11 Things I Never Do When Eating At A Restaurant After Working In The Service Industry 9 Years

Based on my personal experience and customer-induced headaches.

Woman holding up a long receipt. Right: A restaurant full of plants and people in LA.
Georgia Contributing Writer

Maeve Browne holding up a long receipt. Right: Restaurant in LA.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

I landed my first restaurant job at the tender age of 15, and have spent nine long years learning the ins and outs of the service industry.

While I've spent most of my career in the front of the house, I've worked nearly every position from head server to kitchen manager to bartender.

You learn a lot of valuable life lessons being raised by the service industry, like how to deal with adult temper tantrums, how to barter for free things, and how to survive a shift fueled solely by pimento-stuffed olives and Fernet-Branca.

But maybe the most practical knowledge is bar etiquette, and how to conduct yourself off the clock in a restaurant setting so that you're considerate of your fellow industry workers.

Here are 11 things I never do at restaurants based on my personal experience and customer-induced headaches.

Sitting at a dirty table

couple walking full restaurant with plants on the celling

A couple entering a restaurant.

Syed Ahmad | Unsplash

Unless there is a sign telling you to seat yourself, I always wait for a host. Sitting down at a random table, especially a dirty one that hasn't been bussed yet, is not only confusing, but it can also disrupt the flow of service.

Server sections, wait lists, and party size are all important factors in deciding where to seat you. Bypassing the host and seating yourself is not only inconvenient to the staff, it's also rude.

Clap when someone breaks something

man and woman sitting on chair in front of table

Coffee shop.

shen liu | Unsplash

I don't know where this tradition was born, but I hate it. Sarcastically clapping when a server or bartender breaks something warrants an instant eye roll.

It draws unnecessary attention to the slip-up, and can be embarrassing. Even if you do this with lighthearted intentions, I guarantee you're just being annoying.

Standing in front of the bar's service well

\u200bBar full of wine glasses.

Bar full of wine glasses.

Adrien Olichon | Unsplash

The service well is the portion of the bar dedicated to making drinks for tables on the floor rather than serving walk-up patrons. You can usually identify a service well because the bartender will be making orders printed on tickets and servers will be coming and going running drinks. There are no seat there, a bunch of drinks and employees near the area, usually a computer close by,

Blocking the service well by standing in front of it is inconvenient to staff trying to work around you. If you see the bartender in this section making several drinks before taking your order, they aren't ignoring you, they're building rounds for all the other customers seated at tables.

Rudely flagging a server

bartender standing beside table

Bartenders serving in a bar.

Taylor Davidson | Unsplash

There are several ways to get your server's attention, my favorite being a polite wave or just by making eye contact.

Whistling, yelling, or snapping are, in my opinion, all unacceptable ways to get your servers' attention. It's demeaning and annoying, and as someone working in the industry, I will probably just ignore you until you address me with manners.

If you're wondering how to request service nicely, you can wave down your server when they are looking at you, or try to make the aforementioned eye contact with them until they acknowledge you.

Talking on the phone while ordering

Business guy sitting at a cafe

Man talking on the phone.

Markus Petritz | Unsplash

Talking on the phone while you try and tell your server your order is also bad manners. It can be confusing to both the person you're talking to and the worker serving you, and usually results in taking a longer time to order.

As a general rule of thumb in life, finish one conversation before starting another.

You can also just step away for a second for your phone call. No one wants to feel like they're interrupting you while they're just trying to do their job.

Ordering dishes out of season

plate of pasta with seafood on a table

Seafood Lunch.

Carissa Gan | Unsplash

The time of year can make or break a good meal, especially if you're dining at a spot with a menu that relies heavily on produce.

Ordering dishes with ingredients that are in season will usually result in a fresher meal that's more satisfying and sustainable. Don't be upset if your summer squash ravioli that you ordered in the dead of January isn't up to par.

Asking for items not on the menu

coffee shop with a line of people waiting for their order

Busy café.

Nicolas J Leclercq | Unsplash

There are exceptions to this rule if the restaurant is known for unlisted specials or "secret menus." But for the most part, if it's not listed, it's because they don't sell that.

I currently bartend at an upscale place that specializes in Mediterranean tapas, and regularly encounter disgruntled patrons complaining we don't have chicken wings laying around in the kitchen just in case someone has a craving for them.

If you don't see your favorite dish listed on the menu, go out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you're an incredibly picky eater, look up the card ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Of course, if you're truly uncertain about what to order, your server will happily take on the task of giving you recommendations according to your taste.

Splitting up the tab in large groups

woman eating bread at a table with a group of people and wine

The hall on franklin. Tampa, FL.

Alex Haney | Unsplash

In the age of Venmo, PayPal and Cash App, there's no reason your server should have to spend 20 minutes itemizing a $400 tab, especially if you didn't warn them ahead of time you would all be paying separately.

If you do insist on doing so, consider ordering lots of share plates, then splitting the final amount evenly. This is much easier than having to huddle around a POS system trying to remember who ordered what, who swapped seat numbers and who society deems should pay for the hummus because they ate most of it.

Leaving a bad tip

Man paying with credit card at the coffee shop

Client paying at a coffee shop.

Clay Banks | Unsplash

This should go without saying but, tip your service industry workers. We all have bills to pay and 20% tips are standard these days.

While the base salary for servers and bartenders depends on your area, front-of-house members are usually underpaid by the establishment, with service prices not included in the prices on the menu, and the assumption that tips will compensate the earnings to bring them to a liveable wage. Some places even tax the servers and bartenders on their sales, and require them to tip out their support staff as well.

For example, in my city, many restaurants only pay front-of-house members $2.13 hourly, so their paycheck truly relies on tips alone.

If you weren't a fan of a certain dish, don't like the art on the walls, or are just in a bad mood, don't take it out on the staff by tipping poorly. If someone takes time to care for you, they deserve to be compensated appropriately.

Staying past close

A nice terrace at night with people enjoying their Italian pasti in Rome.

A nice terrace at night.

Sten Ritterfeld | Unsplash

Listen y'all, we want to go HOME.

Certain closing duties can't be completed until all patrons have exited the restaurant, and staying past close can mean the people taking care of you have to stay much longer than necessary waiting for you to finish the drink you've been nursing for an hour.

If it's late, be conscious of what time the kitchen closes, what time the bar does last call, and when to ask for the bill. If you aren't sure, just ask. Your server or bartender will appreciate the efforts you're making to be respectful of their time.

Leaving behind random trash

man mopping floor of coffee balzacs roaster

Server cleaning the dining room.

Zhanjiang Chen | Unsplash

This is my number one pet peeve. Bringing outside rubbish into the establishment and then leaving it on tables for others to clean up is gross and impolite. Smashing chewed-up gum on a plate means someone will have to scrape it off so it doesn't end up ruining a load of dishes.

If you bring in trash with you that needs throwing away, just ask where the nearest can is.

I once had a man leave a stack of 50 wet newspapers sitting on the bar. Not only did I have to clean it up, I never got answers as to why he was toting around 50 wet newspapers on a sunny day. Clean up after yourself.

This article has been updated since it was originally published on September 21, 2022.

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Maeve Browne
Georgia Contributing Writer
Maeve Browne is a Contributing Writer for Narcity’s USA Desk focused on food and Internet trends and is based in Savannah, Georgia.