10 Questions You Shouldn’t Ask Servers and Bartenders

Diners asking service staff questions is a big part of the dining experience. No one knows what sabra or mirepoix is. It’s up to the server or bartender to explain and guide the guests through the menu.

But some questions really don’t need to be asked.

Some questions are so vague or rude or just invasive, they will surely be retold to co-workers at the end of the night. And yet, these are typical questions asked by guests that I’ve experienced over my many years working in the FOH. The next time you’re out to dinner, either rephrase or let these questions go through a mental filter before speaking aloud. This should always be done, but with what service industry folk are going through this year with the coronavirus guidelines, a little kindness with direct communication can go a long way right now.

1. “What’s good here?”

Setting aside the judgemental tone, I never understood this question simply because it’s so vague. You’re inside a thriving business, sir – lots, if not everything, is good here. And what’s your standard for good? Are you looking for the best dish on the menu? Or do you only want the “good” food? Help me out, are we shooting for the gold or bronze?

For food, this is a little easier; just point them to the thing everyone orders. But recommendating drinks was always harder. Do you drink whiskey? Gin? Do you want cocktails with tons of juice or just vodka on the rocks?

Next time, be direct about what you’re in the mood for or what you generally prefer, or even absolutely hate: “I like bourbon. Which drink should I drink?” or “I’m starving. I want to eat a lot, but also, I hate fish.”

Here’s a simple formula to follow: “What’s a good noun here?”

Fill in the noun – entree, dish, cocktail. And if you can go further and explain what you want, well, I went from stifling a deep sigh to probably buying you a drink.

2. “You’re going to remember all of that?”

Sweet Jesus, now I’m not! Why are you openly doubting someone else’s capabilities?! I used to never write down orders and I would always remember them, even when someone would ask that gem. If you’re wondering how servers do this, I’ll tell you.

They concentrate and visualize what people are telling them. It involves listening. It’s that easy.

Until someone speaks up and sows doubt into your mind. It’s a dick move. Another adult is doing their job – trust that they are doing it to the best of their ability. And if they don’t and you get the wrong dish? Hey, that happens when people write it down, too. Nonetheless, it’ll be corrected.

So relax. They got this.

3. “What are you making?

A drink, obviously! Maybe if I was creating a ferris wheel from Legos or cold fusion, this explanation would be warranted, but it’s not! People seem to only like to ask this when the bar is packed and I’m making several drinks at once.

My mind is actually on 20 different things right now, so unless you want me to ruin this guy’s Manhattan, perfect, that guy’s negroni but with mezcal, and that chic’s vodka martini she wants extra cold with three olives, please wait until I’m done pouring and stirring to ask this.

4. “Smile!”

Man, at least the mandatory facemasks will stop this request. I once had a guy ask me to smile while I had my entire arm submerged into an ice cold bucket trying to retrieve a champagne bottle. My face is gasping because of hypothermia, sir. I literally cannot smile right now.

I used to get this a lot while working until either my face relaxed or I hit an age where men, and some women, decided they weren’t interested in whether or not I smiled.

Telling someone else to smile says so much about the type of person you are – and it’s not a good person.

Serving and bartending is a tense and demanding job that you literally have to be friendly or you’re one Yelp review away from a write-up. I’m not actively trying not to smile. I’m concentrating, constantly re-prioritizing all of my guests needs, so, yes, my mouth might have slipped into a straight line while I was carrying a tray loaded with drinks that’s a quarter of my body weight.

And there were some days that, due to personal or work related problems or both, I could barely muster up a smile. Maybe, just maybe, instead of asking your server to smile or writing a passive aggressive note on the back of a check, you could do something, rather than telling them, to make that person smile.

“But that’s part of customer service!” some will argue.

Is it?

Being prompt, friendly, and anticipating needs is customer service. Toxic positivity isn’t.

5. “You know who you look like?”

All right, sometimes this is fun. I’ve gotten Hilary Swank time and time again. I’ll take it! But I’m vain and have been graced with a somewhat symmetrical face. Commenting on a stranger’s attractiveness is bad manners, especially when they are in the position of serving you.

And why is this so prevalent within the service industry? I’m guessing because alcohol is involved and, in a way, guests consider servers and bartenders as entertainers? I doubt car dealers are being told they look like William H. Macy all the time. Or maybe they are.

6. “Can you call me a cab?”

YOU GUYS. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? YOU’RE HOLDING A SMARTPHONE. CALL THE CAB COMPANY YOURSELF. OR EVEN BETTER, DOWNLOAD UBER OR LYFT. IT TAKES 5 MINUTES. YOU’RE TORTURING THE 20 YEAR OLD HOSTESS. SHE’S TOO YOUNG TO KNOW WHAT A CAB IS.

7. “Will you just write in the tip for me?”

I mean, I will, but you have to tell me what the credit limit on this card is because that’s what I’m going for!

8. “Will you sit in my lap?”

A sweaty drunk guy asked me this once after he ate a fuckload of pasta. I respectfully declined. This is not a common question, because why would it be, but it falls under the same vein as hitting on service staff. Unless they’re asking you out or offering to sit in your lap and feed you noodles, don’t ask for their number.

9. “Can you turn the air conditioning up?”

You might be wondering, well, this seems like a reasonable question. And it is. However, no one does this. We make you think we do. We make a big show of peering at the thermostat and pretending to press the button, but we don’t. Then we wait a little while and go back and ask, “Is that better?” And you say, “Oh, yes, it is!”

I don’t know why this works. Every time, I waited for the person to tell me they were still cold, but they never did. So, actually, you can ask this, but nothing tangible will be done to solve it. But you will, somehow, be warmer.

10. “Are you sure there aren’t any tables?”

Yes. We are sure. We’re not trying to prevent you from eating. Our business is literally convincing people to eat and drink here. That is how we get paid. There is no point in asking this, other than to make the hostess’ anxiety worse. Put your name on the waitlist and have a drink at the bar.

And remember to ask, “What’s a good noun here?”

(Photo by Henrique Félix via Unsplash)

6 Ways Bartending Destroys Your Body

She worked seven doubles in a row.

Sometimes a sycophantic co-worker will say, “I want to learn how to bartend!” Typically, they’re dressed super cute, maybe some heels going on because their job requires delicate tasks, like seating guests or coat check. They’re young, usually having just turned legal drinking age, so bars are still novelties to them.

I’m wearing clothes that are garbage because I’m always damp, from sweat, dirty dish water covering my jeans, spilled drinks and olive juice marinating my shirt. There might be anywhere between one to five cuts on my hand from a dull fruit knife or shattered wine glass. Exhausted, my hair falling out of a shitty bun while eyeing the drunk guy at the end who I have to cut off or the couple who might run out on their tab, I say, “Yeah, it’s really fun.”

What I don’t tell them is the list of physical maladies that read like symptoms of a flu strain busting out of Asia. It’s no secret bartending can be back breaking work. The amount of physicality varies depending on where you work, but make no mistake, slinging drinks takes its toll.

General Aches and Pains

Have you ever been beaten with a sack of doorknobs? Neither have I, but I know the feeling. Waking up the morning after a busy bar shift will leave you wondering who broke into your bedroom during the night and pummeled you with a baseball bat. Once you get up and moving, the general achiness will subside, as well as other methods to reduce stiffness, but you will wonder who stuffed your sleeping self into a industrial clothes dryer.

Cacophony of Cracking

I would say this next ailment drowns out the sound of morning song birds, but you heard those when you got home at 5 a.m. Now it’s two in the afternoon, you’re stretching in bed only to hear bones clicking and snapping back into their sockets like a first year biology teacher’s classroom skeleton being assembled. Don’t worry, there’s nothing pathologically wrong, those are gas bubbles popping around joints. Some of us may have more cracking joints than others, due to genetics, but typically, the symphony of sounds emanating from your joints is from hypermobility. Now, if there’s pain associated with the cracking, that leads me to my next point.

“Did I leave the oven on?”

Chronic Pain

From pinched nerves to plantar fasciitis to tendonitis, chronic pain is something we would like to ignore, like that greaseball waving frantically at you for drinks only to turn around and ask his friends what they want when you finally get to him, but we can’t. The pain is there and it’s not leaving until it’s dealt with (or served a vodka soda, an old fashioned, a Bud Light, a shot of Yaeger, and “whatever Madison wanted”). There are ways to prevent injuries, but bartending requires you to be on your feet for hours upon hours, moving – usually quickly – and lifting kegs. So, of course, stretch whenever possible, drink tons of water, wear comfy shoes and watch your posture, but injuries still might happen. Slip on a wet floor and you have a wretched knee to deal with. If injuries do happen, don’t ignore them by drinking more shift drinks than usual, deal with them immediately. Trust me, they’ll only get worse and cost you more pain and money in the long run.

Persistent Fatigue

Once, after suffering cold symptoms for almost two weeks, I went to a primary care physician who dismissed my symptoms as a cause of “well, you’re a bartender, so you probably go out all the time.” Or maybe there’s bacteria building a subdivision in my sinuses, Doctor. Some might assume your constant exhaustion is substance abuse, which does make people tired. However, as a bartender who rarely drinks, the fatigue that accompanies bartending, as well as anyone who works on their feet, is real and unavoidable. Standing on your feet for forty hours a week will affect anyone. You’re going to be a little sleepy. Yes, you can go to the gym to increase your physicality, drink tons of water, eat well and sleep seven hours a night, but, c’mon, still sleepy. And for introverts like myself who found their way into a lifetime of customer service, your energy will be drained. Energy vampires are real.

Constant Exposure to Illness

Speaking of doctors, good luck ever taking time off work to see one. Despite the exposure to hundreds of people and their airborne illnesses every shift, the service industry is notorious for allowing, or demanding, their employees come to work ill. Hospitality workers having paid sick days is more rare than painite and they usually can’t afford to miss a shift. We’re not exactly millionaires. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a day off when you’re dying with the flu, calling in sick without a doctor’s note usually means you’re required to find someone to cover your shift. If not, you’re working, unless you have a merciful manager. And speaking of doctors, hospitality workers are usually paying for private health insurance. And with the rising cost of healthcare, how many workers can actually afford the steep insurance premiums?

Fungus and Cavities, Oh My!

Now, for the closers, fungus and bacteria. Ah, fungus. We love you as mushrooms, but I do not want you on my toes. Once, I had a hole in my boot while bartending in a flooded bar which rewarded me with six weeks of athlete’s foot. Hands are constantly wet from alcohol, sanitizer water and fruit juice chapping your skin raw, resulting in the cutest term, bar hands. Like Edward Scissorhands, but touching a dry cotton polishing cloth will make you scream in pain. Another fun side effect is the prevalence of cavities. While I blame the majority of my dental care on my sugar addiction, there’s a definite cause and effect in alcohol and tooth decay. Tasting cocktails that you make to ensure consistency is part of the gig, but drink water afterwards because the acids in booze will rip through your teeth enamel like a tornado.

Bartending can be a rewarding job. The money is usually great, the people are sometimes great and guests respect you because you have knives and flammable liquids within reach. But you do have to have a thick skin – both emotionally and physically.