20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You

Written by Michelle Crouch

We asked two dozen servers to reveal what goes on behind the kitchen doors.

1.What You’re Really Swallowing

In most restaurants, after 8 p.m. or so, all the coffee is decaf because no one wants to clean two different coffeepots. I’ll bring out a tray with 12 coffees on it and give some to the customers who ordered regular, others to the ones who ordered decaf. But they’re all decaf.

—Charity Ohlund

2.What You Don’t Want to Know

We put sugar in our kids’ meals so kids will like them more. Seriously. We even put extra sugar in the dough for the kids’ pizzas.

—Waitress at a well-known pizza chain

3.What We Lie About

If you’re a vegetarian and you ask if we use vegetable stock, I’m going to say yes, even if we don’t. You’ll never know the difference.

4.What You Don’t Want to Know

At a lot of restaurants, the special is whatever they need to sell before it goes bad. Especially watch out for the soup of the day. If it contains fish or if it’s some kind of “gumbo,” it’s probably the stuff they’re trying to get rid of.

—Kathy Kniss, who waited tables for ten years in Los Angeles

5.What You Don’t Want to Know

Now that I’ve worked in a restaurant, I never ask for lemon in a drink. Everybody touches them. Nobody washes them. We just peel the stickers off, cut them up, and throw them in your iced tea.

—Charity Ohlund, Kansas City waitress

6.What You Don’t Want to Know

If you ask me how many calories are in a particular dish, I’m not allowed to tell you even if I know. I’m supposed to say, “All that information is available online.”

—Waitress at a well-known pizza chain

7.What You Don’t Want to Know

I’ve never seen anybody do anything to your food, but I have seen servers mess with your credit card. If a server doesn’t like you, he might try to embarrass you in front of your business associate or date by bringing your credit card back and saying, “Do you have another card? This one didn’t go through.”

—Charity Ohlund

8.What You’re Really Swallowing

Skim milk is almost never skim milk. Very few restaurants outside Starbucks carry whole milk, 2 percent milk, skim milk, and half-and-half; it’s just not practical.

—Chris

9.What You’re Really Swallowing

Some places buy salad dressings in one-gallon jars, then add a few ingredients, like a blue cheese crumble or fresh herbs, and call it homemade on the menu.

—Former waiter Jake Blanton, who spent ten years in restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, and California

10.What Drives Us Crazy

The single greatest way to get your waiter to hate you? Ask for hot tea. For some reason, an industry that’s managed to streamline everything else hasn’t been able to streamline that. You’ve got to get a pot, boil the water, get the lemons, get the honey, bring a cup and spoon. It’s a lot of work for little reward.

—Christopher Fehlinger, maître d’ at a popular New York City restaurant

11.What We Want You to Know

In many restaurants, the tips are pooled, so if you have a bad experience with the server, you’re stiffing the bartender who made your drinks, the water boy who poured your water, sometimes the hostess, the food runners, and maybe the other waiters.

—Christopher Fehlinger

12.What We Want You to Know

Even at the best breakfast buffet in the world, 99 times out of 100, the big pan of scrambled eggs is made from a powder.

—Jake Blanton

13.What We Want You to Know

People think that just because your food took a long time, it’s the server’s fault. Nine times out of ten, it’s the kitchen. Or it’s the fact that you ordered a well-done burger.

—Judi Santana

14.What We Want You to Know

When you’re with the woman who’s not your wife, you’re a lot nicer to us, probably because you know that we know it’s not your wife.

—Caroline Radaj, waitress at a members-only club outside Milwaukee

15.How to Be a Good Customer

It’s much easier to be recognized as a regular on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. Once you’re recognized as a regular, good things start to happen. You’ll find your wineglass gets filled without being put on your bill, or the chef might bring you a sample.

—Christopher Fehlinger

16.How to Be a Good Customer

Avoid Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day like the black plague. It’s crazy busy, so they’re not going to be able to pay as much attention to quality. Plus, they bring out a special menu where everything is overpriced.

—Steve Dublanica

17.How to Be a Good Customer

If the restaurant is busy and your child is shy, please order for him. Kids can sit there forever trying to decide, or they whisper and you can’t hear them. Meanwhile, the people at the next table are yelling at you to come over.

—Derek Dudley, a waiter at a casual pizza restaurant in Phoenix

18.What You Need to Know About Tipping

The best tippers tend to be middle-class or people who have worked for everything they have, not the really wealthy or the kid who inherited the trust fund. Which is not to say that we mind if you use coupons. But when you do, tip on the amount the bill would have been without them.

—Judi Santana

19.What You Need to Know About Tipping

First dates, especially blind Internet dates, are great for tips. You know he’ll probably order a bottle of wine and leave a 20 to 25 percent tip because he’s showing off.

—Jeremy Burton, waiter at a grill in southwest Michigan

20.What Else We’d Like You to Know

Don’t order fish on Sunday or Monday. The fish deliveries are usually twice a week, so Tuesday through Friday are great days. Or ask the restaurant when they get theirs.

—Steve Dublanica

13 thoughts on “20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You

  1. Guest

    No.11, Mr. Fehlinger – the customer is stiffing no-one. The SERVER is the one who stiffed his colleagues by a sub-standard job. If the bartender, water boy, hostess etc are unhappy, they should focus it properly and get the server to do his job properly.

  2. Sev

    I really like how this article explains all the ways in which restaurants can and will rip you off at every opportunity, and then goes on to describe how these very same businesses would like you to be a better, more courteous customer to them. What a load of b.s.

  3. LastHussar

    #11. Do those people not get paid? Explain why I should tip, rather than the employer be held to account for low wages. If I go into a book store, and the assistent is helpful, I'm not expected to tip. You don't tip in department stores, banks or phone shops, no matter how helpful the staff member is BECAUSE THAT IS THEIR JOB.

  4. Bear

    Waiters get paid a minimal fee, 90% of what they take home comes from tips. If you want the restaurant to pay the waiters a decent amount, be prepared for your bill to go up by at least 10-15%.

  5. IllusiveReasoning

    Well having been a waiter for many years, the special is usually the stuff that will go bad if not used, this is not to say that the meal is bad though, it just helps the chefs know what to make. The meal still is prepared with the same etiquette. As for No. 13 this is true, and usually servers suffer the consequences. Lastly think of number 11 as a way for servers to give a tax free income. If you dont give them a tip then they would increase the bill amount or add a manditory 15% grat, this way you the customer get to decide what is reasonable, and if you liked the server then you could give extra. People who do not tip do screw up the balance of things because most servers are required to 'tip out' other staff and the kitchen on sales, so if the tips dont resemble the sales then it is just the server who gets screwed from problems that might not of had anything to do with them.

  6. jjj

    Tipping IS based on the service that you get. But take a couple of seconds to see if your server is not at your table the moment you need them because they are extremely busy working their ass off or they are just standing around goofing with their friends; there is a BIG difference. They might have a really highly inappropriate needy table, someone might have called in sick so they are short staffed, etc. Don't just assume that your server is terrible… pay some attention to what they are doing. (Yes, I am a server, a VERY good one at that!)

  7. Derf

    Well said Bear. Also tipping is performance based T.I.P.S. stands for To Insure Proper Service. So is your server is substandard you dont need to tip them well. Yes they still have to give money to the other people but that is their responceability. If their bartender or expo doesnt do very well they are the first to complain about tipping them.

  8. Matt

    Agreed. Is he trying to say that even if the service from our waiter is awful, were obligated to still tip 20% because everyone else shouldnt suffer??? No thanks.

  9. Eric

    Tipping is probably the most contentious point of discussion for people in the restaurant business. I have a simple rule of thumb for tipping: I start at 20% of the pre-tax total, then move up or down from there depending on the service and food quality.

    And it DOES pay to establish yourself as a regular at your favorite places!

  10. Gabe

    I work 20 plus years mostly in Palm Beach( the island).
    I started as a back waiter, move to front waiter,captain, supervise ,Maitre D’ ,Manager.

    And everything that I read here make no sense.

    Question 1, half true, after 8.00 pm most coffee is decaf, serve in two different pot, just to avoid give the wrong person caffeine and sent him or her to the doctor.

    Question 2. that I don’t know ,never work in a place that have kid menu.

    Question 3. may be in the grease spoon in the corner, if is a chef in the house a real chef, He/she/ will stake his/her honor in the food served, if you ask for vegetarian , is not point to lie.

    Question 4. May be is the 50’s or 60’s that was somewhat truth.
    Today a good eatery will have special made everyday ,mostly to show case the chef skills.

    Question 5 . may be in the grease spoon in the corner, good restaurant ,full time employees are also certificated food handlers.

    Question .6. not truth, every decent chef will give gladly the calories count.

    Question 7, if this happen to you report the S.O.B. ,you’ll get him fired.

    Question 8, not truth, but then again ,not in the grease spoon on the corner.

    Question 9and 10, see question 8.

    question 11, not truth, if you have bad service ,forget the tip, if you think that is not fear, tip and your wait out to the manager,and let him know why, he’ll take care of the problem, if he does not , you do not need to go back.

    Question 12 refer to question 8.
    question 13 , truth, but not always.

    Question 14. really?
    Question 15, is not that truth in any business ?

    Question 16, those day are only for amateurs, if you can avoid those day to eat out.

    Question 17, truth, I always ask the parent to order for kids,(some exception) gladly I did not have to deal with that problem.

    18,not necessary, I did wait to very important people, and some of them recognize good service and manner better that anyone else.

    19 . tips are at your discretion,no silver bullet.
    20 refer to question #8

  11. waiter

    hi there…I’m a senior supervisor in a very well established restaurant in the city i’m living in. Seems like tipping is a hot topic here…I was a waiter once and from a waiter’s point of view, tips are appreciated but unnecessary. We don’t demand for it as we know it’s our job to convey excellent service. The very idea of us waiters expecting a tip from a customer is an utter insult.

    Comparing us to a attendant in a book store, or a teller in a bank is just not right. Waiters are WAAAAAAY much more personalized than them. A good waiter would know your favorite wine, your preferred table, your allergies, food preferences, how to talk to you when you are with a family and when you are on a business lunch, etc. In a nutshell, book store attendant and bank tellers offers you TRANSACTION, waiters offers you INTERACTION.

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