For starters, let the host seat you.
Smiling waitress delivering check to couple
Credit: Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

No one wants to be the problematic customer in a restaurant. And since waitstaff at many restaurants have been subject to quite a bit of customer abuse during the pandemic, you may find yourself wanting to be the model diner more than ever. There are little things you can do to make the experience smoother for everyone—have your vaccination information ready if it's required, put on a mask when you're asked to and leave a good tip. But the other "polite" habits you may have in your back pocket could backfire on you and your server.

We're sure you mean well, but avoiding these unhelpful impulses the next time you hit your favorite restaurant could make life a little easier for employees.

1. You find your own seat.

You spot an empty table at a restaurant that doesn't take reservations. The host is busy seating another party, so you grab a couple of menus and take a seat. In your mind, you've taken an item off the host's to-do list and basically done their job for them—but you never know what the restaurant's system is for seating parties. Unless you're snagging a spot at the bar, you should wait to be seated until the host or another staff member can get you all set up.

2. You ignore the specials.

Hear us out—the kitchen staff have come up with something delicious (and possibly unique) for today's menu. Your waiter has memorized what's available. Don't interrupt when they launch into today's list. If you listen up, you may find that there's a dish to pique your interest. 

3. You chat up your server.

It's always a good move to follow your server's lead when it comes to making small talk. Even if the restaurant doesn't look busy to you, your server may have other things to do. Putting in orders, filling drinks and checking on customers can be tough to juggle, so flagging your server down just to chat is one habit you want to avoid—they won't want to be rude, but idle conversation may cause them to fall behind with other customers.

4. You order from someone else.

You're ready to order, but your server is out of sight. Waving over a different server and ordering from them could seriously complicate things. Since your table now has two servers dealing with orders, you could end up with an error on your bill or your server not being aware of any special changes you made to your order. If you seriously don't see your waiter anywhere, just ask another server to flag them down for you. You'll cut down on your wait time and avoid pointless confusion entirely.

5. You "help" unload the server's full tray.

Whether it's on their arm or balanced on the table, unloading the tray of food is always a bad idea. Your server has everything balanced to perfection, and snagging your dining partner's drink off the edge could send everything falling down. Be patient and let the expert do the serving.

6. You try to clean up your own mess.

We've all been there. You're sharing a story with friends, and you end up knocking over a drink in your excitement. It's tempting to hide your mistake by darting over to the bathroom for some paper towels or throwing every napkin in sight at the mess, but you should alert your server instead, especially if you've broken a glass. The last thing anyone wants is you cutting your hand in an attempt to be helpful. They have all the cleaning supplies they need to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

7. You help yourself to a refill.

Your glass is low, so you help yourself to the pitcher of tea a few steps away. If a manager sees you helping yourself, your server is likely to get an earful for not keeping you topped up. Instead, just wave over your server and ask for a refill. If it's a continuing problem, ask for two glasses or let a manager know that your server is forgetting to refill your drink. It's always better to voice your concerns rather than try to fix them yourself.

8. You stack your dishes.

You've finished your meal, so you pile up your empty dishes in a neat—or not so neat—stack. Your server might appreciate the thought, but they probably have their own way of balancing the dishes that keeps them secure on the way back to the kitchen. You may have put them in the awkward position of needing to unstack and restack the dishes at your table. Instead, just leave them where they are and let your server stack everything up when they're ready.

9. You wait until the end of the meal to split your check.

Giving your server a heads-up at the beginning of your meal can make it easier for them to organize your separate checks. Instead of waiting until you've eaten, tell them how you'll split the bill as you order to save everyone a headache.

10. You save your complaints for Yelp.

If you end up with the wrong dish or something about the service isn't to your liking, give the restaurant a chance to fix it before you type up a one-star review. Simply talking to the server or manager about your problem could lead to a quick fix, and you could be doing future customers a favor with your face-to-face criticism.