We all like going out to dinner, but restaurants are hectic places. And it’s easy to be unintentionally rude to your server, which basically guarantees you won’t get the best service. Servers, like flight attendants, will be a lot happier if you avoid asking rude questions.
Treating your server well is a great way to be polite, of course. But it also ensures that your glass won’t go empty for long. It means you’ll get the lowdown on the best specials on the menu. And it’s essential if you want to become a restaurant regular. Here are some things you should never ask your server, no matter how long you waited for your table.
1. Can we move to a different table?
When they come in for a shift, servers are assigned a section of the restaurant. They also work hard to earn tips from the tables they cover. So if you ask halfway through your meal to move to a different table, you might also switch servers — and cause your first waiter or waitress to lose out on a tip they deserve. Plus, switching tables even at the beginning of a meal can create workflow issues for the restaurant’s staff. Just sit where the host puts you.
2. Can you split the check 10 ways?
Sure, a server can technically divide up the appetizers, drinks, and meals each person ordered after the fact. But a much more polite way to ask to divide the check? Let your server know right when you start ordering how you want the checks divided. That way, he or she has the chance to make a note of what each person is ordering. Another easy solution? Get one check, but remember to bring cash.
3. Where are my pickles?!
Whatever it is that seems to be missing from your plate, there’s a nicer way to ask your server about it. If something is wrong with your order or missing from the plate, chances are good that somebody in the kitchen simply forgot. (Your server isn’t even at fault.) Ask your waiter or waitress nicely, and they’ll likely have it fixed in no time.
4. Can we make more room?
When you make a reservation, ensure that you’ve counted everybody. And if more friends want to join you, call the restaurant as soon as you can to see whether it can accommodate a larger party. Don’t simply show up for your reservation, and ask your server to scramble to make more space. Restaurants often don’t have space (or seats) or spare. Try to be considerate.
5. Is the salmon good?
As a rule, restaurants try not to serve food that doesn’t taste good. And servers don’t want to say something negative about the food, even the dishes they personally don’t like. So asking your server whether a specific dish is good is a pretty dumb question. Your waiter or waitress will always answer yes — even if they think something else on the menu tastes a lot better.
6. How spicy is the jerk chicken?
Different people have different levels of tolerance for spicy and hot foods. If you’re on the fence about whether you’d enjoy a meal on the restaurant’s menu, perhaps you should err on the side of caution and choose something a little milder. Your server probably has no good way of quantifying how spicy a meal is or telling you whether it would be too spicy for you. So don’t ask them to try.
7. Can you put our order in first, or can you rush our food?
Good for you: You’ve noticed you aren’t the only table your server has on their proverbial plate. But it’s rude to ask your server to prioritize your order over the orders of the many other patrons in the restaurant. Sure, you might have a busy day planned. But if you were in that big of a rush, you should probably have headed to a fast food or fast casual restaurant, not a sit-down restaurant.
8. Is my food ready yet?
When your food is ready, your server will bring it to the table. No matter how hungry you are or how long the wait seems, that’s just the way it works. Don’t flag down your server to ask whether your food is ready. That won’t speed things up. And it’s basically guaranteed to annoy your server, who probably has plenty of other things to do.
9. How long is this going to take?
Whether you’re referring to the wait for your appetizer or the amount of time it will take for the kitchen to prepare your meal, your server probably can’t answer this question with any accuracy. Especially during busy lunch or dinner hours, the kitchen can get backed up, or multiple demanding customers can slow things down. Try to be patient, and realize not everything happens on your rushed timeline.
10. Did they have to kill the cow?
Even if it seems like the kitchen is taking a really long time to prepare your meal, don’t complain (or make lame jokes) to your server. Whether it’s a burger or a steak, meat takes time to cook. You can order your meat rare, well-done, or somewhere in between. But in any case, the kitchen needs time to prepare it. And no, they didn’t start by slaughtering the cow.
11. What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
Restaurants with large menus might overwhelm you with numerous options. But asking your server to recommend something can put them on the spot. They don’t know whether you prefer chicken or steak. And they have no idea whether you love veggies or can’t stand to see anything green on your plate. You can always ask a server about how two dishes compare or what ingredients one includes. But try to narrow your options down before quizzing your server.
12. What’s the most popular meal on the menu?
If you don’t know what to order, there has to be a better way to figure it out than to quiz your server on the most popular dishes on the menu. Even at restaurants that specialize in a fairly specific cuisine, the menu probably offers an impressive variety of options. Try to think for yourself when you decide what sounds good — and don’t try to follow the crowd.
13. Can you accommodate my (completely fictional) allergy?
Some people have real, dangerous food allergies. Those people typically check with the restaurant ahead of time to see whether it can make accommodations. They don’t spontaneously task the server with those demands. You can order a gluten-free meal, ask whether the chili sauce contains peanuts, or request a pizza sans olives. Just don’t lie and say you have an allergy if you really don’t.
14. I’m gluten-free. What can I eat?
Servers are in as good a position as anybody to know tons of consumers eat gluten-free diets when they really have no medical reason to do so. Don’t make your dietary restrictions, self-imposed or otherwise, somebody else’s problem. You can ask about the ingredients in specific dishes. And you can ask whether specific dishes come in gluten-free or vegetarian options. But don’t ask your server to tell you what you can and can’t eat.
15. Can I make X, Y, and Z substitutions?
Changing one small aspect of a dish probably isn’t a big deal. We all have that vegetable we hate. And sometimes we want to switch out a side or pizza topping. But if you start rattling off a laundry list of substitutions and changes you’d like to make, your server will definitely get annoyed. Plus, tons of changes will increase the likelihood your food won’t be made exactly to your order. Keep things simple — for your sake, for the chef’s sake, and for your server’s sanity.
16. It’s not on the menu, but can I have _____ ?
Restaurants have menus for a reason. They want most patrons (if not all of them) to select from among the meals they’re prepared to cook. While chefs can usually accommodate some basic substitutions, they might not have the time or ingredients to indulge your every whim. So don’t try to make up an entirely new meal and expect your server to be happy about it.
17. Why is the sea bass so expensive?
When you look at seafood dishes on the menu, they’re often listed at “market price.” Don’t react rudely if you ask your server what the price is, and it’s more than you’re willing to pay. Whether it’s scallops, shrimp, or any other kind of seafood, the price might be more than what you’d pay at the grocery store. Just keep that information to yourself, and quietly decide on something else you’d prefer to order.
18. ‘Give me’ this or ‘I want’ that
OK, this isn’t technically a question. But this has to be among the worst ways to start your order. Don’t say, “Give me” or “I want,” when you order your drink or food. Try to sound a little more polite. You can ask, “Could I have.” Or you can say, “I would like.” You might not think there’s a big difference. But trust us, there is.
We get it. It can seem difficult to get your server’s attention on a hectic night. But demanding a waiter or waitress’s attention is rude. Don’t snap your fingers at them or whistle at them. And don’t yell to them from across the room. Just say, “Excuse me,” when they’re within polite speaking distance. And once they’ve made it over to your table, don’t speak condescendingly or address them as “honey” or “sweetie.”
20. Can you kick someone else out?
We’ve all had evenings when we’re tired and short on patience. But don’t ask your server whether they can move or kick out fellow guests who are getting a little rowdy over their wine or new parents with a crying baby. The question is rude. And the answer is probably no. (A manager won’t kick somebody out unless they’re being rude to the employees or other patrons.) Why would the restaurant inconvenience or kick out other paying customers just because you’re in a bad mood?
21. Would you change the music?
In many restaurants, your server has no control over the playlist. And if the waitstaff does have control over the music, they’ve already chosen what they want to listen to. And they’re not going to change the music or turn the volume down just because you complain. The restaurant’s music of choice might give you a headache. But you should just pop an Advil or maybe order another drink.
22. Do you have a restroom?
Of course the restaurant has restrooms. (It has to — both for employees and for customers.) Need a less clueless way to phrase the question? Simply ask, “Where is the restroom?” The door might be in plain view, or it might be around a corner. If you don’t know, just ask.
23. Can I have your number?
Your server might be an attractive person. But unless they’ve given you a clear — and we mean really clear — signal they’re interested in you, don’t put them on the spot by asking for their phone number. Don’t assume your server wants that kind of attention. You might think the attention is flattering, even if it turns out the server isn’t interested, but many waiters and waitresses would prefer you stop hitting on them.
24. What’s your real job?
Another unwanted question servers get asked way too many times? One that plays into the stereotype that the only people who wait tables are doing something else to make a living. Plenty of people make a good living as a server. And though some might be waiting tables while they freelance or work part time in another field, a condescending question isn’t a good way to start that conversation.
25. You don’t close for another half hour, right?
If the dining room is empty, that’s a pretty good sign you should pay the check and clear out. You wouldn’t ask the hostess to seat you if you walk in 10 minutes before closing time. (We hope.) So you shouldn’t stick around after everybody else is left just to nurse the diluted remains of a cocktail you ordered an hour ago. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant isn’t technically closed yet. If you’re getting in the way of somebody trying to mop the floor or clean the tables, it’s time to go home.