Diner’s Service Etiquette Lecture Disturbs Server

July 12, 2015

in Diner Stories

I am a server at a busy pub. It is oftentimes not unusual for a server to have 5-6 tables and a big party all at once. However near the end of the night, the hour before I got off, the pub slowed down and I was sort of on autopilot and not really paying attention to details, which is actually quite rare for me. So a party of 4 walks in; they are a pair of older couples and were actually very nice. They were very easy about their drink order and prompt with ordering food too. I went through the motions of serving them, checking up, refilling, etc. They were all smiles and telling me everything was wonderful every time I checked up on them, so I thought everything was fine.

Now this is where the problem comes in. As they were finishing their food I started to take their plates away (they were sharing appies). However in-between clearing their dishes, I would also stop at my other tables to check up on them before going back to see if they had more dishes to clear. Now one of my other tables had friends who were sitting in another section, and they asked me if they could move over there and I said sure. As they started their migration, I started cleaning up the now empty dirty table. Apparently my party of 4 did not like that. They didn’t appreciate the fact that I had cleared that table first before stopping over to take away more of the finished appy plates. However every time I checked back with them everything was fine and they were very happy with everything. So in that moment I hadn’t realized yet that there was a problem.

So they finished all of their food (and everything was cleared except their drinks), but were sitting and talking for a while. I did not want to rush or push the bill on them, so I go over multiple times to ask if everyone was still doing good, looking for a hint that they were ready for the bill. Every time they would tell me everything was fine. Now, perhaps I should have taken that as a sign to ask if they were ready for the check. However I have met problems in the past where customers didn’t like it when I asked if they were ready for the bill when they were still deep in conversation (as these 4 seemed to be). I’ve also had problems where a person in my party asks for the bill for everyone else and other people didn’t know and they had gotten mad at me for giving them the bill that their friend asked for. So now I am extra careful about not giving the bill to customers unless I can find a hint that they are ready for the bill or straight up tell me they are ready for it. These couples did neither; they were deep in conversation and told me they were fine for the moment.

Now this is where everything went south. Finally, one of the guys nods his head to me signaling that they were ready for the bill, so I head right over to the computer and start getting their bill ready. As I do so the guy comes up to me and asks, “Just a question, how long have you worked here?” I said, “For a while, sir.” Then he continues to tell me, “Okay, let me give you a little advice about serving etiquette. And don’t get me wrong, I only tell you this because my wife and my friend’s wife were both servers, so they know exactly how a table should be served. So I am just giving you some advice so that you will know too…”

First he talks about me clearing the other table first before going back around and clearing off the appy plates they finished. OK fair enough, on any usual day I would know better too; he got me there. Then he tells me about how long they waited to get their bill. I felt like that was unwarranted. I can’t read minds. Unless you tell me you are ready for the bill or signal me in some obvious way, I am not going to just drop a check on the table. And obviously, as I stated above, everyone seems to have different expectations about being given the bill, so I have learned to just take the most straightforward tactic. Communication is key though because I am not a psychic.

It doesn’t stop there. He continued to give me a 10 minute lecture about how he’s an amazing tipper and therefore he deserves better service, how he wasn’t one of those “@$$holes” (his words) who would tip me nothing, but that I should have taken the (his words again) “F@#ken plates out of his face” as soon as he was done, and that he was telling me all of this because he has daughters who work so he doesn’t want to not tip, but believes he had deserved better service. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say; all I could do was apologize. But this guy then said that he did not want my apology, but just wanted me to know so that the next time he comes in again he hopefully sees some improvement in me. Then he goes and sits back down.

My manager hears all of this and tells me when the guy walks away that she will take care of it. She takes some discounts off of the bill and then walks over and apologizes for the bad service they got. The other 3 people in the party looked really confused at first, and then the wives became very embarrassed and started saying that there was no problem and that everything was great. When they left, they had given me a big tip.

Despite getting a good tip, this experience has left me somewhat embarrassed and upset. I felt like the clearing of the plate issue was, true, my fault, but did not warrant a 10-minute verbal lashing. Not just a lashing, but also a straight up lecture. I will be the first to admit that I was distracted and not on my A-game. What he said had valid points, and usually I should and do know better. Despite it just being a serving job, I take my job seriously as it pays my bills and I genuinely do care about the service and quality of food that my patrons receive. So to be given such a stern talking to, with the man standing up and swearing at me about the things I did wrong, kind of made me feel like I was such a horrible person who was horrible at my job and clearly never knew how bad I was at my job. It was both embarrassing and awful, but also escalated and somewhat uncalled for. I don’t know, what are other people’s thoughts on this?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth July 13, 2015 at 9:39 am

The way he treated you was awful. There was no reason to go into you like that. If they had concerns, they should have told you earlier and/or your manager. It seems like people who say they're 'not like the @ssholes" really are the @assholes! Glad the rest of the party seemed embarrassed 🙂

That being said, maybe consider saying when you start clearing dinner dishes "No rush, but just let me know when you're ready for the check"? That way the onus is totally on the customer and you don't have to try and 'read' the table and it's also no like you're asking them if they want the check that minute.

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RedHead0186 July 13, 2015 at 2:05 pm

The fact that he pointed out that he was a good tipper and deserved better service makes no sense. How should you know that he's a good tipper and deserves better service (until he tips you, which is at the end of the meal). Not to mention the whole point of tipping isn't to get better service by tipping more, but to reward for good service given to you. And yes, I know that people do that all the time, but it bugs me that people flash money around to get faster/better service, etc. What he did was inexcusable.

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Sarah July 31, 2015 at 12:13 pm

With regard to clearing the plates, you would likely have been screwed either way. If you had taken their plates first, he would probably have bitched about you leaving a dirty table for them to have to look at. Of course, when you clean the dirty table first, he gets pissed that you didn't clear their used plates away. When I'm out to eat with family or friends, we stack our used plates and put them to the side for our server to pick up at his/her convenience. As long as the plates are out of the way, who cares when they're picked up?

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Jeff August 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm

If everything you said is accurate…

It sounds like you actually were on your game. If you repeatedly checked on them and they said everything was fine then you did nothing wrong. This is a pub you work at. This is not fine dining. The etiquette is different. It's more relaxed. Fine-dining etiquette is not appropriate.

The man cussed at you. You should have stood up for yourself. As soon as he cussed you should have dismissed him.

"Excuse me, sir." And walk away. Go tell your manager what happened exactly. Then it's your manager to send the old badger on his way and get them out of there.

If you don't think your manager would back you then you should still stand up for yourself even though it's trickier.

"And my dining etiquette is that I don't swear at my waiter." And walk away.

You didn't do anything wrong. You feel guilty because you were on auto pilot but the truth is everyone at the table was happy with yourself except Mr. I'mHereToComplain.

The End.

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lilmeh August 27, 2015 at 1:05 am

The customer had a bad day. You had a bad day. Deal with it, tomorrow is another day. End of story.

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Gabe September 21, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I'm so sure you handle every situation with a grain of salt…

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Chris September 9, 2015 at 7:55 pm

Well I think the customer can wait a few minutes he wasn't the only one at the restaurant, he should have kept his mouth shut and stayed at his table.

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Jack September 17, 2015 at 5:33 pm

So we have a tired very sensitive waiter and a grouchy old man, that's not a match made in heaven. However the customer is always right, even when he's wrong. You should have smiled and said thank you sir and walked away. If the incident you described is the worst you'll ever face, consider yourself lucky.

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Bjorn November 25, 2015 at 4:10 am

The customer is not always right. That phrase is one of the worst and most flawed ever created. No one deserves to be verbally abused. Especially in their workplace.

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Dawn November 9, 2015 at 4:47 pm

That customer needs to shut up he didn't like the service then don't go to that restaurant don't chew the server out for doing their job don't be a prick

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Amber May 6, 2016 at 5:16 pm

He was rude no doubt about that, but since when do customers need to ask to receive the bill? The typical scenario is the servers takes away the plates and asks if there was anything the table would like to order, they say no so the server says they'll be back with the bill, comes by leaves the bill and says no rush.

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Margie December 6, 2016 at 12:29 am

Some customers get real cranky when they don't specifically say "we would like our bill" and they get their bill. Its such a catch 22. People should just be direct with what they want or don't want. It's not charades.

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