Spend any time in a service industry job and you'll quickly find out just how demanding some patrons can be. That's especially true in a restaurant, one of the very few places that exists where people ask us what we want -- and then, amazingly enough, bring it to us. No wonder some diners develop a sense of entitlement to rival royals; even the language of restaurants -- "orders," "servers," "ma'am," "sir" -- hints at layers of social standing, place, even purpose.
But just because the customer is always right, doesn't mean that the customer isn't sometimes rude. And no one knows that better than those expected to respond to our whims with nary a whine nor a whimper. Though some customers are downright obnoxious, others are simply clueless. Dissing a server is just as often unintentional as premeditated.
"The computer has really changed people because now people are used to things coming instantaeneously to them," says Ron Wilkerson, 55, a waiter at Cafe Deluxe in the District. "If you ask for butter, well, it's not in my back pocket. I actually have to go and get it."
In the hope of averting future squabbles, we asked area waiters to dish about their pet peeves and suggest ways to, you know, stay on their good sides. Servers always appreciate generous tips, but almost all of the folks we talked to said they also wouldn't mind a little more respect and politeness. Turns out being on your best behavior is also in a diner's best interest. As one restaurant veteran we spoke with put it, "If you treat me like I'm dirt, well, hello, I have your food." Sometimes desserts really are just desserts after all.
SUSAN MATHERS, 57, waitress and bartender for 15 years at the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill.
Pet Peeves: When you have five people at a table and every time you go back to the table, one person orders something else instead of everyone ordering at the same time.
Rude Report: People bring their children into the restaurant and remind them to say "please" and "thank you," but they don't say "please" or "thank you" themselves. At what age does it become okay to not be polite?
Happy Waiter: I love it when they remember me. And when they laugh at my jokes. I used to feel taken for granted, but I was mugged a couple of years ago and the whole community here was very kind to me and raised money for me. I'll never forget that.
Quotable: Customers here are always on good behavior because we have a reputation of being surly old waitresses. We're really not as surly as we seem. Anyway, they have to be nice to me because I'm in charge of the alcohol.
KAYLA RICHARDSON, 23, waitress for three months at a restaurant in Rockville.
Pet Peeves: When you're talking to diners at one table and someone from the next table is tapping you on the back or snapping their fingers to get your attention. Or when a group is waiting to be seated and they keep staring at you so that you'll seat them faster.
Rude Report: Some customers won't even look at you when you ask them if they'd like to order. They just ignore you altogether.
Happy Waiter: If I'm bringing plates to the table and my hands are full, I really appreciate it if people move things out of the way to make room. Sometimes they'll just sit there and look at me.
Quotable: You probably shouldn't go to a place that's fine dining if you expect fast food service. Some people have been sitting for 30 seconds and they act like they've been waiting for an hour.
AARON SAXE, 26, waiter for seven years, the last 21/2 at Indique in Cleveland Park.
Pet Peeve: People who wave you over to order before they've decided what they want. Then you have to stand around for 15 minutes while they decide and, in the meantime, all of your other customers suffer.
Rude Report: If someone is incredibly rude, I'll put them in what I call the "penalty box." I'll serve every table around them first and then I'll get to them. If someone stiffs you, you'll probably remember that face the next time they come back. But you'll also remember the ones who treated you well.
Happy Waiter: It helps if someone is just polite or if they acknowledge that I'm really slammed. Also, it helps if they have a sense of humor.
Quotable: Some people are incredibly belligerent. You're not a human being to them, you're more of a slave.
MARY SCOLLARD, 34, waitress for six months at Potowmack Landing in Alexandria.
Pet Peeves: When you bring the check to a big group and everyone hands you their credit card for their portion of the bill. It's a lot easier if you let me know ahead of time and I can just bring separate bills for everyone. Also, people who camp out at a table for hours and only order an appetizer and a soda.
Rude Report: We've had customers eat their entire meal and then pitch a fit to get it free. One customer who thought his meal took too long pitched a fit to get it for free. He yelled, "What did you do, go fish in the river to catch my fish?" It was embarrassing.
Happy Waiter: If I go to a table and everyone knows what they want and can order all at one time, that's wonderful for me.
Quotable: If someone's really being rude and obnoxious, it doesn't bother me too much because I realize it's them and not me.
SHEON YU, 40, waiter for 15 years, now owner-manager of Cafe Asia in Arlington.
Pet Peeve: Every once in a while, someone will order several sushi rolls, eat all of them and then insist that we didn't bring them everything they ordered.
Rude Report: We once watched a customer use a napkin to wipe out the China bowl she had just eaten from. We thought she was being trying to be helpful, but then she just put the bowl in her purse.
Happy Waiter: A smile from a customer gives us a lot of energy and lets us know that we're doing the right thing.
Quotable: We have mostly wonderful customers. But for some, if they're unhappy with one little thing, they'll start threatening us by saying they're going to write bad things about us on the Internet. It's not fair.
APRIL TINSLEY, 38, waitress for 14 years at a national chain restaurant in Laurel.
Pet Peeves: People who order something from the menu but, when you bring it to them, say they didn't order that. They just look at the picture and order, but they don't even read the description to know what they're getting. I also don't like it when they go to other tables to get something like silverware or ketchup instead of just asking me.
Rude Report: A customer once threw a spoon to get someone to come over and take his order. That made me pretty hot.
Happy Waiter: It's nice when they treat you like family. When they understand if there's a problem that you're not always the one responsible. We have a lot of nice regulars here that are like that.
Quotable: Some people get real petty. They start comparing the size of their omelet to someone else's. It's crazy.