They’re servers, not servants
You might think you’re being helpful, but the most helpful thing you can do is allow waitstaff to do their job. And as it’s their business to be accommodating, the very least you can do is not catch an attitude. It is their job to be polite, so if you’re being rude to someone who can’t be rude back, what are you really doing? Just being a bully? Human beings are thoughtful by nature! Don’t forget that just because someone’s waiting on you for the night.
When the host is busy, it can be tempting just to seat yourself and save him the trouble. This might seem like helping, but it might be making his job (and the servers’ jobs) more difficult. Hosts have a system for distributing tables that keep the restaurant running smoothly. If you see the host is busy when you arrive, wait a minute or two before hailing someone for attention.
Stacking used plates at the table
Full disclosure: I did this all the time. I thought I was doing servers a favour, but it turns out it’s icky and inconvenient. Leave your plates as they are – your waiter has a system for clearing the table.
Pushing plates away when you’re finished
Again, I’ve been guilty of this. It seemed like a good signal for the plates to be cleared, but it actually makes them harder to reach and clutters up the table for your companions. Leave them be – a good waiter will watch and ask you if you’re done.
Ordering from another waiter
Your waiter looks swamped, so why not ask someone else for dessert or another appetiser? Because it can make things super confusing when they are trying to put together your bill. But you can politely ask another server to flag your waiter down.
Cleaning up after an accident
Oops – you knocked a glass of wine off the table and you want to minimise the trouble for the staff. While this is understandable, the last thing the staff wants is for you to pick up bits of glass. An apology is enough, then let them take care of it.
Over-chatting with the host or waiter
Of course, we want to be friendly, but if the place is packed, consider keeping the personal questions to a minimum. A genuine smile and a good tip go a long way in making someone feel appreciated.
Ordering in a language you really don’t know
Your waiter would prefer you to order your meal as it’s listed on the menu. If you’re at a fancy Italian restaurant, they can certainly help you through the pronunciation of pasta fagioli al forno . However, if you see spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, don’t ask your waiter for spaghetti e polpette (the Italian translation). This will only make your order confusing.
Not ‘bothering’ the staff
If you want some water or coffee, or your soup is cold, definitely let your server know. Better a polite request than a growing resentment and a small tip. Most servers really want to make sure your meal is wonderful, but they can’t read our minds.
‘Helping’ with a tray
When your server comes to the table with a tray full of drinks or food, it can look like quite the balancing act. While it’s tempting to want to relieve your waitress from some of the weight, please don’t! Servers are pros at balancing even the most precarious load, and if you try and ‘help’ by grabbing that bread basket or glass, you might throw the whole tray off-kilter. You can help, though, by moving your glasses, phone or other belongings out of the way when your server puts down your plate.
Splitting the bill at the end
Any server is more than happy to split a bill among a few friends. If you know you plan on dividing the expense, it’s best to let your waiter know at the beginning of the meal so they can keep track of whose dish is who’s a bit easier. Yes, the bill can be split at the end, but advance notice is always appreciated (and it can help speed up the process).