Things Only Someone Who Has Waited Tables Understands (And Wish You Did Too)

Waiting tables can be a great way to make good money without the requirement of a degree. Many college students become servers since the flexible hours and high pay are ideal for a busy schedule. While there are many perks of the job, there is also a long list of setbacks, like having to work on holidays. Unless you’ve been a server in a restaurant, you probably have remained blissfully unaware of such frustrations as the verbal tip, lifting-day Sundays, fear of calling out sick, and so much more. Read on to discover the not-so-charming aspects of being a server.

Celebrating Your Friday On A Sunday

An overjoyed athlete holds his arms open wide.
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Before anyone reading this who isn’t a waiter jumps to conclusions, let us acknowledge the fact that many careers involve working on the weekend. However, serving is one of the only jobs where you can make ten times more money by working on a Saturday as opposed to a Tuesday, depending on the staff count and the season.

The best weekend shifts are usually reserved for seniority, so if you’ve been in the industry for a while you’re probably enjoying your day off on a Monday. That doesn’t mean you’ll be off of work on Tuesday, however, since servers don’t always get consecutive days off.

Having To Choose Which Holiday You’re Going To Fight To Take Off

A woman lays in bed and looks unwell.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Anyone who’s been in the restaurant industry knows that holidays can be huge money-making days. Transversely, they can be the day when your manager schedules almost the entire staff despite the fact it’s the Fourth of July and you have three reservations in the books.

On top of that, you’re competing against the rest of your staff for a day off, and the managers have a lot to take into account. You may have put in the request six months ago, but someone else may be flying out of the country. The entire process is complicated and stressful for everyone involved.

The Deathly Fear Of Calling Out Sick

A woman squeezes her eyes together while she prays.
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

As though holidays weren’t hard enough to take off, sick days can be even more difficult. That’s because a restaurant relies heavily on each and every person being present. Restaurants are like dominoes and if one is out of place, especially on a busy night, the entire thing can topple.

Let’s say you wake up with the flu and are scheduled to work at 4 p.m. You call your manager right away and the two of you proceed to spend the rest of the day trying to get someone to cover you. If all fails, you may be multiple tables short which means all of those reservations are about to get livid.

That Cringey Moment When A Customer Asks If You “Forgot Them”

Jennifer Aniston gives a blank stare while waitressing in the movie Office Space.
Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

All servers have their particular pet-peeves, but this is a big one. If you ever find yourself at a restaurant and unable to see your waiter or waitress, it most definitely is not because they have forgotten you.

If anything, they’re in the back frantically searching for something you probably asked for, or putting in someone else’s order that has 500 modifications. The worst part is that when being asked this question, absolutely no response is the right one because all that the guest will hear is excuses.

Feeling Like A Chatty Table Is Trying To Ruin Your Life

LeBron James puts his hands to his head and looks upset during a basketball game.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Having a good rapport with tables is a part of a server’s job. The guest is spending money to have an enjoyable time, and the server is a part of that. However, there is a very clear line that some people have absolutely no concept of.

Asking for recommendations is one thing. But when the guest overshares, asks too many personal questions, or just simply won’t put a cork in it, other tables can be affected. It’s impressive how many guests forget that they aren’t the only priority on their server’s very, very long list.

Not Having Enough Silverware At The End Of The Night

One young woman screams while standing next to another who scrunches up her face.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Everything is cleaned up and restocked. Your feet ache from your nonslip shoes and your legs feel like they’re going to fall off. All you want to do is lie down and snuggle your giant wad of cash to sleep. The only thing standing in your way? Clean silverware.

On busy nights, the dishwashers have their work cut out for them. Servers may have to hang around just to wait for them to catch up. Generally, servers need to polish all of the silverware and have their tables reset before leaving. Sometimes that means tackling a bucket of forks and knives two hours past closing.

Not Being Able To Do Anything About The Lingering Customer

A man pulls his face back in frustration.
Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images
Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

Speaking of closing, restaurants are one of the only, if not THE ONLY establishments that will not kick out their customers at closing time. Think about it; any store you’ve ever been to, any gym or amusement park, even an urgent care, they all will turn you away at closing.

Servers have a million cues that they can give, but they are forbidden from ever uttering the words “we’re closed” to a lingering guest. That can drive anyone a little insane when you’ve spent 90 minutes polishing the same glass and checking if there’s anything else you can get them.

Needing Pens Like You Need Oxygen

A female swimmer emerges from the water for air.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

Pens must belong to the same species as rubber bands and bobby pins because they disappear all of the time. That or way more guests steal pens after signing a credit card slip than anyone wants to admit.

Depending on how many tables are in your section, a server will usually have between 4 and 7 pens on them when they walk in for their shift. That number can fall to zero by the time they’re taking their tenth order of the night, at which point they have to awkwardly excuse themselves to go hound someone for a pen.

When A Nightmare Regular Walks In And Every Server’s Eyes Get Wide

An athlete had wide eyes and an open mouth while hearing the results at a competition.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

We’ve never played Russian roulette before, but we’d imagine it’s the same feeling that servers experience when they see a horrible regular walk in. Every server stares wide-eyed at the host or hostess, hoping with all of their might that it won’t be them with the poor luck this time.

In reality, there’s a risk that every table will be a nightmare to deal with. However, regulars who keep coming back often have the exact same awful behavior with each visit. The server who gets them will see the next two hours of their life flash before their eyes as they walk up with a smile to greet them.

Hoping They Don’t Want To Box The Leftovers

A young boy closes his eyes while placing food into his mouth.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

There’s a nearly untouched steak on their plate or a few leftover shrimp. A part of you knows it would be gross to eat off of the plate of a stranger. At the same time, a larger part of you is starving because you’ve been running around for four hours straight and staring at hot food the entire time.

Some restaurant diners are not willing to take leftovers with them, which can cause a ton of food to go to waste. This can be a good thing for the starving server, who will likely snag a few bites like a wild animal in the back before dumping the rest.

Customers Who Refuse To Read

A man holds a hand to his head and looks livid.
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

There’s nothing like having a guest ask you to recite from memory the entire beverage and/or food menu. While it’s a server’s job to know what’s available inside out, it’s a huge time waster to have to stand there and list off what’s clearly written on the menu in front of them.

What’s worse is when a customer has a food allergy that they don’t mention until their meal hits the table. As soon as they see the dish, their face drops because it’s covered in their allergen. By the time it’s remade, everyone else is finished eating and that’s somehow the server’s fault.

The Horror Of Remembering You Didn’t Put In The Order Yet

A woman looks frightened.
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Multitasking is one of the most fundamental skills a server should have. However, when there are so many tasks bouncing around in your mind at one time, it can be easy for something to slip. One of the worst things a server can momentarily forget about is the order they need to put in.

Immediately after realizing their fault, the server will race to an open computer station, if there is one, and throw the order in at lightning speed. Rushing can leave room for error, like hitting the wrong button or forgetting a modification. Worst case, they’ll have to remake a plate that already took 45 minutes to hit the table.

Sunday Is Lifting Day

A man struggles to hold up heavyweights.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP via Getty Images
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP via Getty Images

Many restaurants offer certain specials on Sundays to bring in customers at the end of the weekend. One of the most common Sunday specials is prime rib, which can be exceptionally heavy to carry. It’s standard that a server can carry three plates at one time.

When each piping hot plate is stacked with a large slab of steak and a hearty pile of sides, the weight adds up. Do them a favor and move your bread plate out of the way so that they don’t have to stand there with shaking arms.

The Curse Of The Verbal Tip

Diane Keaton looks shocked in a still from First Wives Club.
Paramount/Getty Images
Paramount/Getty Images

A “verbal tip” is an informal server term that refers to the customers who rave about how wonderful the service was, only to leave a horrible tip. Especially when a server had to bend over backward to correct a mistake made by the kitchen or to appease a needy guest, the verbal tip can be beyond frustrating.

Transversely, some guests are extremely difficult through the entire experience and never seem to be in a good mood, but tip amazingly. These guests seem to want to put their servers through the wringer just to see if they’re worthy of such gracious gratuity.

Getting Chewed Out By The Chef Because A Customer Revolutionized A Dish

A woman wears an annoyed expression.
Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

Some guests will attempt to modify a dish to near unrecognition. These are often the same customers who are blissfully unaware of how little power the server actually has when it comes to making decisions. The server is just the middleman between the guest and the chef or manager.

With all of the meals they’re preparing simultaneously, the cooks don’t always have time to make a specialized dish. This can result in the chef scolding the server or rolling their eyes, which puts the waiter in the awkward position of either being shunned by the tip-paying guest or by the entire kitchen staff.

When A Guest Complains About The Wait And It’s 7 P.M. On A Saturday

An athelete holds his arms out on the field and yells.
Matt King/Getty Images
Matt King/Getty Images

Some guests seriously underestimate how much busier certain days and hours are than others, especially the ones who usually come in at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. They may think that they know exactly how long their usual meal takes to cook, but that can all change depending on the flow of the night.

What the guest probably doesn’t realize is that their order was put in behind a large party’s order, or dozens of other tickets. Alternatively, they may have ordered an appetizer or a starter salad that took a while, so the server had to hold off on the entrees to properly time the courses.

Landing A Party Of 12… Children

A toddler girl opens her mouth to scream.
Tim Graham/Getty Images
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Depending on the establishment, hosts will often ask how many children’s menus will be needed when they take down a reservation. Sometimes, however, a large party that a server thought would be a money-maker turns into dozens of children’s meals and a large mess to clean up afterward.

Life isn’t always fair and the same is certainly true for large parties. A party full of small children may have the same bill as a table of a few heavy-drinking adults. The amount of effort put in doesn’t always correlate to the amount of gratuity earned.

Loving The Accent But Sweating The Tip

A woman looks surprised.
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images
George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

Gratuity customs range significantly from country to country. Some places do not tip at all, while other areas may barely leave a few dollars. It can be stressful for a server who gets a foreign guest whose accent is from a place they know doesn’t normally leave a gratuity.

Some travelers are sure to learn the restaurant etiquette of a foreign place, but others remain ignorant. Still, others have an accent but are completely assimilated into American culture. While the server has to treat all guests the same to avoid being prejudice, it can be disappointing to see a big goose egg on the tip line.

Approaching A Table For The Fourth Time And They STILL Haven’t Even Looked Yet

A woman wears a tense expression on her face.
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Julian Finney/Getty Images

A part of the job is being able to smooth over any situation, but sometimes there’s no way to avoid an uncomfortable moment. One common example is when a table will not stop talking long enough to decide on an order.

The difficult part is finding the balance between not making the guest feel ignored, but also not making them feel interrupted. Despite having checked on the table multiple times, the server will probably still get an “Oh, THERE you are,” by the time the table is finally ready to order.

Doing Everything In Your Power To Avoid Taking A Break

An athlete bends down to speed skate.
Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images
Christopher Morris/Corbis via Getty Images

While it seems counterintuitive to want to avoid taking a break, many servers do so for a variety of reasons. For one, servers get into a kind of flow and breaking that to go sit down and eat can result in discovering how exhausted they really are.

Another reason is that it isn’t fun to get your tables covered by a coworker who knows they won’t be seeing any of the gratuity. Some restaurants schedule a breaker to relieve servers all night, but that’s usually a loathed position since tips are omitted. All in all, servers typically want to get in and get out in as little time as possible.