10 Secrets Your Restaurant Waiter Really Wants You to Know

These simple, courteous steps help make restaurant servers’ lives much easier.

waitress carrying plate with food
Updated July 18, 2024
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Working as a server requires a unique set of skills, and they come across plenty of customers every day. And the things you experience on the surface might be different than what really happens away from the dining table. 

Understanding this dynamic can help make your dining experience more enjoyable for both you and your server and help you avoid wasting money on a bad dining experience.

Following are 10 secrets that waiters and waitresses really wish you'd know.

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Tips are really important

pressmaster/Adobe waiter counting money that he earned for the working day

Federal law sets the minimum wage for tipped employees at just $2.13 per hour. The rest of a server’s earnings come from tips. As a result, many servers rely almost entirely on tips to make a living.

The minimum wage for waitstaff varies from state to state, and many places have raised the hourly wage beyond the federal minimum wage. Still, tips should be considered part of the budget when dining out.

The standard is to tip around 20% for a meal you were satisfied with. Many diners go beyond this figure for particularly good service, or if they're dining out during a busy time of year, such as the holiday season.

Tips go to others besides waitstaff

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe bartenders counting tips and cleaning glasses at bar

Some restaurants use something known as “tip pooling” to distribute tips. That means the $20 you left on the table for your server will be split among many workers, such as bartenders and bussers.

Restaurants may also deduct the credit card merchant fee from the tip if you paid it with a card. To ensure your server is getting a decent tip, it’s best to tip in cash when possible.

Restaurants are often understaffed

JackF/Adobe tired and upset waitress in kitchen of restaurant

Understaffing is a common problem in the service industry even in the best of times due to high employee turnover.

At any given time, a restaurant may have several new servers in the training phase working in a packed restaurant. With this knowledge, patience is truly a virtue for those who regularly dine out.

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A lot is beyond your server’s control

WavebreakmediaMicro/Adobe smiling female chef giving fresh Greek salad to waiter

There are many moving parts in restaurants, so there's a good chance that your server has no control over the issue that's bothering you.

If your food is taking a bit longer than expected, don’t assume your waiter is slacking off. There can be many things going on behind the scenes, so try to be patient.

Don't touch your servers

Monkey Business/Adobe waitress working in traditional english pub serving breakfast

If you need to get a server’s attention, grabbing or touching them in any way is strictly forbidden. Diners should respect boundaries for all employees working in restaurants.

If you need something for the table, try to make eye contact the next time your server walks by, or politely make a request at the front of the restaurant.

Arrive on time for a reservation

Monkey Business/Adobe female owner of restaurant bar standing at counter using digital tablet

Simple courtesy demands that diners should not make a habit of showing up late for reservations.

Many restaurants have limits on how long they'll hold your table before giving it away. In the wake of the pandemic, some restaurants have also set up limits for how long diners can occupy tables, with 90 minutes being a popular choice.

Avoid ordering right before closing time

TommyStockProject/Adobe restaurant team preparing place for cleaning after closing

In the interest of being a considerate diner, don’t try to squeeze a full meal into the 30 minutes before a restaurant closes.

If an establishment is closing at 10 p.m. and you show up at 9:45 planning to eat a full dinner, you’ve likely just added an extra hour to the night for everyone on staff. That includes kitchen staff, servers, bussers, and any other employees in the building.

Close out bar tabs

Prostock-studio/Adobe man giving credit card to bartender in pub

Help the bar staff avoid headaches by remembering to close out your bar tab. This same courtesy applies to anyone who has a drink at the bar before heading to their table for dinner.

Since you’ll likely be unaware if the establishment does “tip pooling,” it’s always courteous to settle and tip the bartender for services before you move to your server.

Don’t blame staff for prices

fizkes/Adobe dissatisfied restaurant client complaining about bad service

Unless your server also happens to be the owner of the restaurant, they're not responsible for the menu prices.

As a diner, you’re expected to look over the prices and order something you’re willing to pay for. Complaining to your server about prices is pointless since they probably can’t do anything about it.

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Expect to pay for extras

Jorge/Adobe foods

Diners should expect to pay more when they ask for extras. Never expect that your waiter will automatically comp a double for your drink or cover the cost of an extra side of fries.

Many servers don't have the authority to make such calls and could put their jobs on the line if they do. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to cough up extra cash for every tiny cup of ketchup, but it’s generally a good policy to expect nothing for free when dining out.

Bottom line

ivanko80/Adobe senior couple eating breakfast

Whether you're dining out at a bargain chain or trying one of the fanciest establishments in town, these simple steps make servers’ lives much easier.

Restaurants can be stressful places to work. But with a bit of consideration from diners, the experience can be that much more enjoyable for both customers and staff.

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Author Details

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.