Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do—Updated...

Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do—Updated

Restaurateur Bruce Buschel has an article on the New York Times’ website that is pretty interesting. It is a list of 100 things a server should never do, with the first 50 here.
I want to eat at this guy’s place. I have seldom seen so comprehensive a listing of things that I hate from certain servers, as well as actions that I never noticed before, but now hate as well. It’s an interesting read, so follow the link to appreciate it in its entirety. That said, I cannot resist quoting a few of my favorites, to give you a flavor of his thoughts.
Here are a couple of my own personal pet peeves:

5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.

There is no quicker route to make the place seem run down than a wobbly table. It will make me aware of every single blemish in the facility, service, and food, because it will always be reminding me.

38.Do not call a guy a “dude.”

39. Do not call a woman “lady.”

Ditto, or perhaps more importantly, avoid “Honey”, “Hon”, or “Dear”. Incidentally, in the comments, a woman complains of being called “Ma’am”. I have to disagree with her. In many areas of the country, not using that term with an adult female is likely a mistake (especially when replaced with terms like “Hon”). It is a simple term of respect. I can see that in New York it should be optional, and possibly ill-advised, but to take offense at its use simply reveals a pretty deep-seated insecurity. If you can object to being called “Ma’am” without adding, if only to yourself, the thought, “I’m not that old!”, let me know what your motivation is.

40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.

It doesn’t imply that the other choices are bad. It reveals that you are a suck-up.

And as I said, there are a few things on the list that never occurred to me before. Unfortunately, I’ll be cranky about them from now on:

30. Never let the wine bottle touch the glass into which you are pouring. No one wants to drink the dust or dirt from the bottle.

Now posting about other people’s internet lists is neither fun nor cricket, unless you are going to contribute. I notice that all fifty items on Buschel’s list have to do with guests who are seated for dinner, and are aimed at servers or hosts. I’ll toss out a few of my own for bartenders. Any additions?

  • Do not talk to anyone, customer or co-worker about anything except the making of a drink, without obviously scanning the bar for customers who need attention, before and throughout.
  • After working the till, or anything else that holds your gaze for any length of time, scan the whole bar for customers who want your attention.

Catch a theme there?

  • In all but the quietest bars, no one should hear a drink being put down in front of a customer. No clunking!
  • Don’t disparage the house wine. Unless it sucks, in which case, don’t mention it at all. And tell the owner or manager that people are complaining.
  • If you have more than about three to five beers, ask a narrowing question before you go rattling off all twenty-six on offer like you’re the FedEx fast talker guy.

I found this article via Jacob Grier’s Morning Links (as I have said before, it’s a great place to find cool content). Buschel introduces his list with this proviso: “Veteran waiters, moonlighting actresses, libertarians and baristas will no doubt protest some or most of what follows.” And sure enough, Jacob notes (without specifying), “As a libertarian and barista, I do protest (a few of) these rules.”
I don’t have any serious objections (a few “Meh”s) to the items therein. Jacob? But I do have an objection to throwing Libertarians under the bus here! There is no reason to inject political whinging into what should be a “Safe Zone” discussion. I don’t need Sarah Palin or Joe Biden cracks being used to illustrate points about how much the Mets’ season stank, for example. And besides, I imagine that most violations of Buschel’s list come from folks who hail from the, “I’m the expert here. You need to do your business as I suggest,” school of politics…. (He said, keeping politics needlessly embedded in the discussion!)

UPDATE: The second half of the list is up on the New York Times’ website here. I’ll basically let it speak for itself, since it is a tad less interesting than the first 50, but I will comment on two items.

79. When someone orders a drink “straight up,” determine if he wants it “neat” — right out of the bottle — or chilled. Up is up, but “straight up” is debatable.

I actually commit the “straight up” faux pas myself from time to time, even now. While a server or bartender can usually tell from the spirit ordered (Scotch “straight up” is almost certainly neat, while vodka “straight up” is equally likely to mean chilled), it is still a good thing to check for sure. But don’t be a prick about it!
This brings me to the other item that makes me smile:

58. Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested.


  1. Jacob

    30 October

    Most of the ones I objected to had to do with being friendly with customers. I agree with being strictly professional by default, but with amenable regulars it’s good to loosen up. I think this especially true on the bar side, where developing personal relationships helps bring people in.

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  2. Doug

    30 October

    I agree. As I observed, the list is not aimed at bartenders, who can and should have a more collegial and personal relationship with customers, especially regulars.

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  3. Tony Harion

    30 October

    “43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant.”
    I really don´t like this one in particular. Saying “never mention your favorite dessert” is one thing… saying it´s irrelevant is just wrong.

    Staff choices are relevant, specially assuming they did the rest of the stuff on the list (They are professionala).
    I can´t imagine myself thinking that my bartender´s opinion is irrelevant when he looks as pro as a waiter that went thru the whole list.

    I know I’m going a bit farther with the concept of staff opinions, but they are very relevant. Owners should use them to their advantage.


    There are some other topics that I don’t agree 100% and some pretty nice ones that I haven’t noticed either (but will now). This one just jumped at my face.

    Nice list!

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  4. Doug

    31 October


    As someone who thinks only like a customer (the only restaurant I ever worked in was a Hardee’s), I see his point.
    When a server offers an unsolicited opinion about stuff, especially add-ons like dessert, my anti-sales radar is triggered. Is there too much of that cake in the back? Is she just trying to make sure I choose something?
    It introduces a tiny (or huge, depending on the manner a suggestion is presented) thought barrier between me and the server.
    Now, my comments apply only to UNSOLICITED advice. I love a good suggestion when I ask for it.
    I think 43 fits in with the guy’s general belief in having his staff being primarily responsive, and proactive only behind the scenes.

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  5. Tony Harion

    31 October


    I see your point.

    I agree that unsolicited advice triggers the radar more than often and should be avoided. My last comment didn’t consider unsolicited advises.

    My only problem is with the “It´s irrelevant” part.

    My radar also triggers quite often, and even when it does trigger this means that the opinion WAS relevant (not in a good way).

    43 does fit well in his list and his line of thought, I just wouldn´t say staff opinions are irrelevant.

    Suggestions can affect a decision on a positive or negative way depending on how (and when) they are passed to the customer. But they are always relevant.


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