin your meal with my personality.
What you need to know about tipping
20. If you walk out with the slip you wrote the tip on and leave behind the blank one, the server gets nothing. It happens all the time, especially with people who’ve had a few bottles of wine.
—Judi Santana
Many of our servers take credit cards from the table to the cashier, then they lose the slip with the tip.  Yep, the server gets nothing.  I don’t take credit cards or cash at the table.  We have a cashier and she gets paid to take your money.
Click here for the story with exciting pictures and no commentary.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. catherinewanderer
    Dec 27, 2009 @ 23:25:15

    Ah, you’re the most considerate waitress I’ve ever heard. Come work at my restaraunt- my manager would marry you.

    HAHA! No he wouldn’t. I whine.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  2. DarcsFalcon
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 01:41:10

    Love your responses!

    The one that cracked me up was #7 – being in the Chicago area. I used to know a woman who was a waitress and she told me horror stories. One of them included how there were maggots falling out of the ceiling into the rice pudding. She wasn’t the “yank your chain” kind of person, and the restaurant chain went out of business, so who knows? There are lots of Chicago restaurants that get fined for food safety violations.

    That is horrifying. I would neither serve food nor work in a place like that.


  3. whatigotsofar
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 05:40:08

    A waitress at Dennys was standing right behind me when I was discussing to my friends how I needed to be able to fit into a wedding dress. (I’m a guy.) She let herself be known to the group at that point that she was listening.

    Oh yeah, we love stuff like that. We tell everyone in the back of the house so they can laugh too.


  4. Sherri
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 10:10:26

    When I was working in customer service (about 80% of my work history) I hated it when people used my name. They usually said it like they were bestowing a great gift upon me, that they actually took the time to read my name off my tag. I was a cashier, though, not a waitress where it may actually be useful to know your name, and usually those people would also talk my ear off, when all I wanted was to move on down the line. Now I figure they really were just trying to be friendly and I just had a terrible attitude.

    I liked your responses. 🙂

    I’m divided on the introduction. We don’t wear name tags, but the hostess tells the customers their server’s name. Most people do not use my name, some do and act like I’m their long lost friend and others yell it every time I pass by their table. Guess which ones annoy the hell out of me?


  5. DarcKnyt
    Dec 28, 2009 @ 10:55:41

    Good stuff. The guy from a “casual restaurant in Chicago” can bite my a$$, though. I’ve been to casual restaurants in this area, and if he thinks service you get ’round here warrants his being able to open his mouth AT ALL, he’s a f**king moron.

    I loved you dishing on the waitress who got canned for ripping customers on her blog. HA! It’s not just people in the corporate world who need to watch what they blog about!

    She was my first warning to watch what I write about. I never call the restaurant or annoying customers by name. I am always kind to my co-workers unless they are pissing me off, in which case they are on their way out the door.

    What I gathered was she wrote some very unflattering stereotypes about her co-workers and they brought her blog to the attention of her manager. Since she had mentioned the restaurant by name and had bitched about her employers and co-workers, she pretty much screwed herself.

    Hope you had a GREAT Christmas, Holls!

    I did, but it was much too short. Hope yours was great!


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