12 Dos & Donts Every Server & Bartender Desperately Wants You To Know

The dos and don'ts of going out to eat.

bartender pouring drinks bogdanhoda / Shutterstock

We all want to be good people. We volunteer, we help our family, we try to be kind to one another. But sometimes when we dine out, we forget ourselves. We don’t think of our servers and bartenders, and only see things the way we think they should be.

All of a sudden we are in charge. We, customers, are demanding and pushy and we only see things the way we think they are supposed to be done. We don’t take into consideration the rules our servers are told to follow, or the other things going on in the restaurant. We only think of ourselves — the customers who are always right... right?


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Have you ever made a mistake at work? Imagine if your boss said, “Hey you didn’t file that correctly so I’m docking your pay 20% for today”. You are allowed to make mistakes without harsh consequences, let your servers do the same.

If you have a bad experience at a restaurant, you should still tip. Think about times that a server or bartender has gone above and beyond and you still tipped 15-20 percent. Things balance out.

But tipping isn’t the only thing that people don’t know about dining out. There are a lot of unwritten rules that most customers don’t understand about dining out.


Here is a list of dos and don’ts for dining out, to help you have the best experience possible.

1. Don't ever NOT tip your server.

I know this may sound obvious, but it's uber important to tip your server and/or bartender. They rely on your tips for their income, period. If you didn't already know, servers and bartenders don't get paid a lot - actually many don't even get paid minimum wage without your tips, as many employers can claim "tip credit" which actually allows management to use tip money the server earns toward their minimum wage requirement (so they basically don't have to pay it themselves). So many servers get the equivalent of, say, $3 an hour before your tips.

Also, many restaurants put your tips in what's called a "tip pool", so the server may not be getting the entire tip you're giving them, but instead splitting it with the rest of the servers, bartenders, expo workers, cooks, etc. who are also working.

The following are not good reasons not to tip:

  • “It should be the restaurant's responsibility to pay its employees” is a common assumption of customers who don't want to tip for service. However, there is a social contract you enter into when deciding to dine out. Even if you don’t agree with it, you are receiving a service. You are essentially paying for someone to bring you anything you need and everything you ask for. And if the restaurants did pay their servers more, it would be reflected in the price of the menu items.
  • “It’s not my fault they decided to work somewhere that doesn’t pay them enough”. You know this is a weak argument. It is customary in American restaurants that the diners pay for the service.
  • “I didn’t like my food”. Your server didn’t cook your food. If it doesn’t come out the way you like it, it is your responsibility to communicate with your server, and let them change it for you. If the meal can’t be fixed you can be assured that the manager will take it off of your bill. You still need to pay for the service provided.

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2. Don’t ask them “what's good here?” if you are a picky eater.

If you know that you have specific tastes, you need to read the menu and decide what it is that you would like. Your bartender doesn’t know what you like. Otherwise, you end up having a conversation that goes like this:

You: What is good here?
Bartender: We brew our own beers, they’re delicious and really popular!
You: I don’t like beer.
Bartender: Oh! Okay well, I think I make a really good Manhattan.
You: Bourbon isn’t really my thing.
Bartender: Oh okay, well what do you like then?
You: I like anything that’s good!

Do you see how frustrating this can be? Instead, just take a look yourself and either take their advice or make your own decision about dinner.

3. Communicate what you want clearly.

Allergies are probably the most common miscommunication. If you have a food allergy, make sure your server knows about it before you finish ordering. The menu doesn’t list the recipe, and sometimes there are hidden ingredients.


Your server doesn’t know you, so never expect them to predict your tastes or be able to tell you every ingredient in your dinner.

4. When you tell your server you are ready to order, be ready to order.

Never be afraid to ask for a few more minutes. You are not your server's only guest. When you call them over to place your order but make them wait while you still page through the menu, you are not ready to order.

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5. Don't snap your fingers at your server.

Most servers know how to do their job. They will be over to check on you — they didn’t forget about you. They should not be asked to stop talking to another table, because you are snapping, clapping, or waving. The best way to get your server's attention is just to make eye contact with them. They will get you what you need.


6. Know that everyone likes to be served differently.

If your server is coming over too often, remember that someone probably told them once they weren’t coming around enough. If your server isn’t coming around enough, someone probably told them that they come around too much. They don’t know how you want to be served unless you communicate it to them.

7. Be patient.

Realize your server may be busy, or the restaurant may be understaffed. There are likely five or six other tables that your server or bartender needs to take care of.

If your entire table needs refills, don’t ask for them one at a time. When you ask your server for something, try to ask for everything you need all at once. Don’t send them back and forth to the kitchen ten times, for one thing, each trip. And if you think you needed a lot from your server, remember that when you’re tipping.

8. Listen to the server when they're telling you the specials.

When your server is reading the specials, listen. Don’t make them repeat themselves because you weren’t listening. When they are delivering food, listen when they are calling out orders. It is not their fault if you claim someone else in your party’s meal.


9. Let them know you want separate checks before you start ordering — not at the end of the meal.

When requesting separate checks, ALWAYS tell your server at the start of the meal. It makes it so much easier for them and will end up being faster for you at the end of the meal. Don’t ask for too many separate checks.

If you are a group of 10 people, and you each want to pay for your 23-dollar meal with a 100 dollar bill, there isn’t enough change in the world in your server's pocket. If you can, split your check between three or four people — we live in a day and age with Venmo and Cash-App and probably 30 other money transferring services, so consider paying your friends back instantly to keep things flowing at the restaurant.

10. Once you've paid, it's time to leave.

Restaurants aren’t like coffee shops or cafes — when you have finished your meal and paid your bill, it is time to leave. Your server only has a few tables an hour to make their money, so if you're sitting at a table after you're done with your meal, your server is losing money by the minute. So try to be considerate of that. 

Even if you tipped 25%, and it doesn’t look that busy, don’t stay for an hour.


11. If something is wrong, tell your server (and avoid being passive-aggressive).

If your server is doing something that is annoying to you, don’t be spiteful. If you feel like they’re rushing you, don’t stay extra long to get back at them. If you feel like they are taking too long, don’t be passive-aggressive. Just communicate what you need.

If you find yourself “teaching someone a lesson” then you're doing something wrong. And you are also probably a jerk.

12. Tip your server fairly.

It bears repeating — just tip your server. Even if the meal was a disaster. Just tip.

If you ever find yourself saying “I am a good tipper unless…” you are not a good tipper. If you ever find yourself saying “I am a good tipper except for this one time when…” You are not a good tipper. If you have ever said, “The only way I wouldn’t tip my server is if…” then you are not a good tipper.


Your servers and bartenders work hard to make you happy, so use it as an opportunity to spread kindness into the world. 

Kaitlin Kaiser is a writer who covers astrology, pop culture, and relationship topics.