7 Annoying Things You're Doing in a Restaurant, According to Industry Experts

Please keep the snapping to yourself.

Waitress setting table in a restaurant
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

There's nothing better than heading out to your favorite restaurant after a long week at work, whether it's for a celebration or simply because you're craving that perfect meal. And we get it. You're going there to unwind and be served. But that doesn't give you carte blanche to annoy the waitstaff by acting like you own the place. Want to have a stellar meal out while still being a respectable patron? Here are seven things we all may accidentally do now and again that annoy restaurant staffers — and how to avoid being that customer at your neighborhood spot.

Please, don't snap your fingers.

Brian Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks, a digital marketing agency in the food and beverage industry, and former owner of Kings Oak restaurant in Philadelphia, has one request: Please don't snap at servers.

"In the hospitality industry, finger snaps come off as a derogatory gesture. The waitstaff is usually bussing multiple tables and working within hectic environments. So, the impatient demand for their presence often adds to their inner frustrations on the job," says Nagele. Instead, he suggests, "A simple raise of the hand or attempt at making eye contact goes a long way to establishing a polite rapport with the assisting employees."

Don't compare their food to another restaurant.

Every restaurant offers its own spin, which is why patrons should avoid comparing one spot with another while speaking to the restaurant staff.

"All restaurants and chefs are unique," says Andy Diep, the master sushi chef at Seminole Reef Grill. "It's annoying when patrons start off by saying, 'Is your sushi (or soup or fish or any other dish) like so and so's at another restaurant? As a chef, restaurant owner, or server, you think, 'Well, why didn't you go there?'"

Instead, Diep encourages guests to "open their minds and palates to the restaurant's flavors and style of preparation, rather than replicating a meal they can get elsewhere." He adds, "I personally like to have conversations with my patrons to learn about their flavor and texture preferences, and I customize the sushi specifically for them."

Never make unsolicited or unexpected physical contact with waitstaff.

Just as you don't want to be touched by strangers, neither do restaurant servers.

"It's inappropriate," says Nagele. "Not everyone who works in hospitality is an extrovert and they own the right to their personal space. If you wouldn't walk up to someone and touch (or tap) them outside of the restaurant, don't do it at the table. Food establishments are still professional settings and require that level of energy from employees and guests alike." Again, try making eye contact instead. Or, if you must, walk up to a server and simply say, "excuse me" to get their attention.

Don't chat on your cell phone all night.

We can safely say this one annoys both waitstaff and other patrons, but Diep would like to remind you to put down your cell phone and not ignore your server.

"It's more polite to put away your phone, keep it on silent, or leave it in your car while at the restaurant," says Diep. "Take necessary calls before you arrive or after you leave. And if necessary, step outside for a call."

Don't sit at a dirty table.

Yes, you're hungry, but hold off on sitting at a dirty table so the waitstaff has time to do their job.

"Sitting at a dirty table hustles the waitstaff who might already be tackling another task. When you sit at an unprepared table, it pressures the employee to drop whatever they're doing to attend to you — and that's not always possible, especially on extended shifts or days when the business is understaffed," explains Nagele. "Plus, it makes things awkward because you now have to watch them clean up in front of you. Some guests may even start criticizing the waiter's method of sanitization based on personal preferences."

If you don't see a clean table in sight, Nagele suggests giving the staff five minutes of grace to get things ready for you.

Don't ask staffers to control the weather.

Waitstaff can help you with a lot of things, like fixing a wobbly table, finding the perfect seat, or selecting the ideal meal. Just don't get upset when they can't control every single aspect of the experience.

"For example, if you're sitting on the outdoor patio on a hot, sunny day, there's nothing I can do about the heat," says Ashley Schuering, blogger behind Confessions of a Grocery Addict and a 20-year restaurant staff veteran. "I'm happy to bring you a piece of paper to make a fan, keep refilling your ice water, or anything else within my power. The same goes for outdoor pests such as flies — sit outside at your own risk. I also can't turn up the heat if you wear a tank top in the middle of winter when everyone else is in layers. I can get you a mug of hot water to warm up your hands, but that's about the extent of my power."

Don't be a no-show.

Here's the biggest blunder restaurant guests make: not showing up at all.

"There's a trend right now where customers are making multiple reservations on weekend nights. We even have a name for it — it's called 'reservation shopping,'" says Tiff Meikle, the front-of-house manager and co-owner of Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar in Chicago. "This is a very detrimental practice for our business. People are either not showing up at all, or canceling at the last minute, which negatively impacts our revenue stream because the weekends are when we make our money. To make matters worse, we could have filled those tables given at least a 24-hour warning."

Coming out of the pandemic, Meikle says it's important that customers understand how their actions can negatively impact businesses.

"The apology is to not do it. We need our guests to honor their reservations or, at the very least, give the proper 24-hour notice, especially on our busiest nights."

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