Your waiter smiles, pours you a drink and takes your order. But what are they really thinking? We've interviewed some industry insiders to find out what servers secretly want customers to know.
1) 'We won’t respond when you click your fingers'
According to Sarah, who works in a trendy UK restaurant chain, diners who continually click their fingers to attract a waiter’s attention can become very annoying. Eye contact, with a nod of the head or raise of the hand, is the preferred signals that you’re ready for the bill. “Everyone knows it’s rude, but if you ignore them just while you are talking to another customer, they do it even more,” she says.
2) 'We might have prepared the food on your plate'
John, who worked for three years in a busy countryside restaurant, said that to take pressure off the kitchen, some of the smaller dishes were made by the waiting staff. “Everyone passed on their compliments to the chef”, he said, “but I couldn’t tell them that I had made it for them. I just smiled and said OK”. Waiter-made dishes included breadsticks and dips, bread and olives, smaller tapas-style items and some desserts.
3) 'We don’t want your two cents'
Tipping might be tricky – we even have phone apps to help us work it out – but if you’re going to give your waiter or waitress a tip, do it considerately. Sarah recalls one busy night where a colleague waited on a large table of fourteen people over the course of an entire evening. “They left her a 2p tip”, she says.
4) 'Misbehaving children scare us'
Sally, who works in an upmarket Bistro-style restaurant, says that most of the time parents keep their children under control but it can be dangerous if they run around in the restaurant. “They only really have a small space to run around in and it can be difficult because we are carrying hot plates all the time.”
5) 'We find some of your meal requests tedious'
Most establishments welcome some menu-tweaking, such as a burger without cheese, or pizza without anchovies, but waiters can get frustrated when customers take it to the extreme. “Most of the time it’s OK”, John says, “but it can be more difficult if the dish is prepared in advance. You can’t for example take out the bacon in a stew, but people can get aggressive about it”.
6) 'We can't stand dealing with drunk customers'
Buy-one-get-one-free and buy-one-get-one-half-price deals can be confusing, but impossible to understand if you’ve had one too many. This sets up a problem for you and your waiter while you both try and figure out what you want to order. Sarah remembers: “the more drunk customers get, the more confused they get and then they get angry. But it’s not our fault.”
7) 'We don’t always recommend things that we like'
Specials are often dishes the restaurant wants to shift, and the waiters have to sell them to you, the customer. So the seafood on the menu might be selling really well, but if you ask them what they recommend they will often start pointing to the “specials” board. Sally explains: “we sometimes say certain things are nice just to get rid of them.”
8) 'We’re working as fast as we can'
Getting cross because your food is taking too long to arrive? Sarah says that many customers complain about the wait, even if they have been explicitly told before ordering. “If we tell them there’s currently a 30-minute wait for food, customers can start complaining after 20 minutes and we just say, ‘Well, I did warn you’.”
9) 'We get annoyed when you send things back'
Sometimes, if a steak is overcooked or underdone it’s reasonable to complain and send it back. But if the vegetables are not prepared exactly as you would at home or if you like your steak excessively charred, waiters consider it “picky” when you send food back. Sally insists: “the food is obviously cooked properly but just not how they like it to be done.”
10) 'We just really want you to be polite'
Waiters are there to make your dining experience a comfortable and enjoyable one. But instead of clicking fingers and barking orders at your waiter or waitress, be polite. We asked our waiters for the one thing they like that they don’t tell us. “Just be polite”, Sarah simply added. Remember - they could be making your dessert.
*Names have been changed.