Service 101: Why Servers Don’t Get Any Respect

I respect restaurants. I respect people. So why is it that so many diners don’t respect me when I’m dressed in a waiter’s uniform?

The answer is simple: many customers don’t believe waiters to be professionals and therefore don’t merit their respect.

As a server and bartender, I am expected to be friendly, courteous, and skilled at my job–regardless of how poorly my diners treat me. If I greet a table with a smile and they glare at me with hate, I must pretend that their attitude doesn’t affect me. If a guest barks because they feel uncomfortable not understanding the menu, I am required to empathize and respond with kindness. If a patron interrupts me while I am helping another guest, I am obligated to defend the other diner’s right to service while maintaining good communication with the impatient one. If a dish comes out of the kitchen that a particular guest doesn’t like, I am expected to apologize and assuage their anger—regardless if I am accused of intentionally trying to ruin their big night out.

Fine. I’m a professional. I can handle big expectations. But what is expected of the guest? Surely human kindness should be on the list.

In reality, however, many believe that the only thing expected of a diner is payment at the end of the meal*.  Requirements like showing up for a reservation on time, reading and respecting a restaurant’s policy, listening to a server read back their order to make sure no errors were made, and not stealing restaurant property are ignored.

Who the hell says I have to be civil, is the inferred battle cry of many diners.

Come on. Really? Is offering basic human kindness really all that difficult? Is civility really too much to ask for?

I’ve heard the argument before—most waiters don’t act like true professionals and therefore shouldn’t be treated with respect—but the truth is, professionalism isn’t the real issue here.  There are plenty of proficient and skilled wait staff in the world–I count myself as one of them—that are just as prone to being treated poorly by guests, simply because of our position. The world is filled with tons of angry and unhappy people that have no use for words like civil, kindness, and respect. They’re too busy perpetuating misery in their lives by spreading as much hate and anger as possible. Who am I to expect something more than payment (which is easily denied) in return for my services?

Is the belief system that service industry professionals don’t deserve respect based on classism? Prejudice? Discrimination? Or intolerance?

It’s true that waiters, bartenders, bussers, and restaurant managers are in the humble position to serve. But so too is the ambulance driver, the social worker, the politician, the nurse, and the minister. Surely those social servants are treated far better by those they attend. Why shouldn’t servers get a small portion of that respect?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

*Even payment is a point of contention for many diners.

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. January 19

    I am easy to please. Be somewhat attentive, if I ask something about what is being served, know what is being served. Keep my water glass full, and don’t do the macarena on my table(Joes Crab Shack, thanks but your shoes, and my food are too close to each other). I am basically happy. Ignore me, let my water glass get empty, be completely unattetive, and it aggrivates me, and your tip drops to ten percent.

    • Dan
      May 29

      Really? You are the type of people he is talking about. Just because your water got low does not mean he is not a human being sharing this earth with

      -Daniel, a hospitality manager of 10 years

    • Naomi
      November 26

      You my lady have probably been pointed out as the water bitch and therefore get poor service
      Did you know that we aren’t only responsible for keeping your water full but we have to answer the phone. I could be on my way to your table with a water pitcher and the phone rings and on the other end is a lady who wants to order for 14 people but only knows what she wants. So I have to sit in the phone and walk her they the menu while she screams into her living room taking orders. Meanwhile I’m still holding the pitcher of water. Oh And we run food for the whole restaurant and get ice for the soda machines and change the soda and run to the beer cooler for a six pack and get the 3rd ranch for table 20 and yell at the kitchen because someone is mad their steak is taking longer than 15 minutes. Open your eyes lady you are NOT the only customer your server has to wait on. BET you couldn’t do half of what we do. You are the definition of entitled.

  2. Theresa
    January 19

    Amen to civility! I proudly waited tables and served as a bartender for 15+ years, and although most people were wonderful, I felt that so many had “a chip on their shoulder”, and were justified in taking it out on their server. BTW, I think most waiters do act professionally, unless their point of tolerance has been reached.

  3. January 19

    Perhaps affluent diners at upscale restaurants are largely a bunch of narcissistic cretins with entitlement complexes?

  4. Evan Tallas
    January 19

    I’ve never waited tables, and I have a great deal of respect for those that do, and do it well. Every single customer is different and expects something different. I like to be left alone, and not interrupted most of the time. “Most of the time.” My own mood changes and so do my expectations. I always leave huge tips because having to put up with people and continually smile is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world.

  5. January 20

    Well, it’s different for every person but…maybe it’s that when people are being waited on by a nurse, social worker, minister, etc they are usually in pain or upset, feelings that put you in a position of vulnerability. As such you’re more apt to be humble and considerate. Whereas when people are being waited on by those in other service positions, servers etc, they usually are feeling perfectly well and fine and feel quite free to be their normal selfish selves. Hence their propensity to take servers for granted. Also, perhaps some people think that server’s don’t really *do* anything deserving of much consideration. Servers aren’t the ones who make the food after all, they only deliver it. They don’t consider the work that servers actually do.

    For me, I don’t really like to talk to people I don’t know. Servers fall into that catagory. I tend to ignore servers unless they ask me a direct question or I need to ask them a question. I just feel uncomfortable making chit chat with a stranger. I know that can come across as cold or perhaps even rude, though it’s not my intention. That’s my two cents anyway.

  6. johanna
    January 21

    actually, you are not in the only profession where personnel are treated badly. believe it or not, EVERYONE in a profession that requires them to be in contact with others gets treated badly –esp nowadays. yes, even doctors and veterinarians and lawyers. (being one of those myself, i would say that people may in fact give those types of workers MORE flak than restaurant personnel–possibly because of the stress and expectations around these types of visits?). somehow it is part of our culture now to take it–”customer is always right”. i do believe that there are subtle ways to put the offender to shame, w/o offending them, for their actions/words, but it takes some savvy knowhow and good self-image to do so.
    however, it is just par for the course when you are in a profession that deals w/ lots of people. i say, at risk of offending (not my intention), that if you can’t take it, don’t be in a service job. there are ups and downs in every profession–it’s part of life.
    on the bright side, letting others’ bad behavior ”roll off your shoulders like water” as someone once said, is a good way to keep positive in life and self-image. the truth is, most of the time, their behavior has nothing to do with you.

    • Cyndi
      March 3

      Believe it or not. … Hospitality industry is 6th in top Stressful jobs….where others jobs may be stressful. ..this is the only job…where your paycheck/tip is docked foe many reason’s that are not the server’s fault…people look for a reason not to tip….especially in CHAIN’S. ..APPLE BEE’S….being one…. they gave me a job…I gave it right back…. the most rude customers I’ve ever seen…. if your in the bar, you’ll do fairly well. …but let’s say a secretary…transposed a number….causing an entire chain of event’s to go wrong. …why is she not docked in her pay
      Let’s say ice machine is broken…and you’re concerving.. boss says cannot tell your customer that…and an irritated customer (BLAMES SERVER) and my favorite..why another’s food comes out before theirs..well…that medium well…burger/steak..may be one reason….they will ssy service was dlow…no!!
      I put your order in promptly. gets behind..when a peak dinner hour just started kicking in..on top of that medium well burger..with an not so icy ‘iced tea’
      BETCHA 9 times out of 10…server gets no tip….docked their pay!!! And we still pay taxes on your bill amount..and more now than ever…we tip out..bartenders, bussers, and hostesses. …so in retrospect. ..that meal….just cost that server 5.00….minimum…. paid for your so so dining experience! !!!

  7. Seems to me the issue here is common courtesy — no more, no less. Regardless of whether we meet our fellow men in a professional or personal context, we owe everyone that fundamental, baseline level of respect. My guess is that the people who are rude to waiters are the same ones who go home and kick their dogs.

  8. January 25

    Yikes. It saddens me that most of the people you encounter are like this — I was always under the impression that majority of people are somewhere in between. I think that yes, it has something to do with that feeling of entitlement.

    However, my experience has been the opposite. I feel like since I am a 28 y/o with the voice and appearance of a 17 y/o, many servers ignore me, make faces, and at worst, snot at me (for questions like what my options are for salad dressings i.e., things not written on the menu). And I don’t even make special requests to alter meals and have never asked anything to be returned. Throughout this, I’ve always smiled sweetly and made eye contact (which, in retrospect, emphasizes the false youth), and depending on the ambiance, returned small talk with polite and sincere answers, and give out compliments and thanks.

  9. January 25

    If only everyone could walk in restaurant service shoes for a while to see the other side. It won’t change the dog-kickers (they’ll get their due someday) but it might shed light for many others who have no clue what it’s like to be gracious under pressure. I applaud you for rising above and staying true to your profession.

  10. January 25

    In my version of a perfect world, anyone allowed to dine in a restaurant should first be required to put in some time as a server. There’s nothing more humiliating than eating out with people who can’t emphasize with service staff and/or be a little flexible if something does go wrong.

  11. January 25

    When assessing a person’s character, there are 2 things high on my list – how they treat servers (any type: restaurant staff, store clerks, receptionists, etc.), and how they treat animals. Being kind and gracious is a way of being we get to choose, or not, even on a bad day. In fact, how we act toward others on bad days is probably number 3 on the list…

    Thank you, Brooke, for bringing this to our attention! For some reason I’m hearing John Mayer’s “Daughters” lyrics in my head, but it’s “Diners be good to your servers, servers be good to your diners, too!”

  12. January 25

    You may honestly be an excellent server, but for every irate, irrational customer story, there are poor wait staff stories. To give you my worst, I once asked a waitress for the dessert menu. This was at the end of a fairly poorly served meal which my husband and I had borne up with. She looked a bit confused, then told me she couldn’t find the menus and could I come ask the chef? Now if I had raised hell about all of this, would I be seen as disrespectful? Would the management placate me and then call me a difficult customer when I left?

    My answer to the treatment I received was to never step foot in that restaurant again. I know this is a one-off situation. There have been others in other places.

    I believe there are good stories and bad stories on either side.

    • Dan
      May 29

      When you get bad service from a waiter, you don’t get cussed out, yelled at by your manager and lose part of your variable daily salary.

      P.s sometimes people have a bad day

  13. Brooke, when I worked as a cocktail waitress at the Balboa Café in San Francisco in the ’80’s we had to wear Laura Ashley outfits. In those days, Laura Ashley was heavily into the milkmaid style and I inherited a few of those dresses from another girl, but bought some other a bit more “preppy” ones one my own (solid color dresses with wraparound sashed waists, cotton dirndl skirts & white blouses with little string ties). There was a marked difference in the respect level from customers when I wore the more “button down look.” But in those days, I took no guff from the “ups,” as they were called. Some young college boy called me the “c” word because it was closing time and I tried to take his drink. I threw a tray of empty glasses on the floor in front of him and ordered him out of the bar. I guess that was across the street from the “Bal” at the Dartmouth Social Club. In those days I drove a Harley, these days I’m just a Japanese farmer’s wife. No more throwing trays (though I still have a temper). –Nancy

  14. January 26

    I totally respect servers if they respect us. My boyfriend waited for a few years and while we are chatting I always see his eyes dart back and forth watching whats going on with the servers and kitchen. Sometimes he will whisper to me, ‘they are hustling tonight’, ‘they are short staffed’, or ‘our waiter is just standing there’. We give great servers fantstic respect and of course tips since he really knows some of the ‘abuse’ they have to deal with.

    recently I went out to Post 390 in boston and while the food was amazing our fantastic server really made the whole dinner come together.

  15. January 27

    To live in this world comes repsonsibility. The most important responsiblility in this society is to care for others, and treat everyone with the same respect that you expect for yourself. Sound familiar? “Do unto others…” Not exactly a new idea – it does not need to be. Well, as one’s individual goals become less about other people, they are going to start acting this way in more facets of their lives. And, often (not always), the more money that someone makes, the less time that they have for their fellow man, because they are always working. It does not have to be this way. Wherever I go, I do my best to acknowledge anyone with whom I come into contact. I try to be especially kind to those who are kind enough to serve me: a waiter, a gas station attendant, the staff at the recycling center, the director of the swimming pool, the mail carrier, the bank teller – everyone. If I am so fortunate to meet someone who gives of him/herself every day to me, they deserve my respect. That’s all there is to it. And a little note to Brooke – it is good to “hear you” on your website! – Darren

  16. January 27

    So nice to have you speak up on this issue. I only wish I could have the people most guilty of these offenses read it! So many people don’t realize the skill that it takes to be skilled in your position. Notwithstanding the necessary skill involved, you are still a human being that deserves respect.

  17. February 17

    I credit a jaded dining public and the expectation that service isn’t a value that we recognize in the dining experience. It’s a shame that this is the case. I always try to look servers in the eye, speak clearly and kindly, and gently bring up issues if there are any. It’s really the smart thing to do – if you treat people well, then they will treat you well. I get a lot of my friends telling me they received bad service and I ask them, “how did you treat your server?” The response is generally vague.

    I sometimes wonder (and this exercise might be pointless, but heck), on the whole, do more people in LA receive bad service from servers, or do people treat servers badly? I’d probably aim for the latter, but I think it could be worth thinking about.

    • Food Woolf
      February 17

      thank you for your thoughtful comments. I think it would be an interesting study. Based on my own work experiences, I’ll tell you that many people walk in the door with “I’m-going-to-get-bad-service” written all over them. Try as I might to snap them out of it by giving them great service, they refuse to change their attitude. Some people just want to stay angry and maintain their bad attitudes.

  18. Katie
    March 17

    Mattatouille & Food Woolf…. The issue of LA being a particular haven of bad service is something I’ve been thinking about recently while interviewing new servers for my restaurant. In what other industry can you come to an interview with the attitude “well I’m an Actress, that’s my passion, here’s my availability, I’d love you to work around my acting classes and give me shifts until my first recurring on a network show”?? I have a number of GREAT servers who act as well, but they are actually interested in in food and the hospitality industry. Those are the servers who give LA service a bad rap, the ones in it for the flexi schedule and cash in hand, but I will also say that I have met the most entitled & difficult guests of my life in LA after working in restaurants in NYC, Hawaii, CO & IA. Last night I had a woman grab my arm and demand a table I was taking a group with a reservation to because she “didn’t know we took reservations!”. sigh.

  19. AmyRC
    May 4

    Your blog is spot on and very well written. I am a waitress who is sick of they way that customers treat me – and I am a very nice and talented server. Your article helped me to feel better.

  20. […] day I encounter people who think the work I do is menial, without merit, and unworthy of respect. I read rants on message boards and blogs that say that people in […]

  21. Lea
    March 31

    I think this is the attitude that the author is talking about. You bark out demands, a list of ultimatums, and if they fall short, the tip drops. The central focus of the article is the respect the customer owes the server – not the kind you’d save for the president or the pope, but the respect you’d give to another human being. I’ve been a server in the past, a customer service rep at a bank and now in a grocery store. Many customers are just fine, but an alarming number of people treat me and my co-workers like gutter trash. Is it so hard to say “please” and “thank you?” Is it so difficult to throw your trash away in a rubbish bin, rather than dump it on the counter without a word? Basic courtesy and respect is expected of customers as well, even if people often fall short.

  22. Dawn
    November 12

    My mother was a waitress in the ’70s. My father always told us girls that he would love us to have any job but a waitress because of the way people treat their servers. My sister became a server and loves it. I went to college and worked in an office until I became a homemaker, have never been a server in my life and seriously doubt I could do it. My daughter is a server while she puts herself through college. I always tip well because I know that there is more work behind those doors than bringing your drink and plate. My daughter gets $10 no matter what, whether I eat a lunch alone or a whole family meal because I pay her rent, but for others it’s a minimum of 20% and then I round up from there. I also know to use cash for tips if I can as it’s preferred over a credit card tip.

  23. j
    January 11

    Acceptance is key. Pray. Love…On a side note, I dated a girl who def took care of me, but she treated servers like poop when we would go out on dates, and we were both servers at the time, very strange, very unfortunate…I 86ed her like Prime Rib on a Saturday night.

    • January 12

      Josh, thank you so much for reading. It’s always interesting where and when service professionals struggle to give respect to other fellow service professionals. I suspect that people in the service industry who believe the work that we do isn’t an honorable profession are more than likely to be equally unfair to others as they are to themselves. Thanks for coming by!

  24. Cat
    January 30

    Great to read this. I recently returned to hospitality after a 5 years. I have been working in this industry for 10+years and after my break I have noticed dining culture is rapidly changing- guests are becoming more demanding, more impolite, insist on customising their meals to an extent that it’s barely recognisable to the menu on offer. Free wifi and IT support is demanded of the wait staff if their devices fail to connect. Customers seat them selves when signage clearly informs them to wait to be seated, and when you lead them to a table they want to pick their own, more often than not it will be an unset, dirty table. Parents let their children run and play in the restaurant while wait staff try to carry large trays of drinks. Customers sit down and inform you they’re in a rush and to rush their food through. Please and thank you are said less frequently. It’s horrific. oh and if something goes wrong, expect it to be plastered all over the restaurant’s Facebook, Twitter or Trip Adviser, or an online review platform – instead of the management getting an opportunity to iron out issues on the spot. people will critique every aspect of their experience and how it didn’t meet their expectations which are ever increasing. I wish people would just use manners, show some courtesy, and stop treating hospitality staff like this. Male patrons think it’s ok to say ‘Good girl’ to me when I’m 33years old. I do believe classism plays a significant factor in customer behaviour to service staff. I truly love hospitality but I do believe in this industry we see culture shifts as they happen – reflected in our guest’s behaviour each day- and I am sad to say people are becoming more self absorbed, demanding and inconsiderate.

  25. brian
    February 6

    people…wake up servers handle your food….chill out and be nice…or beware………trust me i managed a steakhouse and heard things…lol and if you tip poorly……and you come back to the same place…lets just say if you run into a server thats having a bad day…o we’ll you figure out what the special sauce is…lol

  26. G Martin
    September 6

    I have two daughters that work as server/bartenders. I have heard MANY horror stories over the years about unruly restaurant “guests”. The WORST stories i’ve heard though are about how they are treated like garbage by the owners and managers of these restaurants. Being sent home early……sometimes after sitting unpaid for two hours because they are not busy enough to start you. Or calling/texting the night before a morning shift and telling you they won’t need you the next morning. Hiring you “full time” and after two or three weeks your only getting fifteen hours a week. The wait staff and other employees of these establishments get more respect from me than there white collar bosses.

  27. charity
    October 16

    I am a server. I went to college. I work this job because I couldn’t pay my mortgage working as a salaried professional in my field. I could be your daughter, sister or good friend…but you don’t know my backstory. All you see is my uniform and that I work in a restaurant. I come to work on time every shift and treat you how I’d like to be treated, with dignity and respect. I work hard to make sure you leave happy, because if you don’t, I actually care & feel terrible. As a server, I am the main point of contact for my restaurant. Last week we were short a server, so we were running 14 table sections. Unfortunately, that means not everybody’s glass is always going to be filled to the top with water, nor is everybody going to be coddled to their expectations. Point being, it is not always the servers fault if the service isn’t 5 star. Despite being punished tip wise for the fact that one of my coworkers fathers died suddenly & he had to call off (servers don’t get time off for things like a family death), I endured abuse from many customers as I did my best to survive a shift from hell while smiling ear to ear for 8 hours. It’s a tough job, most people work it because they have to for survival. If you see your server standing in a corner on their phone ignoring their tables-deduct it from their tip by all means, but if you see your server running their ass off trying to meet everybody’s needs try to be understanding. It may not always be their fault.

  28. Katy
    December 12

    I am so, so sorry to hear servers getting this kind of treatment. My first job ever was as a waitress, and I strongly recommend it to any human being who needs to get an idea of what it’s like to have one of the hardest jobs there is (OK, maybe it’s tougher being a cop, or a construction worker. But waiting is no picnic!)

    I’m really commenting on this entitled, snobby attitude that servers shouldn’t be treated politely. That entire conceited mien drives me crazy, but not just servers being treated badly. It’s anyone in what is perceived in a ‘blue collar’ or ‘lower class’ occupation. I cannot imagine anything more sincerely rotten than treating ANY human being who is gainfully employed in ANY job like crap because you think that person is lower than you are.

    God bless the unsung hard workers of the world. The people who make the bagels every morning at 4 am, the driver who drop off a bundle of newspapers at the store, the janitor who cleans up the trash barrels at your job, and yes, the server who is kind, pleasant, unobtrusive, and tries to do his best by you to make your meal an enjoyable affair.

    Every last one of these people deserve politeness and consideration. They’re to be admired for taking on sometimes tedious jobs with little obvious reward, except in knowing that you did the best you could with what you were given. And the truth is, it’s really only the rats who think they are ‘superior’ to other people, based upon their job title. The really classy people are the ones who treat EVERYONE the same, from the garbage collector to the president (and no political digs meant!)

    Servers, as one who started out her working career in your ranks, I salute you! You’re all amazing in my eyes (and I show it with a 20+ percent tip. In cash!) 🙂

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