Here's What Restaurant Servers Notice About You When You're Dining Out

man holding silver tray and lid against blue and green background
man holding silver tray and lid against blue and green background Tara Moore via Getty Images

When you walk into a restaurant, you probably notice how friendly the host and waitstaff are, what the ambiance feels like, what kind of cuisine is on the menu and who else is dining there. But you’re not the only one taking in your surroundings. Restaurant servers are also likely sizing you up and figuring out what kind of dining guest you’ll be.

“[Being a server] teaches you how to read people’s behaviors on a dime,” Kelly Ennis, who was a server for about 15 years, told HuffPost. “You can tell when you walk up to a table if they’re in a bad mood, if they’re in a rush … It’s [all about] understanding body language and developing a rapport quickly.” 

We asked long-time restaurant servers what they’ve observed about their guests when they’re dining out and why that’s important to their jobs.

They observe how you respond when they introduce themselves.

When your server first comes by your table, are you scowling at the menu with your arms crossed? Do you stop what you’re doing and listen to them?

“There were folks [who] would come in … and barely acknowledge you and couldn’t remember what you look like,” recalled Chuck Anderson, who was a server for about 20 years. He said even just calling your server by name and saying “please” and “thank you” goes a long way.

“To me, the biggest indicator that someone was going to be friendly, or at least nice, is eye contact,” shared Darron Cardosa, a former server for about 25 years and blogger of The Bitchy Waiter. He thinks customers don’t often recognize how simple gestures like this can improve the relationship between them and their server. 

They can tell a lot about the dynamics at your table.

When you sit down at your table, servers usually notice who you are dining with, Simon K., who has about six years of serving experience, explained.

“Is it two friends? Is it a date? … You fish those things out just by talking to the guests and find out why they’re there,” he said.

If there are kids at the table, Simon tries to determine how well-behaved they are: “You don’t know how lax the parents are in terms of keeping the kid in their seats or letting them run around the restaurant, or how dirty underneath the table is going to be.” 

Noticing these types of details can help a server gauge how much attention each table will need, how to space out the orders, how much time the cleanup will take, and what the overall bill may look like.

Another very telling observation for servers: how you treat others at your table.

“If someone is dismissive of their spouse, their date or their kids, then you don’t have much hope that they’re going to treat you better,” Cardosa said.

They notice entitlement by the way you order.

Asking for substitutions and to split the check are usually acceptable. But requests like these should be logical, Cardosa explained.

For example, asking to substitute an inexpensive ingredient with an expensive one is probably not going to happen.

“You can’t just say, ‘I don’t want tomatoes, but can I get shrimp instead,’” he said. “It’s definitely an upcharge.”

And in terms of splitting checks, “if someone wants … to split the bottle of wine three ways and … the appetizer two ways and then the entrees four ways, that’s going to be really confusing,” Simon said. 

These types of over-the-top requests can make you come off as entitled or inconsiderate of the waitstaff.

They pick up on it if you have poor time management.

“There’s that saying, ‘Your lack of time management is not my problem.’ … That is how I feel about people who are in a rush,” Cardosa said.

When he worked in Times Square, he frequently had customers come in and say they were in a hurry to get to a show. 

“You knew the show was at 8 o’clock. It’s not my responsibility to make your food take precedence over other people because now it’s 7:15 and you’re just getting here,” he said. 

Another example of poor time management: When customers show up at a restaurant a few minutes before it closes, even though they know it’s about to close. 

“The last thing you want … is to have this [last-minute table] that orders three things and then lingers for two hours,” Simon shared. “Working at a restaurant is literally the most tiring job … people want to go home.”

Don't even think about snapping your fingers to get their attention.
Don't even think about snapping your fingers to get their attention. Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

They CAN’T judge how you’ll treat them based on your appearance.

Whether customers are in a full suit or wearing a grungy T-shirt and shorts, servers told HuffPost that you can never really tell how they’ll treat the waitstaff, how much they’ll spend, or how much they’ll tip just based on looks.

In fact, Ennis remembers one of her regular customers came off as crotchety by appearance but was actually one of the best tippers.

“[I’ve learned to] never judge a book by its cover,” she said. “It could be the best book that you’ve read.”

The most important thing servers pay attention to: Are you treating them with respect?

If you’re ignoring your server every time they come by your table or are snapping at them to get you your food and drinks faster, they’re probably going to feel disrespected.

“We always had this … ‘I’m a server, not your servant’ mindset,” Anderson said. “I think [customers] need to remember that this is a lot of people’s livelihoods … And being aware of who’s [serving] you and extending a little bit of grace will allow you as the patron to have a better dining experience.”