Like women drivers and Kardashians, waiters have been long been one of society’s running jokes. But guess what? As with all those other stereotypes, everything you think you know about service staff is hopelessly outdated.
They’ll spit in your food if you piss them off? C’mon, they’re way more creative than that. They’re semi-functional idiots whose only skill is carrying a plate across a room? Most people who work in restaurants are there because they genuinely care about food. They’re all wannabe actors? Well, okay, that’s still pretty true. But some of them are also wannabe musicians, or filmmakers, or writers—and plenty more are in exactly the industry they want to be in.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter whether your server is a lifer or just someone waiting toland that book deal—what matters is how he treats you right now. He holds your dinner in his hands—literally—and even if no loogies are going to end up in your soup, there’s plenty a server can do to make your meal miserable if you piss him off.
It doesn’t really matter whether your server is a lifer or just someone waiting toland that book deal—what matters is how he treats you right now.
Did your steak show up a well-done brick? Salad come with extra raw onions after you asked for none? Date’s drink go mysteriously missing en route from the bar to the table? You’re on the server shit list. On the other hand, a sympathetic waiter is a pro-level wingman, a dining psychic, and the gatekeeper to VIP glory.
Not all servers are created equal, so you’ve got to know how to roll with the punches. Some will be impressed by a display of insider knowledge, while others want you to submit to their superior intellect. Some want to feel like you’re treating them like a buddy, while others wish you would respect their professional space. (And absolutely none are interested in how “close” you are with the chef just because he once responded to one of your tweets, so don’t even bother.)
To make sure you don’t act the fool—and to maximize your chances of getting the best out of your next dining experience—read through our guide to the 10 most common server personalities, and how to make them love you.
He’s been wearing a bowtie since before you were born. He’s either 1,000 years old or is actually already dead; either way, he’s seen it all and stopped being interested in any of it decades ago. He remembers when people used to dress up to go out to dinner, and he is not impressed by your brand-new Yeezys—as far as he’s concerned, they’re no better than your mom’s busted old New Balances. The Old-Timer is almost always a man, though there is a female version who is found strictly in diners and may or may not call you “Honey.” Don’t be fooled, though: She doesn’t actually like you and she’ll never remember your face.
Natural habitat: Steakhouses; restaurants with unironic taxidermy on the walls
Your move: Dig deep for every lesson in table manners you’ve ever had; the only way to get past his decades-thick façade of disinterest is to prove that you respect the restaurant experience and don’t take it for granted like the rest of those damn kids these days. If you’re out with a date, pull some classic chivalry moves like helping her put her coat on or standing up when she leaves the table. (Photo: NY Post)
The True Believer
You could be forgiven for thinking, upon sitting down at one of her tables, that you’d accidentally wandered into a cult’s recruiting station. That reverent tone in the way she talks about “Chef” and the wonders that he has created for you…you’re either in an uber-creative startup restaurant or the next Jonestown. She’ll never ask if you liked a dish; in her mind, there’s no chance you wouldn’t have, so instead she just says, “Wasn’t that amazing?” It most likely was—chefs who inspire that kind of loyalty in their servers usually do so with their extreme talent—but just to be safe, if you see any Kool-Aid on the menu, do not order it.
Natural habitat: New Nordic restaurants; bare white rooms with unfinished wooden benches
Your move: Ask about a tiny detail in one of the dishes, then rave about how unexpected and smart it was. That will prove how much you really get what they’re all about there, unlike some of those other ungrateful diners. You’ll know you’re in when she starts talking trash about the guy who came in and asked for a cheeseburger, or the woman who picked all the raw abalone off her apple tart.
The Best Buddy
Sure, he’s “technically” a server, but it’s not like he’s really serving you—you’re just hanging out! He’s got a totally chill explanation for why your order got screwed up (“I’m so hungover right now!”), and will tell you all about his favorite things on the menu unprompted. Don’t confuse him with the faux-friendly servers at chain restaurants—those poor people are just praying you don’t answer when they have to ask how excited you are for the weekend, and they should be treated gently.
Natural habitat: White-guy taco restaurants; places with a novelty burger on the menu
Your move: It may hurt, but the best way to get through to him is to suck it up and play along. Ten minutes of small talk is a small price to pay for a meal that goes smoothly, and who knows? He might even be a decent guy. Under no circumstances should you try to shut him down—bursting his illusions will only end in bloodshed and tears, like waking a hibernating bear. Let him keep dreaming peacefully, and he’ll let you enjoy your dinner.
It took forever to get a table at this restaurant, and she knows it. And while she had nothing to do with letting you in the door, she’s doing you a favor by acknowledging your presence now that you’re in, and she won’t let you forget it. When you work at the hottest place in town, it can be easy to confuse its popularity with your own, or to assume you have some responsibility for the place’s success. But while it’s true that service staff can have a huge impact on the atmosphere of a place, the Times isn’t showing up to write a review of the waiters.
Natural habitat: Restaurants in basements or on second floors; places that serve massive cuts of meat to models who don’t touch them
Your move: Your first instinct may be to order a pricey wine or twice as much food as you wanted just to prove to her that you belong—but don’t bother. The secret is that everybody gets the same treatment no matter how “worthy” they might be, and that’s why they keep coming back. The way to really shake her up is to ignore her—the power switch will throw her off and she might even try being friendly in an attempt to regain control.
Like an entire Three Stooges routine compressed into just one human, this guy got in the weeds about a month and a half ago and just can’t claw his way out. He forgets what the specials are, comes back to the table four times because he can’t keep your order straight, and gets confused by simple questions like, “Where are the bathrooms?” He’s got to be related to somebody; how else could somebody who clearly has no interest in or knowledge of restaurants still have a job? The worst part is that he’s not a bad guy and seems genuinely upset when he gets something wrong. Eventually, you start to feel so bad for him that you stop pointing out things, like the fact that your date has been eating her salad with a spoon because he never brought her a fork.
Natural habitat: Italian restaurants; places with a down-home vibe
Your move: Do him a favor and stop asking questions—no matter what it is, you’re just as likely to know the answer as he is. Recognize that he’s miserable and, if you can, try to get a sense of what he actually wants to do with his life. He’ll be so happy to be recognized for something other than a fuckup, he’ll make an extra effort to bring you the right entrees.
Even though it’s a cliché, there are still plenty of servers out there who are just killing time, waiting to become the next Jimmy Fallon. You can spot them by the little routines they unleash on every single table, no matter if it’s a kid’s birthday party or a wake. “Guess you didn’t like it!” when they pick up an empty plate; “There’s always room for chocolate!” when they bring the dessert menu. Unfortunately, if their restaurant audiences are any sign, that big break ain’t coming any time soon.
Natural habitat: Applebee’s, where that script-reading practice comes in handy; tourist spots that don’t get regulars
Your move: Laugh like a maniac, every single time—even when you hear them telling the same joke you just heard them tell the next table over. They’ll either think you’re dangerously insane or the world’s biggest fan; either way, you’ll be treated very kindly for the rest of the meal.
The Sob Story
She really didn’t want to burden you with it, but she’s pretty sure she’s about to get fired because she was late again…because she was helping her mom…who needs a hip replacement…but neither of them have health insurance. All of this spills out when you ask what the soup of the day is. You’re just about to fall for it, too, when you hear her telling the next table over that she’s worried about being able to pay to have her dog put down—but her mom’s doing just fine. It’s tip grubbing, plain and simple—just one step up from panhandlers or basketball team candy sellers. Don’t waste your time hating the player; just choose not to play the game.
Natural habitat: Cute cafés where ladies go for lunch; vegan restaurants
Your move: We’re never going to advocate under-tipping, even if you’re 100% sure you’re being played. There’s always a chance you could be wrong, or that the story is a cover for a sadder, more worthy one she just doesn’t want to share. Give her the benefit of the doubt and tip what you normally would, but don’t get caught up in trying to offer advice or solutions to the problem.
You’re obviously going to need some help with this menu, so he’s just going to jump right in and explain what every dish is all about. It doesn’t matter if you just graduated from the CIA—he knows you’re secretly confused by big words like prosciutto and sous vide, or by a menu that lists something other than the standard appetizer-entrée-dessert trio. It can get tiresome explaining the same few things over and over again, we know. But once a server has gone over into the dark side by launching into a speech before your table has a chance to say a word, he hits the autopilot button and disappears for the rest of the night.
Natural habitat: Extreme locavore spots; hipster Asian restaurants
Your move: You need to disrupt his flow, redirect his attention back to the actual people in front of him and then prove that you don’t need explaining. Even if it’s a lie, always say yes when he asks if you’ve eaten there before—you might save yourself a few minutes.
The rarest of them all, the Professional has taken hospitality courses, but doesn’t aspire to be in the kitchen—he just wants to make sure people have a good time. A good waiter is able to speak for all of the different parts of a restaurant—part chef, part bartender, part dishwasher. He’d also probably make a great therapist, if only he could get up a little earlier in the morning. This guy probably worked for Danny Meyer at some point, and he has definitely read Setting the Table at least 25 times.
Natural habitat: Hotel restaurants; the latest French bistro revival spot
Your move: Enjoy, and make it clear to him how much you enjoyed your meal—as the restaurant’s representative, it’ll make him feel accomplished. If you can, grab a manager on your way out to give him props; if not, a shout out on Twitter will usually make its way back to the right people. And it goes without saying, but tip extremely well. That’s why he’s there, after all. (Photo: spaceneedlespirit.blogspot.com)
The Tip Scientist
She’s read every study out there on what makes people tip well, and she’s about to use them all to her advantage. Get ready to meet your waiter by name, be touched on the shoulder during your meal, and have a smiley face drawn on your check—and to feel nothing but alone at the end of it all. The Scientist is especially prevalent in breastaurants and other places patrons need to be reminded to tip because they’re distracted by cleavage or other forms of entertainment. While we all know you would have tipped well anyway, we really can’t blame her; there are still a lot of people who don’t understand how the system works. Consider playing along as a good-karma boost to make up for all the jerks who showed up just to stare at her.
Natural habitat: Hooters; places that serve drinks in mason jars
Your move: You’ve got to applaud the effort, even if such extreme tip thirst leaves you feeling dirty and used. For your own dignity, don’t play along with her manipulations, but tip well at the end of the meal anyway. (Photo: Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill)
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