Secrets From Behind the Bar and in the Kitchen: The Top Pet Peeves

Being a Communications Major might have been a bad enough choice to make, but I took it one step farther, I was a Theater Performance Major with a Speech Minor. Needless to say, the job opportunities were not piling up on my doorstep when I got out of college. I had to take many assorted jobs just to get through college and afterward I continued in the service industry positions for which a Bachelor of Arts Degree prepared me so well. The song should have been “Mommas don’t let your babies grow up to be actors”, not cowboys. At least cowboys wouldn’t have to work as servers, bartenders, retails sales people, receptionists and the like.

Having spent many years in the service industry I learned many things about human nature, some are good, but most are bad and the tendency with most service staff is that they get a bit jaded over the years. You spend a lot of time with a lot of different people and you start to note that even a seemingly normal person can turn into a wanna be “lord of the manor” when they are seated in a restaurant. You get there hours early to set up and you leave hours after you close, having cleaned up and hopefully when you do leave you have more money in your pocket than you showed up with when you got there.

There is high turnover in the restaurant industry. You generally find that a server has either been at the restaurant for years and years or it is their first week and I feel I can give you a bit of insight about why this occurs, having been in the situation myself. Not wanting to make this post just a rant about my own, biased view of restaurant life, I took a quick survey of a lot of my service industry friends; IE. bartenders, servers, chefs, busboys, hostesses, etc., and asked them what their biggest pet peeves were. Here is a list of their responses as well as a few of my own observations.

Under Tipping

When I say under-tip I mean under 15% of the total tab, since that is the general nationwide average. This happens a lot; more than you might think and there are multiple reasons that this happens.

First let me explain the average server wage. At all the restaurants and bars in which I worked in California, we were paid minimum wage, plus tips. The tips were then added into our reported taxable income on our paycheck, so we would get a smaller paycheck than we would just working for minimum wage, but we got to walk away each night with cash tips. This isn’t the case in all states. I am just going to quote a little article on Labor Laws for Restaurants from at this point to tell you have the federal minimum wage laws work:

“Federal Minimum Wage

  • The federal minimum wage for restaurant servers and other employees who receive tips is $2.13 as of 2011. To qualify for the reduced minimum, servers must receive at least $30 in tips monthly. Servers must average $5.12 per hour in tips for every hour they work to bring them up to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. If the server does not average the federal minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.

  • Seven states do no allow businesses to pay servers less than the state minimum wage. Employers in Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington must pay servers the state minimum wage for other occupations. In Minnesota, small employers — those with annual receipts that are less than $625,000 — can pay servers $5.25 per hour. Businesses in Montana with annual sales of less than $110,000 can pay servers $4 per hour and in Nevada, businesses that provide health benefits can pay servers $7.25 per hour.

Read more: The Labor Law for Restaurant Servers & the Minimum Wage |

So you see in a lot of states the server will eventually get paid the minimum wage, but that would include their tips. Now I want you to imaging working a job for $2.13 an hour and having someone under tip on their tab.

Yes, if you receive bad service you can leave less than 15% and if the service is really awful you can leave no tip at all, but I am not speaking of bad service. I am speaking about walking in and being greeted and seated promptly, all drinks and foods are prepared to your liking and delivered to you in reasonable time, the server checks on you regularly and brings you anything you might request, within reason, and you are delivered your check and payment is taken without incident. Average service should equal and average tip. When a server receives less than that average, after having delivered at least average service, it is disappointing to say the least and maddening at the worst of times. So the first reason that some people under-tip is because they think the tip is a bonus of some sort, whereas, most of the time, it only evens out the salary to minimum wage.

Coupons are usually a culprit when it comes to under-tipping. So you purchased a Group-on deal for half off at your local steak house and you go and receive average to above average service, you should tip on the ORIGINAL amount of the bill, without the coupon. The tip is not included in the coupon. The server won’t be getting a cut of the profits from the owner of the restaurant and will only end up losing in the long run with these coupons. They are still performing their jobs in full and then only receiving half of what they would originally. So be a pal and tip on the regular amount. You will still be saving money on the dinner.

Not Being Ready To Order, But Claiming That You Are

This one is self-explanatory. If your server asks if you are ready to order and you say yes, then you should be ready to order. Don’t say yes and then spend the next ten minutes going back and forth over your options with the person you are with. If you have a question, or want a suggestion, ask, but then if you still aren’t ready, ask your server for a few minutes. They will be back and will appreciate you not making them wait for you to decide when they could be spending that time taking other orders or refilling drinks for other tables.

This is especially annoying if it is really busy and the server has a full section. As a bartender, it was incredibly frustrating to ask someone what they would like to drink and then have to wait for them to decide while noticing other patrons waiting, some patiently and some not, for me to get to them. Just ask for a minute to decide and then when you are ready get your servers attention or wait patiently for them to return.

Being Treated Like A “Dog”

The “dog” is in quotation marks because I am quoting several of my friends directly. What I said earlier about some normal person suddenly becoming the “lord of the manor” does happen. It is the strangest thing to have someone who looks like they could be sitting next to you on the bus treating you as though you are some sort of slave or animal because you are serving them their food and drinks. I get that you are paying for the service, but you should still have the common decency to treat the person who is serving you with respect. I’ve seen this and have had this happen on multiple occasions.

Snapping your fingers or whistling at someone is a HUGE NO-NO! Being dismissive, or ignoring questions that will help you get better service is just plain rude. Get your servers name and when you need something make eye contact with them or maybe call their name as they are walking past, just don’t shout. It will get you prompt attention.

I once had a man ask for cream for his coffee during a breakfast rush. We were slammed busy and had no creamer pots left and so I grabbed a ceramic ramekin and filled it with creamer so he wouldn’t have to wait for the pots to be cleaned and cooled. I placed the ramekin on a clean side-plate with a napkin beneath it to clean up any drips. When I placed the plate on the table he turned to me and said, “No, not this. I will not use this. I don’t want your filthy hands touching my cream.” I was completely shocked! First off, I am an über-handwasher. I am constantly washing my hands for my own well-being as well as the well-being of those I am serving. Secondly, he didn’t have a problem with my filthy hands touching his coffee cup or his silverware so I was confused as to why the cream that I did not touch with my filthy hands would be the problem.

Another woman insisted I remake the pot of coffee three times because it wasn’t hot enough. I get that you may want a fresh pot of coffee and I am more than willing to make that happen, but after the second time I have remade it and it still isn’t hot enough for you, that is not bad service. I finally took the coffee to the kitchen and had them heat it in the microwave until it was blasting hot and she was finally satisfied, but if I had done that with the first cup she would have said, “This isn’t fresh, it is just reheated.”

Don’t be that guy. Your server is just a human being, exactly like you. They are not your indentured servants who should scrape and bow when you enter. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Allowing Your Children to Run Amok

Most restaurants are family friendly. Some restaurants are only family friendly till a certain hour due to liquor laws in the state. Some restaurants are for kids and some are for adults, but most will let you bring as many children as you like.

If you are at Chuck-E-Cheese’s, then by all means “let your kid be a kid”, to quote their motto. Let them eat their pizza and blow bubbles in their soda, play their loud video games and run around till they pass out in a sugar coma and must be carried to the car to sleep it off. I am a huge fan of kids having fun and enjoying themselves, but when you go to a nicer restaurant that is not explicitly “for kids” don’t just let them get out of their seats and run, screaming through the restaurant. This is a safety hazard as well as bad form. When a server or busser is carrying a tray or bus-tub full of dishes, sometimes with hot drinks, soups and sauces filling those dishes, the last thing they need is for someone under their line of vision darting in front of them or into them. Finding children, unsupervised, playing with wet paper towels and unspooling the toilet paper in the restroom is not funny to most servers or other restaurant staff. We are not a daycare service or a gymboree, so please control your children.

While on the topic of children at non-kid restaurants, if you have somehow managed to keep them at the table and not out playing hide and go seek under other tables, please don’t let them throw their food around and pour their drinks directly onto the table or spit their milk at anyone. You think I am kidding, but I have seen parents let their kids have food fights at the table, while they sit and have a good laugh at all the fun. Cleaning pizza sauce or ketchup off the wall next to your table is not fun times for the server or busser, nor do we find it endearing when you have left us a pile of crushed Cheerios on the floor. I am not saying clean up your own mess, but please don’t allow your children to make things purposefully messy and then just leave like it never happened.

Also, other patrons at the establishment are probably not the happiest of people when your kid goes careening by them doing his best impression of an air-horn. Think I am just making that up? Well, one of my favorite bloggers, Sweetmother recently wrote a post with this little tidbit in there from a patron’s perspective called How To Stop Your Child From Being Murdered By Me. Go check out her post and then tell me that it is all in my head.

Entering The Service Staff Areas

Maybe your server disappeared and you need the tab. You have tried to get attention from another server or busser to assist you, but to no avail and there is no hostess at the front of the restaurant. I can see getting out of our seat and walking to the bar or service area to find someone who can help you, if that is the case. However, getting up and walking into the kitchen to complain or compliment the Chef, or entering any area of the restaurant like the drink service areas and helping yourself to some more coffee or just to “check it out” are on the list of don’ts.

I was bartending during a dinner service one night and a man got out of his seat and walked directly past me, as I was asking if I could help him, into the kitchen to talk to the Chef. He had a few notes to give him on his steak and couldn’t wait for the Chef to come to his table.

First off, if you are not a professional Chef with culinary training, I wouldn’t suggest giving any Chef notes on how he prepares his food. Secondly, during a dinner service the kitchen and service areas are usually packed with people doing their jobs and can be hazardous to anyone. You could be run into with a hot cup of coffee, or you could slip because you aren’t wearing the right type of shoes. You should NEVER enter the kitchen unless you are personally invited to and that will never be during a rush due to the high traffic flow.

If you need something ask your sever. If you would like to speak to the Chef, ask and if he or she is available, they will come to you. If you disliked what you were eating, speak up and ask for something else. Most restaurants are very accommodating when you are unsatisfied with any part of the service. Which brings me to my next pet peeve.

Complaints Made After Anything Can Be Done To Fix The Problem

If you are unhappy with your service you should complain. I don’t mean yell at your server or throw a loud tantrum in front of the entire restaurant, or in one case throw food at the manager, which happened at the last restaurant in which I worked. I mean tell your server if you are unhappy with any part of the service, politely. If the server is the problem, ask to speak with the manager right away. Don’t wait until you are leaving in a huff. If you speak to the Management usually something can be done to solve the problem.

You will know with in the first few bites of a dish if you will enjoy what you have been served, so speak up. When you finish eating something and then complain it brings up red flags for the entire staff. If you wait until after your meal is finished we think, 1. you are trying to get out of paying for something that you had no problem eating., or 2. you are trying to get a free desert or a gift certificate of some sort.

Most servers will deliver your cocktail, or appetizer or entrée and let you have a minute or two to try your food or drink before checking on you and asking how everything is. Don’t be afraid to say that you aren’t satisfied. I have had people tell me they didn’t want to complain because they were worried that someone would spit in their food. If you are worried about that you probably shouldn’t be eating there in the first place. As long as you are respectful and aren’t rude you shouldn’t have a problem getting something fixed.

I had a gentleman at my bar once who had his entire dinner and then wanted desert. After eating three-quarters of his desert, with no mention of any problem when questioned if everything was alright a few bites in, mind you, he all of a sudden said that the cake was dry and he didn’t really like it. I was a bit perturbed that he hadn’t mentioned that when I’d asked him, I then offered to have it removed from his bill to which I got no reply. Taking the no reply as a no I ate almost the whole thing and will just pay for it, I did not remove the item from his tab. He got his bill and paid his tab, tipped well, finished his drink and headed for the door, where he was stopped by the Manager, to whom I’d mentioned the dry comment to already. My Manager asked him if everything was satisfactory and the man told him no. Then he told him that not only had he told me that he didn’t like the desert, he was still charged for it and wasn’t offered any replacement or removal. My Manager had no choice but to void the transaction and remove the desert charge and then re-run the credit card. This time the gentleman put no tip on the slip. I was extremely upset. I had done everything in my power as a server to make him happy, but ended up getting the shaft. Luckily my Manager and I had a good relationship and he didn’t think that I gave bad service, but still another person could have gotten a reprimand or write-up due to the lies of the customer. Not cool.

Separate Checks

Okay, this is the last one. If you are going to need separate checks for your party make sure that your server knows ahead of time and please make it easy for your them to understand who is on what check. Sit next to the people on your check and don’t get up and switch seats over and over. Don’t come in with a party of ten and ask for eight separate checks for a bunch of different groups then get up and play musical chairs. Also don’t come in with a huge party and wait until the end to ask for separate checks. That gets very confusing, really quick and can lead to you getting the wrong items on your bill.

Most restaurants have computer systems now that can split off checks easily if you know ahead of time or can split the bill into equal shares in almost any fraction. Be clear from the get go on who and what you are paying for and if you are all tipping individually or if someone is doing that for the group. Communication is key here so be specific.

Well, I hope I haven’t sounded like a whiny little b*%$h, bring up these complaints, but I feel it is my civic duty to remind patrons that just because it is someones job to help you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be respectful and kind when you can. You can catch more flies, so to speak. My favorite clients, quite often became my friends and were usually the most respectful people, but not complete doormats. If it helps you feel any better to have read my rant, my last Chef’s pet peeve was ” Having to hear the wait staff complain about all the s*%t they don’t like.”, so it just goes to show that all the way up the ladder we all have something to complain about. 😀 And that brings me to my number one piece of advice for patrons and servers alike.

This is good advice for everyone.

What is your biggest pet peeve? Do you work in a service industry? Perhaps you are a Stylist or Retail Sales Associate? Have any crazy stories? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line and let me know.


5 thoughts on “Secrets From Behind the Bar and in the Kitchen: The Top Pet Peeves

  1. Excellent post. I bartended and waitressed for 7 years before I opened my own place. I’m a big stickler now for customer/employee relations because I lived it first hand and have lots of bad memories of customers treating me poorly (one guy drove his truck through my brand new car because I shut him off – fortunately I was not in it at the time) – I know that my staff is doing their best at all times to make the customer happy (if not, they no longer work for me) – so my customers here are well aware that I will always take my employee’s side when all the proper steps are taken to ensure customer satisfaction was reached beyond expectation. We still have our typical non-tippers, miserable in general people, and parents who let their kids run around (a bar, mind you) like jack-asses, I guess it’s just the down side of working in a tip oriented industry, and it sucks. All we can do is advocate service staff appreciation and educate people about restaurant etiquette – which you covered really well in this post!!

    • I am glad you think so, I was actually hoping to get your thoughts on this as a bar owner. The first restaurant I worked for was a chain and although I did have the opportunity to meet and speak with the owner on several occasions we had a high managerial staff turnover and by the time I left about a year later I had had four different General Managers. The other restaurants I worked at were privately owned and though I thoroughly enjoyed my co-workers I couldn’t say that the owners were always aware of the plight of their employees. I bet you would be great to work for. 😀

      • I too worked corporate for a minute – it seemed like any time there was a customer complaint, albeit something you couldn’t control (aka the booths were too small for overweight customers) – I got in trouble. Plus a lot of customers would wait until they went home to call or email and complain, which is complete bull.
        On the other hand I worked for small businesses who’s owners were more concerned with getting drunk or climbing social ladders than running a great business. The bad taught me so much more than the good, which is sad to say, and I never really had a positive mentor, just blatant examples of the kind of boss I didn’t want to be.
        I’m pleased to say my turnover is very little – I have employees who have been here since day one, and all my others have been here for a year at least, which is cool because I’ve got to build long term trusting relationships with my staff. Yes, we are all “friends” – but what it all boils down to is making money – and they know if they aren’t doing their job correctly, neither of us do that, and I won’t let friendship get in the way of running a successful business, so sometimes it gets a little lonely.
        You are always more than welcome to come work for me if you find yourself here for some bizarre reason! Your cocktail expertise would be much appreciated!

  2. Enjoyed your post, Christen. One thing for sure, it makes me rethink ever wanting to be a bartender. 🙂
    I have never been a waitress or bartender, but I have always been respectful of those who have waited on me. To me, they are a SERVICE professional, which means they are doing me a service, and that’s a high calling , if you ask me. It takes a lot of patience to work with the public, and when I get a server who is good at what they do, I am always delighted. I NEVER tip less than 15% because EVEN IF the service is bad, I think that person is probably dealing with a heck of a lot more than I am aware of and I don’t want to be a reason that person might go home in a bad mood.

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