25 Things Chefs Hate About You

Gwendolyn Richards / Heavy Table
Gwendolyn Richards / Heavy Table

We rightfully ask a lot of the chefs and servers at our restaurants; they’re taking our cash, and we’re asking for quality goods and friendly service in return. But at what point do we, as diners, cross that fuzzy gray line that separates “assertive diner” and “jerk”? Or the other line dividing “jerk” from “total jackass”?

The following thoughts — culled from observation and remarks made by a panel of anonymous Minneapolis chefs — are a good starting point for the civilized diner. (And for comparison’s sake, check out 25 Things Diners Hate About Restaurants.)

Basic Humanity

Call if you’re canceling reservations. Don’t just ditch. It takes 10 seconds, and it’s a common courtesy that helps the whole place function more smoothly.

Don’t be an extortionist. We all love free food, but trying to lawyer your way into a dinner for two because a burger was overcooked is a chump move.

No snapping or whistling or clicking at the servers. They’re people.

Do you think it’s okay to make out for two hours in a fine dining restaurant? Seriously, people.

Don’t send food back after you’ve eaten more than a quarter of it. If there’s something clearly wrong, point it out right away. Exception: Discovering a horrible foreign object halfway through your food.

If a restaurant buys you something, tip on what your bill would have been if they made you pay for it all. The servers and chefs still had to work to bring you that free food / those comped drinks. Honor that.

Don’t linger when people are jostling to get seated. It’s a fine line. You’ve got a right, particularly at a fine dining establishment, to enjoy a leisurely meal with dessert, coffee, and conversation. But when you’re at the Nook for lunch and there are 12 people packed into the entryway, finish your Jucy Nookie, get the check, and split. Grab coffee elsewhere if you want to linger and catch up on the grandchildren.

Don’t sit down at a table, look at the menu, and then get up and leave. The cut-and-run point is at the door, or better yet, the Internet before you arrive.

The Bar

You can’t have the bar menu in the dining room. That’s why it’s the bar menu.

Tip your bartender. This is as much about self-interest as ethics, but a buck a drink is fair, two if the drink is $12 and complicated.

Don’t order a “Disaronno on the rocks,” unless you enjoy the ridicule of working people.

Special Requests

If you’re going to bring in your own food and have the restaurant serve it for you (a birthday cake, for example), ask first.

Don’t ask for half of your steak medium rare and the other half well done.

Splitting a soup four ways is just not acceptable.

Gwendolyn Richards / Heavy Table
Gwendolyn Richards / Heavy Table

Everybody hates allergy babies. Many food allergies are totally legitimate. But if you don’t like onions, say: “Would it be possible to get this without onions? I don’t care for them.”

If you have a dietary restriction and have to ask for a dish without something, it’s no problem to bulk up on another ingredient that’s already in the dish, but don’t try to add new ingredients to the dish.

If you’ve got serious allergies (nut or gluten), mention it before your entree arrives.

Avoid “one timing.” Don’t ask your server for a side of mayo and then, on the return, ask for a lemon wedge. This wastes the entire restaurant’s time.


When at a cafe, look for a bus tub. If you see one, bus your stuff.

Don’t linger for hours with your laptop in a cafe after buying a single small coffee. If you’re turning a cafe into a study hall, at least have the good grace to keep putting a bit of money into the establishment’s pockets as you go. A lot of good cafes close because of cheap moochers and overly polite baristas.


Don’t order off-the-menu items unless you’re Jack Nicholson. You create logistical headaches, pricing dilemmas, and un-needed angst. The menus capture the essence of the restaurant and make it possible for the chefs to turn out a lot of good food in a timely manner.

Don’t abuse good food. High-quality steaks, burgers, and fish suffer when they’re cooked until well done. Chefs will do it for you, but it hurts them inside.

Don’t change an order after it has been sent to the kitchen. There’s a ballet of timing involved in any busy kitchen, and when you change your steak to a chicken after ordering, you throw ball bearings onto the dancefloor.

It’s technically OK to show up five minutes before close and order a big meal, but if you’re going to do it, be gracious and quick about it.

Try to finish your cellphone call before it’s time to order. Better yet: don’t take calls while you’re dining. Step outside.


  1. Ann Nordby

    Very good list. Decent restaurant patron behavior codified.

    But I have to query the bar tipping. If a drink costs six bucks and you tip one, that’s a 17 percent tip. For table service, the standard rate is 15%. Not to split hairs, but is it really standard to tip slightly more for mixing a drink than for schlepping to a table 10 times in an hour? Shouldn’t the rate be lower at the bar than at the table?

  2. Scott McGerik

    “Don’t ask for half of your steak medium rare and the other half well done.” I can say I have not witnessed that one before. All the other bad behaviors, unfortunately, I’ve seen.

    Ann, if you want to figure out the exact 15% tip for your drink, go right ahead. The $1 per drink is just a handy rule for when buying drinks directly from the bartender.

  3. brian

    The half medium rare/half well done thing is hilarious. Who would ask that.

    I always tip a dollar a drink no matter what the price, and I don’t order complicated expensive drinks. One thing about the dollar tip tho, in NYC where I picked up the habit of tipping that much a typical bartender will buy you back after 2 or 3 drinks. I’ve had this happen maybe once in the four years I’ve live here. Would this be such a bad thing to catch on here?

  4. Kristin

    I totally agree Brian…where are the midwestern buybacks!? I tip the standard buck, and add in any change that I’m getting back…whether it’s a Summit pint or martini. I assume it just averages out somehow. But I, too, miss the NYC buybacks. It’s a nice gesture…

  5. Sarah

    Once in my life I sat down at the table, drank the water, saw the prices on the menu and got up and left with the rest of my party. I was under 21, in college, and learned my lesson. Hard to imagine anyone does that more than once, it was mortifying.

  6. Chase

    Yeah, only a few bartenders around the city actually do buy backs. Some of the bartenders at Grumpy’s and the T Rock are pretty good about it, though I usually tip $2 on the first drink, even if it’s a $5 beer.

  7. brian

    Just thinking here — based on my comment and those in agreement on the buyback, and because this is a very useful and point-well-taken article — that we need a companion article from the point of view of the diner to the chef. After all, dining in public is a compromise, no?

  8. James Norton

    D’oh. Brian, you read my mind. I’ll be posting an announcement tomorrow afternoon soliciting ideas via email from readers about the companion piece — there are definitely plenty of legitimate diner pet peeves, too.

  9. Scott McGerik

    I’m not familiar with the concept of buy back…maybe because so few bartenders do that. But what is a buy back?

  10. brian

    heh jim, didn’t mean to steal you’re fire, just looking out.

    @scott. a buyback is just a free drink after you’ve bought a couple and tipped accordingly.

  11. ForbiddenDonut

    In my experience in Minneapolis, if you want to get a buy back/drink on the house, it helps to have a tab with the bartender. Also, it’s better to stick with tap beer; and it’s even more likely if you’re personable or at least a regular. Most bars aren’t down with free drinks, especially if they’re complicated or expensive. Plus, it’s more difficult to keep inventory on draught beer; and if pressed by management, a bartender can always say he or she lost count of your number of pints.

    Of course, none of this works when a place is really busy, they already have specials, or they are a club catering to younger drinkers.

  12. Kristin

    Scott, in my experience in New York, once you have purchased a couple of cocktails/beers/wine, whatever, while seated at the bar, the bartender would put a shot glass upside down in front of you, and he is essentially buying you another round of whatever you are having.
    It’s a nice gesture back from the bartender as a thank you for tipping (or a way to make a heftier tip).
    If you are in for the long haul, you may get a couple. It’s normal for them to buy you one for every 3 or so drinks that you order…

  13. tim


    Don’t worry about not knowing what a buyback is. Its rather rare in Minneapolis unless you’ve dumped your life savings at a particular bar.

  14. Moe

    I tip my bartenders based on convenience, and I pretty much only get tap beer. It all depends on what cash I have on hand and how much change I get back. I’ll only tip $.25, if the beer is $4.75 and I only have a $5 or larger. I figure not wasting the bartenders time with making change is worth something, especially if they are busy. I’ll typically make it up on another order when I have to break that larger bill.

  15. gray

    excellent list. two things i’d like to add, which i’ve culled from experience waiting tables years ago and now going out to eat with friends with new babies: one, when a server asks if you’re ready to order, do not say yes then go “ummm…” while you peruse the menu for a few minutes. two, if you’ve brought your small children with you, do not waste the server’s time by asking the kid to order for themselves as a way to practice their communication skills. making a server wait for your child to form the words “i want a grilled cheese” takes up valuabe floor time, and is kind of humiliating for all involved.

    to the servers, i’d say “please don’t take douchebag behavior from one member of a party to mean that everyone in the party is a douchebag.” some of us are as annoyed by our tablemates as you are.

  16. Scott McGerik

    @gray, “if you’re ready to order, do not say yes then go ‘ummm…’ while you peruse the menu for a few minutes” Although I’m not a server, that behavior bothers me to no end. I see it happening all the time. I feel bad for the server when that happens.

  17. Jason

    As a customer, the vast majority of these make sense and are just common courtesy. It is sad to know that some customers are so thoughtless. That said, there are 3 that I think are unreasonable:

    1) “Avoid “one timing.” Don’t ask your server for a side of mayo and then, on the return, ask for a lemon wedge. This wastes the entire restaurant’s time.”

    Seriously??? Customers don’t do this on purpose. They ask when they remember.

    Sometimes I don’t remember everything in one go. Sometimes servers forget when I ask for multiple things. That’s life. Memory is tricky that way.

    But I’ll make you a deal. When servers remember everything everytime, I’ll start remembering to ask for everything upfront.

    Oh, let’s not get into the ‘wasting time’ thing. Restaurants are definitely on the losing side of that discussion.

    2) “No snapping or whistling or clicking at the servers. They’re people.”

    Gee, how about the ‘people’ paying more attention to their customers? When ignored, customers will make noise to get their servers attention. (If they are clicking their fingers, they really wan to body tackle you but that is definitely illegal.) Good servers make frequent eye contact with their tables so they know when they are needed.

    3) “Don’t sit down at a table, look at the menu, and then get up and leave. The cut-and-run point is at the door, or better yet, the Internet before you arrive.”

    If you’re worried about this, display your menu, do a better job of displaying your menu and/or display more than one copy of your menu so prospective customers know what the selection and price points are.

    BTW The internet comment is absolutely ludicrous as most menus online are horribly out of date.

  18. Aaron Landry

    Jason said:

    BTW The internet comment is absolutely ludicrous as most menus online are horribly out of date.

    I’ve actually been impressed with some restaurants that keep a very up-to-date menu online. That said, restauranteurs using services like Taste Trend have their printed menus and online menus in sync. More restauranteurs should keep an updated menu online — as more and more people are making their decisions on where and what to eat online.

  19. Lex

    I agree this is an excellent list. I’ve only had to cut and run once. I did my menu research online, arrived early for my reservation and was told it would be 10 minutes but it was actually an extra 40 minutes for my table.

    I asked the hostess if they were serving their regular menu, and she said yes. I got to my table, only to discover that they were doing a brunch buffet instead of their regular lunch menu. I didn’t want brunch, so I asked the server if I could pay for my drink and leave. He said he’d forgive the drinks, but I left a couple bucks tip on the table anyhow. It wasn’t his fault the hostess is an idiot and the website woefully inadequate.

  20. LeroyT

    I don’t like the “tip on total, even if bad food was comped” mention. That the chefs had to cook it is immaterial, because they rarely participate in the tip pool anywhere I have worked. If you want to say it’s the same work for the waiter, then say just that, but it doesn’t make me want to agree. I generally tip 20%, though I feel that tipping based on the size of the check is a ridiculous convention generally, especially when wine is involved.

  21. Audrey

    In reply to Jason:

    The internet comment isn’t ludicrous. Even if the menu was out of date, the prices on there should be indicative to the style of food/how much it costs. I have rarely seen a 12$ entree out-of-date menu jump to 25$ when at the restaurant.

    And about the annoying noises at servers: fine if the servers were non-attentive, not doing their job. But if it’s busy, you can’t exactly blame them. Tapping the table, whistling etc at people you don’t know, is just rude in any environment.

  22. Elly

    The point about doing your research upfront online is well-taken, but that doesn’t help when you’re eating out on the fly. While the overwhelming majority of restaurants do, of course, put their menus up by the front door, I’ve had more than one occasion when I’ve discovered a slim similarity between the menu outside and what’s handed to me.
    Frankly, though – and I’m sure this makes me a “bad diner” – the only time I’ve actually left a restaurant after being seated was more to do with the creepy, cheesy ambience, the close-to-death piano player in the corner, and the dirty water glass that was almost funny in its proximity to a menu full of $25 pasta entrees. The next time we heard of that place, it was being mauled by Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares, so I stand by my decision to leave…

  23. Jimmy

    Had to weigh in on the “buyback discussion” sorry if it’s a little late. “Buybacks” are stealing from the restaurant. That’s the deal, you tip the bartender a little extra, he or she gives you a drink for free, you tip them a little more extra, they give you more free drinks, more cash goes into the bartenders pocket. It’s a kind of wink, wink system that goes on all the time in restaurants, but keep in mind, almost no one gets rich in the restaurant industry, most restaurants clear less than 5% profit, and it’s usually more a labor of love than of financial prowess. If you really want to steal something, go rip off some c.d.s from Walmart instead.

  24. brian

    Stealing from the restaurant? LMAO! I had no idea that dining and restaurant management was such a pure market exchange, but in the case that it now is I suppose we can all cease with the tipping.

  25. Jason B

    Scott, maybe if you weren’t such a McJerk you’d be a buyback beneficiary ;)

    I don’t consider myself a personable fellow; hell, I’m downright introverted (“who’s the quiet guy” is often my cue to speak up). That being said, I have had the good fortune of enjoying comps, whether I’m playing country mouse in the sticks (this may be a case of “being a regular”) or city mouse. Be it Minneapolis, St. Paul (but NOT the first- and second-tier suburbs), in bars or in restaurants that serve beer (including one great experience in a pizza joint up Nordeast way), from the worker bees or from the owner, I’ve experienced the buyback, not enough that it meanders into entitlement territory, but often enough so that it seems common. It is really that rare? Oh, and if it is stealing, it is only so in an incidental way, especially in a system that pretty much demands customers subsidize the salaries of the employees (or so I have been told when castigated by European travelers).

    A solid list of 25, methinks. My first reaction was that the “one-timing” provision was a bit harsh, but I get it; whether it was an honest omission by the customer matters not, and I can understand how one-timing carries the capacity to irritate. Though no customer intends to be a time-thief, that can be one of those “straw that broke the camel’s back” annoyances for the wait staff.

  26. Grant

    I would add one – don’t get up from your table to take a call right as dinner is about to be served, or don’t be bothered when you come back and find a plate has been sitting at your seat for 5 minutes..

    And personal pet peeve – don’t stack your own and others plates on the side of a table because you are so anal retentive and you can’t stand dirty plates near you.

  27. Riley Masden

    @ Leroy

    Hate to say it, but you come across as straight up cheap. Almost everyone tips on comped food. And since when do diners as a whole pick and choose which parts of their bill they’ll tip on and not tip on (wine). Why on Earth would you not tip on the wine?

  28. ZeeBee

    “And personal pet peeve – don’t stack your own and others plates on the side of a table because you are so anal retentive and you can’t stand dirty plates near you.”–Grant

    Really? That’s anal? I do that all the time. I thought I was helping the waiter/server by allowing them the pick up everything in one fell swoop. I figured it saved time. Is this really a no-no?

  29. Scott McGerik

    “And personal pet peeve – don’t stack your own and others plates on the side of a table because you are so anal retentive and you can’t stand dirty plates near you.”

    Really? This bothers you? Then clear away those damn plates. I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes already with two empty plates in front of me.

  30. ZeeBee

    I am not a restaurant professional, but this irks me when my dining mates do it and I imagine waiters don’t like it either:

    The menu of a (usually family type) restaurant offers accompaniments with the entree, such as choice of potato; choice of salad or soup, etc., and the diner needs to be prompted by the waiter to state each of his choices. Sheesh!! That irritation is usually followed up with “which salad dressings do you have?” Annoying.

  31. Emily

    It seems to me that anyone who contests anything on this list (JASON/SCOTT) has never worked in a restaurant. It’s fucking hard work, and there are real live people working to please you. Just because you’re putting down the dollars doesn’t mean you should be treated like royalty.

    Good list, I wish more people would get the message.

  32. kevin

    i like the list… but you are totally wrong about one of the last ones……. DONT FUCKING COME TO THE RESTAURANT WITHIN 30 MINUTES OF CLOSE. if you are the type to have your head so far in your ass that you dont know what time an establishment closes, i hope you fucking choke on the food. people who work in restaurants WANT TO GO HOME TOO!!! they have been slaving over a hot stove for hours, usually for low pay, working for assholes.

    also, if you are getting food delivered….the proper tip is 15-20%, and should NEVER BE LESS THAN 5$. if you dont have at least 5$ to tip the delivery person…. TAKE YOUR CHEAP ASS TO MCDONALDS, YOU HILLBILLY. delivery drivers use their car, not just their shoe leather.

  33. Calexico

    Jason: Stay home. Your business isn’t needed that much.

    Scott: Where is your napkin and flatware when you are finished? Without going to http://www.lmgtfy.com can you answer correctly?

    Kevin: I disagree with you but only if two conditions are met. Finish quickly and tip good. So many people ignore the fact that we have families as well. The banks, malls, flower shops, post office, mechanics, lawyers, etc, etc, etc all close at a certain time. All of you S.O.B.’s don’t let people linger for an hour so why the hell should we be expected to do it?

  34. Cindy

    A lot of the stuff on the list seems self explanatory, and like obviously rude behavior. I do however, have to disagree on the bit about “abusing good food”. Admittedly, making a lot of demands can be irritating but if you get a choice as to how well done you’d like your meat, i’d like to think that you shouldn’t compromise because that’s not how the chef would like it. If i want you to dry my steak til its almost jerky, then that’s my decision, no matter how little you may like it.

  35. Teresa M

    Hey, this brings up a question I’ve had for a while. If we go to Town Hall Brewery (for example) and buy a growler, which is a big jug of beer that is sold for off-sale consumption, how much do we tip? If we buy it directly from the bartender, they just go to the cooler and take out a jug, collect our money and they’re done… all in all, no more work than drawing a tap beer. But the growler costs about $20. I don’t see the sense in tipping 20% for that; seems like it would be treated just the same as if the bartender poured a tap beer… give them a buck, or buck-and-change.

    But sometimes, we have a meal there, and then ask the server to bring us a growler at the end of the meal. Do we tip more in this case? I have it in my head that servers have some sort of tax liability based on the total amount of food they serve, to prevent them from underreporting tips. So if that $20 growler counts the same against the server’s tally of food served, then we’d need to tip accordingly… or not? And is it true that the servers have to report total dollar sales of food served and declare a certain percentage of that as tip income? Hate to sound so stupid, but I really don’t know.

    And that brings up my last point/question. If we order a $60 bottle of wine, it’s the same amount of work for the server as though we’d ordered a $20 bottle. But we generally tip based on the total, in part because of this notion I have of servers having to pay a percentage of sales. What’s the actual way this works?

  36. Doubts

    As a waiter at a rather expensive establishment I will say that I would much rather have you look at the menu, see the prices, and decide to leave than stay and split a salad.
    You didn’t go out for half a salad so you don’t have a good time. The tip is crap, and I could have had someone who could afford it eat there. I will go out of my way to make sure you don’t feel embarrassed for leaving too. I can’t afford to eat here either.

  37. Erik H.

    After seeing a few comments on pre-bussing, I’m curious: What do severs/staff typically think of the practice of piling dishes up before they come by?

    I got into the habit of doing that to save friends some time when they were serving. They encouraged it. To me it seems like a time saver – they just have to walk by, grab the bottom plate, and roll on without stopping to pile things up.

  38. Pandora

    @Teresa M: Yes, waiters are required to report a percentage of tips based on the totals of their sales to tables, and alcohol, even if intended for off-premises consumption, is usually included in those totals.

    The percentage varies from state to state, but payroll taxes are based on a server earning that percentage and are taken out of the way-below-minimum-wage amount they’re paid by the restaurant, which sometimes means that the waitress receives a very small paycheck or none at all because her sales were high enough that her whole check went to cover her payroll taxes.

    So–even if the waitress only made 10% of her sales in tips on a given day, she has to fork out 15% (or whatever her state sets as the amount) of her sales in payroll taxes, and yes, the growler you’re taking out with you is counted in her taxable income since it’s part of her sales that day, so it should be counted when you figure her tip.

  39. Teresa M

    Thanks, Pandora, for clarifying what I was asking about. We will continue to tip based on percentage when a server brings us an expensive bottle of wine, or a growler to go. But what about the bartender? Does a bartender have to follow the same reporting scheme, or does a growler purchased from a bartender count as “merchandise” and therefore not included in the total? Do bartenders have to report total sales and pay a percentage of them in payroll taxes?

    I bet a lot of folks are unaware of these issues, so I am glad to have this opportunity to get the facts.

  40. Teresa M

    @Kate–Wow, that is good to know. So if the bartender at Town Hall sells, say, a t-shirt–which they also sell, and which is definitely merchandise–does THAT count against his/her tax liability as well? Seems odd that a growler, which is sold for off-sale, should count as “income” for the bartender. That is one messed up system! To me, it’s just like buying it at the liquor store; I don’t tip the clerk there.

  41. Wendy

    yeah… i’m not convinced that being annoyed by my stacking plates is universal. that seems like a personal quirk to me… If I’m waiting long enough to get bored and play with the plates- you’re busy enough that you ought to appreciate the saved seconds of work.

    Recently my partner and I sat down in some lame ass “casual dining establishment” and were APPALLED at how the prices had skyrocketed. It took us long enough to decide to leave that the waitress had brought us menus, water and something or other else, so we left her two dollars. And left. This seemed like the right thing to do.

    Frankly, what galls me is that there’s a level of service exclusively given to regulars of high end restaurants that a one time diner will never see. I think there should be a third option- a sort of Lay-A-Way plan for fancy restaurants. You put in five bucks a week and they email you when you’ve saved up enough for a meal there. You fill out a profile that lets them know your likes, dislikes, allergies, preferential seating, etc. All the things a restaurant would just know if you could afford to go there more often.

    Charge me (A LITTLE) more for one meal but treat me right. I would totally sign up for that.

  42. Wendy

    restauranteurs: if you steal my idea and make a million dollars, just give me free good meals, OK?

  43. @

    This list is so stuck-up. I agree, bad behavior of any kind is not acceptable, but if I am paying good money to be at a restaurant I will sit there as long as I want to, also if I am close to ordering and don;t want to wait another 20 minutes for my server to come back and check on me, I can take one more freaking minute to look over the menu. And I am NEVER going to look for a bus tub. How stupid is that? If they are paying people to cus the tables they don’t need me to bus it – I am PAYING for the ease of NOT having to clean up. If I wanted to clean up I would have eaten at home for free.

  44. KeithM

    All good points except one: Don’t tell me not to order a “Disaronno on the rocks.” It’s my ridicule to take, not yours. Of course, I would never order such a thing…but I defend a person’s right to do so.

  45. Jim

    Hey flyover country, this entire list applies to you. Ordering your steak “well-done” doesn’t mean cooked to “perfection”. It means it will be burnt to a crisp and hold up your entire table from receiving their entrees in a timely manner. Also, using restaurant coupons is acceptable practice for Fast Food but not even Casual Dining. If you are a cheap homer douchebag, at least tip properly-or stay the hell at home…P.S..Omaha steak and K.C.BBQ isn’t worth hanging your hat on.

  46. Carly

    As a long time server of average to high end restaurants I will just say that no matter the perceived status of any customer, as some come in with gift cards they received for Christmas etc., I prioritize my customers based on their politeness. If i like you, you are getting more attention, more little extras to go home with your leftovers, and more care if anything goes wrong with your experience. Manners go a Looong way.

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