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modern ms manners: waitress etiquette

When I was younger, I thought the most glamorous job in the world was to be Adriana Xenides from Wheel of Fortune. I thought the second most glamorous job was to be a waitress. This was mostly because going out for a meal was a treat when I was little; an occasion which required me to be on my best behaviour and to employ my best manners. Not to mention that to my seven year old self, a restaurant seemed to be the most wonderful place in the world. It was a Nirvana containing a seemingly endless supply of milkshakes, fairybread and raspberry spider drinks. I concluded that waitresses were the gatekeepers of strawberry milkshakes and therefore were right up there with other powerbrokers such as Santa and the unknown bigwigs who determined when it was bed time.

Now having worked in the industry, I realise that my views as to what it is to be a waitress were somewhat misguided. Whilst there are some customers who abide by my best behaviour rule, others somehow enter a restaurant and seemingly take off their commonsense and manners along with their jacket when they walk in the door. That being said, I have also experienced the other side of the coin, where I have had a waitress so sullen that for a moment I had to remember whether I mistakenly ordered the disdain salad with a side of angst.

I have written about the etiquette of eating in public previously, however I do feel like particular focus must be given to the interaction between diners and waitresses.


Someone once said: ‘You are never fully dressed without a smile.’ Therefore unless you are intending to dine half dressed, give your waitress a smile when you speak with them. Do not unduly hate your waitress – she is probably doing her best to earn minimum wage whilst supporting herself through university. Similarly, waitresses, do not hate your customers without reason. Remember, they are the reason why you are employed and being pleasant in your interactions with them is not that hard will only benefit everyone.

Avoid the Power Trip:

There is something about working in the service industry that makes certain diners feel like they can suddenly treat others horribly. Remember, just because you are paying them, waitresses are not your slaves (in fact, the very fact that they do get paid kind of nullifies any sort of slavery analogy). There is nothing wrong with expecting to get good value for the money that you are paying, however this does not change the fact that you are dealing with another human being. Therefore clicking, whistling or just generally carrying on like you are on fire might not be the most polite way of getting your waitress’ attention.

Similarly waitresses; being stroppy with customers is never okay. Remember that diners are coming to your restaurant (probably for something a bit special) so acting as if your cat died when they order is not a good look.

Placing an Order:

If you have significant dietary concerns such as allergies or intolerances, then it is appropriate to tell your waitress so she can help you chose an appropriate option. An even better approach is to contact the venue beforehand and advise so that the chef can be briefed and a suitable option can be arranged for you. Engaging in spontaneous vegetarianism where you still want the beef option will not win you any favours with the staff on the night. Similarly, consider whether you really need to order the Chicken Caesar Salad without bacon, croutons, dressing, and chicken or whether you could just say ‘I am hating on food this week so I’ll just have some lettuce’.

By the same token, when I am ordering a simple coffee as a diner and ask for it to be with soy milk, I do not want any complaints. Be grateful I am not ordering a tall double shot white chocolate mocha with skim.

Finishing Up:

Waitresses, it is important to clear your tables for your guests. Wait until guests are completely finished, and then quickly and quietly clear the plates away. Do not stand there hovering waiting for your guests to finish.

Diners, there appears to be some confusion as what to do with your dirty napkin. Just fold it aside and leave it for your waitress. Any sort of origami in your drink cup will only be thrown away. Also, do not mistakenly think that your waitress will readily want your chewed up food scraps, even if you have wrapped them up like a present in your napkin. This is a present the same way your cat brings you dead birds as a present. Any food that did not make it to your mouth should remain on your plate. There should be no “in between stages” present.

By following the above guidelines, I think we can make dining a pleasant experience for all. Milkshakes for everyone!

(Image credit)

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