5 do’s and don’ts of restaurant etiquette

An inward look at customer etiquette from a server’s perspective

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Photo by Stephanie Kuski

Serving wages differ from state to state: The Department of Labor states Wisconsin’s minimum wage for tipped employees as $2.33/hour– in fewer words, tip your server!

There exists a set of stingy rules for servers, bartenders and hosts to follow at their various places of restaurant employment. In much the same way, there should be some guidelines on how to be a decent customer.

The past couple years that I’ve worked in the restaurant business have taught me many valuable lessons, but the greatest skill I have learned is how to return the favor when I am the one sitting at the table being waited on.

The following list are the dos and don’ts of dining from yours truly, a server who loves her job but has had enough of bad customer etiquette.


  1. DO: Wait patiently for your server once you have been seated.

DON’T: Wave for my attention as if you’re drowning. Flailing, clapping, waving and snapping are explicitly prohibited. Interrupting me while I’m talking to other guests to get your drink order is also a big no-no.

This happens way more often than you would think. Customers will sit down and expect to be helped immediately. I am not a wizard. If I were a wizard, I would not be in this business. Sit down, relax. I will be with you shortly.


  1. DO: Ask questions about the menu, soup or drink specials.

DON’T: Make me repeat the specials five times because you were not listening when the person sitting next to you just asked the same question. Believe me, the look of disappointment on my face will be blindingly obvious.

I really start to simmer when multiple people at the same table ask me what the soup of the day is, especially when it’s listed as the first item on the first page of the menu. If you didn’t take notice, then no soup for you.


  1. DO: Tell me if there’s anything I can get you with your meal.

DON’T: Demand six different condiments before I can even set your plate down and expect me to get everything back to you before you cut into your steak.

Again, I am not a wizard. You bet I’m walking back to the kitchen mulling over a long list of items to pick up but please don’t snap at me because I forgot the horseradish.


  1. DO: Tip 20 percent.

DON’T: Tip less than 15 percent.

To those who have not had the pleasure of working in the restaurant business, in Wisconsin the minimum wage for a server is $2.33 per hour minus taxes, withholdings and social security. Which means that my two week, sixty hour paycheck is usually less than a dollar. Translation: Tip your server. My paycheck is based on your gratuity and there’s nothing worse than getting stiffed after a night of waiting hand and foot on people who just don’t know how to tip.


  1. DO: Be respectful to the wait staff.

DON’T: Treat your server as if he or she is a servant.

It’s hard enough to swallow your pride and do what needs to be done with a smile on your face. I’ve waited on people who are outwardly racist, homophobic or a downright bigot and have had to smile, laugh even, and keep my mouth shut. No one wants to feel harassed at work. Be kind, always.

IN CONCLUSION: A restaurant is a place where people can gather around a table with good food and even better company. Keep the mood light but be contentious to treat wait staff with respect and good-humored conversation.