13 Seemingly Polite Habits Your Restaurant Server Secretly Hates

Are your well-intentioned manners making your server cringe?

african american waitress taking orders
Updated May 28, 2024
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Many restaurant etiquette rules are universal. They include respecting your server, politely asking when you need something, and following the local tipping culture.

However, many things well-meaning diners do might strike staff as rude or create more work for the restaurant crew.

Whether you are eating at your favorite hole-in-the-wall diner or plan to start traveling more and enjoying meals far from home, here are some "polite" habits you should avoid.

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Seating yourself

bzzup/Adobe wait to be seated sign

This one depends on the restaurant. There are certain establishments where diners are welcome to seat themselves. When this is the case, there's usually a sign inviting you to do so.

However, many other restaurants have a system where they seat customers in specific sections. So, it’s best to wait for a server or host to seat you, even if they seem busy.

Complimenting their appearance

Monkey Business/Adobe waitress taking payment from clients

Servers are just trying to get a job done. Even if it’s well-meaning, hearing compliments about their body or how attractive they are can make staff extremely uncomfortable.

If you would like to compliment your server, applaud how attentive or friendly they have been or how they've helped make your dining experience memorable.

Ordering from a different server

wavebreak3/Adobe female waitress writing order on pad

If your server looks particularly busy, it may seem polite to order more food or drinks from someone else. But in reality, this can complicate things when it comes time to assemble your bill.

It’s best to wait for your server to return to check in. Or, politely flag them down as they pass by you.

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Chatting a bit too much with your server

Monkey Business/Adobe waitress serving food to couple

Many servers appreciate some friendly banter. But if a restaurant is packed, you don’t want to hog your server’s attention for too long.

Some niceties and a few questions about the menu are fine. But keep the small talk to a minimum when you can see the restaurant is busy.

Not asking when you need something

BGStock72/Adobe male waitress serving food to woman

Most servers want you to enjoy your dining experience, which means speaking up if you'd like more coffee or got the wrong order.

Servers prefer that you feel cared for and express your thanks by tipping accordingly.

Using terms of endearment

cherryandbees/Adobe couple paying at restaurant using card

When dining out in the U.S., it's standard practice for servers to tell customers their names, which you should use when addressing them.

Using terms such as “baby,” “sweetie,” or “handsome” may seem harmless, but it can feel condescending and make your server uncomfortable.

Pushing plates away

WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe female waitress serving coffee to woman

Clearing plates or piling them up in one area of your table seems like the polite thing to do. But experienced servers know to keep an eye on your table and to clear the plates when you’re done.

Many restaurants have busing staff who stay on top of this as well. Pushing plates into one area may make it harder for the staff to reach the plates and clean up.

Saving complaints for online reviews

fizkes/Adobe\ clients complaining to female waitress

Most servers prefer you to voice complaints to them directly rather than to let your anger seep into a nasty review on Yelp or Google.

If your soup is cold, there is a polite way to let your server know.

Explaining what you want in too much detail

Drazen/Adobe male waiter asking order from couple

Experienced servers frequently tell stories about customers talking down to them or assuming they can’t understand basic instructions. You don’t need to over-explain to staff when you want something specific.

It’s standard practice to request that a burger be cooked medium-well or that carrots be left out of a dish because you’re allergic to them.

There are ways to customize an order without being patronizing.

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Collecting your trash

alfa27/Adobe waitress serving food to cheerful couple

This may seem helpful, but collecting all the trash from your table may create more work for the staff. If you pile all the napkins into a glass, someone has to dig out that trash before sending the dishes to the wash.

No matter how small or large a restaurant is, the staff has a cleaning system. Let them stick to it.

Cleaning up spills

Rido/Adobe businessman swiping credit card at restaurant

Spills happen. And in restaurants, they happen frequently.

It might seem polite to mop up spilled wine with the napkins on your table, but it’s best to wait until a staff member arrives. They have the tools to do it right, especially if there's broken glass involved.

An apology — and perhaps a bigger tip — should suffice.

Attempting to ‘help’ with plates

Monkey Business/Adobe female waitress serving food to friends

Servers are pros at balancing large trays of food and drink — and unless one specifically asks for help handing off a dish, it’s best to let them do their job.

Even if you are baffled by the number of dishes on a server’s tray, attempting to help could throw them off balance and create quite a disaster.

Ordering for everyone

Davide Angelini/Adobe happy friends having lunch at restaurant

If your group is simply ordering something like appetizers that will be shared by the whole table, having one person put in the order is fine.

However, if everyone is getting an entrée, having one person order for everyone can confuse the server, even if it seems like it might save them time and effort.

Bottom line

elnariz/Adobe friendly waiter serving food to friends

Whether you’re trying to keep more money in your wallet by enjoying a bargain meal deal or dining out at a high-end establishment, there are standard practices that servers appreciate from customers.

Many of these practices should be intuitive — like clearly communicating what you need, giving servers space to do their jobs, and avoiding patronizing commentary.

However, others are less obvious. So, check out this list to ensure your restaurant etiquette is up to the right standard.

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Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.