UnderCover Waitress: Restaurant Etiquette and Server Introductions

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Restaurant Etiquette and Server Introductions

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Having developed rather strong opinions (I know, you couldn't tell) about restaurant protocols and dining room etiquette, one comment on You Don't Need to Know My Name gave me pause.

Servers complain of being treated as objects yet when clients try to treat you as a human being and identify this is the type of response they can get?

While I continue to feel the same way as I did before, I also understand where the anonymous commenter is coming from. There is conflicting information on the internet, in foodie magazines, and etiquette books telling people what to expect in a restaurant and how to behave. I wonder how many people stay home for fear of upsetting restaurant staff.

Woe is the waitress who works in a restaurant serving the unwashed masses because she cannot truly express how she feels nor even politely explain the rules. Passive aggression abounds in environments in which employees must pretend to be happy, regardless. When a diner hears a cheerful "you're welcome" when he has not said "thank you," the real message is "f*** you for being rude and not saying thank you."

Because this dilemma is exactly what "The Managed Heart" is all about, I am plugging it again right here. (I love this book.)
We have a sign asking guests to please wait to be seated by a hostess. It happens, on occasion, that people waltz in and either seat themselves or, even worse, march around the restaurant, pick out their table and inform us where they will sit. The first type are oblivious, the second type are entitled, spoiled brats who are overly impressed with their own importance.

The oblivious type most likely are used to eating in casual little diners in which people are supposed to seat themselves. Still, there is no excuse for not reading the sign if you are capable of reading the menu. My son and I walked into a little diner recently. We stood there for a few minutes; nobody came to greet us. The cook, who was wiping his nose on the back of his hand while flipping pancakes, saw us and seemed to be laughing about the fact that we were standing there. His runny nose is reason enough to leave, which we did, but I mention it here because the expectations were probably not what I was used to. Perhaps we were supposed to sit and get comfortable. That being said, I have no idea where the waitress was. I have had the experience of having diner staff seem put upon because I did not know to seat myself; I feel put upon when people walk past the sign and seat themselves.

So, if expectations can be different regarding whether to sit or wait to be seated, what about whether servers should introduce ourselves? A few quick internet searches reveal that confusion abounds, and strong opinions exist on both sides.

One of the funniest posts I found was an amateur (i.e., honest) restaurant review in which the writer expressed confusion that the server who introduced himself to the table never returned, and the server who took the order, etc., never introduced himself. I wonder what these poor people were expected to do with the name of the absent server? Summon his spirit with a Ouija board for more water?

I did find in my keyword searches a consistency that the finest restaurants are less likely to encourage any sort of getting personal. For example, this slideshow has quite a few points, some redundant, but never mentions the server introducing himself or getting chatty:
Waiter's Etiquette
View more presentations from Bhavana Agarwal

I call your attention back to #19: Never get familiar with the guest.

However, go to WikiHow and suddenly telling guests at every table your name becomes a main point of good service, right up there with refilling empty water glasses.

I think this is because many "family friendly" corporate chains require Miss Perky and Mr. Fun Dude to bounce over to the table, introduce himself, touch patrons on the shoulder, ask how "we" are doing this evening and make other mindless chit-chat, find something to laugh about, squat at the table like he is about to poop on a camping trip, and use the dining table as his personal writing desk while taking an order.

It may be getting worse. On Yahoo Answers, I found this resolved  question:

Should a waiter be allowed to do this, introduce himself as your waiter then say he is gay?

Barring the possibility of a troll, I refer you all back to #19.

And in closing, you don't need to know my sexual preferences nor my name.


  1. Some of the Mexican restaurants make their male servers call us "amigo" over and over in every sentence. I feel like I'm in a bad western movie after awhile, and I wouldn't fault the servers if they were a bit sarcastic, but they keep it together in front of the patrons. I'm not sure what kind of weird class/race thing is going on there, but it's not gratifying from my end.

  2. I do give my name, but then again, I work at a sports bar-themed family restaurant. If I worked somewhere more formal, I would probably not give my name. And the squatting thing just makes me cringe. I believe there was an article published that said that servers who do the squat get higher tip percentages, and a bunch of places trained their people to do it. That article said a bunch of sketchy stuff, and it does not look good, or comfortable, for the server OR the customer.

    egret--that does sound wierd, and possibly racist. Do the idiots in their corporate offices really think that Mexicans just call each other 'amigos/as' all day long? Then again, they ARE corporate, so maybe they do.


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