Waiter with Drinks

If you want better service in a restaurant, respect these five unwritten rules

Answer by Maxwell Arnold, former sous chef, restaurant manager, waiter, and busboy, on Quora:

The relationship between a server and a customer can feel like an adverse one at times. Quite often, this is because the two parties simply misunderstand each other. I benefit from the experience of both working as a server, and being someone who dines out on the regular – so I understand what the dynamic is like from both sides.

For customers who get the most out of the dining experience, they understand the many nuances of the restaurant business to include several unwritten rules that they have to go along with whether they like it or not. These are five unwritten rules that I find are rarely followed by customers. For those who dine out, I suggest reading these rules to understand how things work in the restaurant world. Sticking to these rules, you’ll stand to have a much more enjoyable dining experience, as opposed to just going off of what you think is right.

This restaurant is not your house

You’re a paying customer. We get that, and we respect that. But do not forget that you are a guest. In addition, you are not the only guest. There are other people here too. So when you request that we turn down the music, turn up the lights, or adjust the heat/air conditioning, you should know that we may not be able to make this accommodation, even if you ask nicely. If you go on to demand such accommodations, you’re not only disrespecting us (because you’re essentially treating the restaurant like your house and us like servants who run it for you), you’re also disrespecting the other guests (because they may not desire the same accommodations that you desire). This is not your house, and this is a space that you’re sharing with other people – and if you’re the only one asking for something to be changed, we’re unlikely to do it if it will affect other guests.

Ed’s Note: I’m on-board with this one.

Food takes longer to come out when we’re busy

When a restaurant is busy, it’s usually no secret. It’s loud, it’s full, staff are running around, the whole deal. You can also anticipate when a restaurant will be busy, like on Friday and Saturday nights. If you choose to dine at such times as these, you can expect your food to take longer to come out. Why? More people, more orders, more work for the kitchen to do. So if you’ve just placed your order now, it could take 20, 30, 40 minutes, or even longer than that. If that’s too long for you, none of us has any sympathy for your complaints. You knew it was busy, so you knew it would take longer. You chose to dine at this time, so you knew what you were getting into. We don’t care that you’re hungry. Everybody is hungry. That’s why they’re here! What do you think we’re going to do? Bring your food out first before someone else’s, just because you’re complaining? Dream on.

Ed’s Note: Yes, and No. A restaurant should staff according to busy times – we also know it’s busy at weekends, so “should” have more people working. But, employees are fickle and are more likely to call in sick at weekends (because their friend is having a party for example), and there’s a shortage of employees in the hospitality sector in general for various reasons. So, this one cuts both ways, though I agree in general that when a restaurant is packed, the guest shouldn’t expect fast food. On top of that, add into the mix that guests don’t turn up at their booked time and may all, inadvertently, arrive around a magic hour of (say) 8 pm. Some are late, some are early. Some apologise or ask if it’s “OK” (meaning, “we’re here now, let’s eat as if nothing’s changed”). You try cooking from fresh for 60 guests at once in under 15 minutes. This is also further complicated by the next point …

Do not order anything that isn’t on the menu

It’s been my observation that a shockingly high percentage of restaurant patrons are either functionally illiterate or are just extremely picky eaters. I say this because I’ve run into so many situations where customers want to make up their own dish that isn’t on the menu (i.e. ordering fish and chips at an Italian restaurant). Perhaps it’s because they don’t know how to read, and therefore can’t understand anything the menu says. Perhaps it’s because they’ve never been to a restaurant before and aren’t comfortable ordering anything they don’t already know. Perhaps it’s because they want to watch the world burn and cause the maximum amount of carnage. I don’t know.

What I do know is that our menu items are specifically formulated based on cost, taste, tradition, and what our customers generally like to have. If I put in an order for a veal marsala, the chef knows exactly what to make. If I have to walk him through your whole set of instructions, that slows everything down – and it defeats the whole purpose of having a menu. That menu is there for a reason. Read it. Furthermore, it defeats the whole purpose of a restaurant. This is not a private chef service. Minor adjustments to menu items are okay, custom orders are not.

Ed’s Note: Agree here totally. We have had a guest invent their own dish, then refuse to pay for it because it didn’t taste nice. Sorry, but if you treat us like a private chef service and don’t like what you specified, that’s tough. We generally refuse off-menu requests, especially at busy times for this very reason.

If something is wrong, say something!

You’re not here to have a “just okay” meal, or even a bad or terrible meal. We couldn’t survive as a business if we routinely turned out inferior food. It’s not our objective to underwhelm you. If there’s something wrong with the food, please say something. You’re not going to offend me. I didn’t make the food. It’s not my place to take it the wrong way. If the pasta has too much sauce, we’ll fix it. If the fish has no taste, we’ll do something about it. If the steak is undercooked, we’ll have it cooked to your liking. If you endure your way through the food and eat it all, then we can’t do anything about it. We especially can’t do anything about it if you leave the restaurant and write a negative review expecting that to change anything. It doesn’t make sense for us to give you anything less than our best – and as such, it doesn’t make sense for you to expect anything less than that either.

Ed’s Note: 100%. But people prefer to scurry off in private and pour out their anger on social media.

Do not address us as “waiter”/“waitress”, or snap your fingers at us

This is basic human respect. I will openly ignore such requests for my attention, and you’ll be waiting a while for me to come back.

Ed’s Note: Snapping your fingers is a no-no. Happened to me once. I felt like barking! Using ‘waiter’ when you don’t know the person’s name is OK in my book – you have to use something. In France, it was typical to say ‘Garcon’ (French for the waiter) to get the attention of the team. Though, if the team are doing their job they will be maintaining eye contact so a gesture or ‘excuse me’ should be enough.

See also: What’s the Restaurant Industry’s Big Problem.

What unwritten rules do restaurant servers wish patrons would abide by? originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

  • Ian O’Neill

    What I really don’t like is the habit restaurants have of turning on the air conditioning (even in a Canadian winter!) evidently to ‘persuade’ patrons to leave – I have observed this many times. Restaurants and coffee houses spend lots to persuade patrons that they will enjoy their stay, then they make their establishment very uninviting. I’m inclined not to return.

    • Have to agree, though there are numerous tricks the front of house team use to encourage guests to leave (I think that could be another post). I have had the bill given to me at 11:00pm while being told they were ‘closing up’. The lights went up to full brightness and the music cut-off simultaneously. I had the same experience in bars in the UK (where it was quite usual to signify going-home-time), but it was a first in a restaurant. Anything unsubtle will discourage a guest to return.