13 Things You Should Absolutely Never Say to Your Server

Things you should never say to a server

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Waitress Serving Orders To Customers In 1950s Styled Diner

Eating Out Etiquette

The brief social interaction between you and your restaurant server is a necessary part of eating out. But after waiting tables for years, service industry folks tend to hear the same things over and over again from customers, and many of them are just plain rude. Next time you go out to eat, whether it's at a fancy steakhouse or a cozy little diner, don't say any of these disrespectful, offensive, or simply awkward things to your server.

Worried cafe owner looking away during covid-19 pandemic

1. Pet Names

Never, ever call your server a pet name. No matter what you think it means or how you really mean it, it will always be disturbing and gross to the stranger you're addressing. That includes words like sweetie, honey, sugar, and baby. (Excuse us while we vomit a little into our mouths.)

Man at a restaurant asking a question to the waitress about the menu

2. "What's Good Here?"

You can ask about the menu, of course, but this is way too open ended. You chose this restaurant, so something about it must have seemed appealing to you. Is it a Middle Eastern restaurant? You can bet the falafel is probably good without asking. If you want a server's opinion, narrow things down a bit more, like "Is the beef or chicken shawarma more popular?" or "What's your favorite sandwich on the menu?"

Check Please!
Ugur Karakoc/istockphoto

3. Whistle for Attention

Whistling to grab attention is reserved for dogs and crowded stadiums. Don't do it in a restaurant — and the same goes for snapping your fingers, too. If you need your server, just make eye contact and maybe give a little head nod.

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Not satisfied with where you are?

4. "You Don't Close for Another 10 Minutes, Right?"

If you're saying this to a restaurant employee, that means you know the restaurant is about to close, but you want to be seated anyway. Don't be that jerk. The kitchen is already being cleaned and shut down for the day, the dining room is probably clean, and some employees might have already been sent home. Just go somewhere else that's open later.

Related: Rude Awakenings: Etiquette Rules No One Follows Anymore

Working in a diner

5. Complain About Prices

Your server does not set the prices, and that's especially true if you're at a chain restaurant. So when you get angry and complain about prices to your server, you're barking up the wrong tree and making their day worse. The best they will do is get a manager you can speak with, and it's likely they don't have anything to do with the prices either. 

Cropped image of woman waitress in apron hold out bill folder to cafe visitor of cafe or restaurant.

6. "Can You Split This Bill 6 Ways?"

People split bills all the time, and it's usually OK if it's just two or three ways. But if you want your bill split, it's best to let your server know before they deliver your bill — and even before you order. If your check is already delivered and you ask to split it 1,000 ways, you just made your server's job a lot more frustrating. 

Close up African American waiter hands with notebook, taking customer order

7. Ask for Too Many Substitutions

You want cheddar instead of Swiss on your burger, or a salad instead of fries? No problem. You want your chicken alfredo made with pesto sauce, rice, shrimp, and add bell peppers? No way, you're just trying to create a whole new dish.

An Asian male restaurant owner is holding a tablet at a table, introducing the popular dishes of the restaurant to the customers. He warmly recommends dishes based on their preferences and assists them in placing their orders.

8. Make Your Kid Order Themselves

It's possible that your 4-year-old is an old pro at ordering, but it's more likely that they're going to waste tons of your server's time. Sure, your kid or grandkid is cute and all, but please just tell your server what they'll have for them. 

Related: Drive-Thru Etiquette: Should Kids Be Allowed to Order For Themselves?

Couple in cafe talking to waiter

9. "Can You Put Our Order in First?"

If you got seated the same time as a party of 10, your server might be kind enough to make sure your order gets in before theirs. But you shouldn't expect any special treatment just because you're impatient or in a hurry. This is a first come, first served business, and you should wait your turn. If you don't have time for that, get takeout instead.

Restaurant Credit Card Bill

10. Threaten To Tip Less

Some people really love the power trip that comes with tipping culture. They'll hold it over their server's head, and go so far as to threaten to tip less if things don't come out fast enough, or the coffee isn't refilled immediately. Some people even place dollar bills on the table and instruct their server that they'll remove one every time they screw up (WTF!). Your server is not a servant, so don't treat them like one.

Desperate Fast-Food Worker Feeling Stressed and Overwhelmed

11. "I Know the Owner"

No, you don't. And even if you did, you're not getting any special treatment unless they're right here telling the server to comp you. You deserve the eye roll you'll get from this line.

Caucasian waiter receiving order serving from customer in restaurant. Attractive server service man working, taking note, writing order from consumer with pen at table in dining room with happiness.

12. Ask Very Obvious Questions

Questions are fine, but many diners ask obvious things that they should already know the answer to. "Do you have napkins?" Of course they do, it's a restaurant — you can just ask for more instead. But even worse is when someone asks questions that are answered easily if they had just glanced at their menu, like if fries come with the burger, or what's on the chicken sandwich.

Cafe owner standing at the counter

13. "Can I Have Your Number?"

Absolutely do not try and pick up your server. They are there to perform a service, and their pay literally depends on being pleasant to you. That is a power dynamic that you should not mistake for interest, and should not take advantage of. You're a creep if you do, so don't be surprised if you get a fake number.