14 Restaurant Customers That Make Waitstaff Cringe

With more than 15 years working in the restaurant industry, I have waited tables and tended bar in small towns and major cities all the way up and down the East Coast. And while the menus and cuisines might have been vastly different from restaurant to restaurant, there's one constant that remains universal for waiters and waitresses across the land... customers can totally suck.

Ever waited tables yourself? I dare you not to recognize most, if not all, of these classic, cringe-worthy customers, who are no doubt out there right now, making some poor server's shift a living hell. And if you haven't, just try hard not to be these people — your servers will thank you.

Refill lady

I like a good glass of freshly brewed iced tea as much as the next gal, but even I would have to tap out at three glasses. But not refill lady. Refill lady, or gent, will make it their own personal goal to "get their money's worth!" out of whatever free-to-refill soft drink they have ordered. And heaven help you if they've brought their kids with them to the restaurant tonight. Because they'll make darn sure that each kid in their brood drinks their own weight in Mountain Dew before that check hits the table. Even worse offenders? The people who will try to order one soft drink for the table, and get it refilled all night. 

The squatter

The squatter is the guy who has a very, very important business meeting. This business meeting is so important in fact, that he needs to come in and set up the table with paperwork and his laptop a half hour before everyone else arrives. He will then order a cup of coffee, greet his illustrious business partners as they arrive, and talk to them for another half hour before anyone even glances at the menu. They will basically be there your entire shift. Sure, they will tip 20 percent, but you could have flipped the table twice more in the time they've been sitting there.

Lemonade lady

I'm pretty sure every server out there has had this lady at one time or another. This is the woman who asks you for a plateful of lemons, and extra packets of sugar, along with a glass of water, plus an empty glass. She will then proceed to start the elaborate science project of making a glass of homemade lemonade right there at the table. If she's dining with friends, she'll teach them how to do this trick too, while they all marvel at how brilliant she is for figuring out a way to buck the evil lemonade system. You'll then have to clear the pile of squeezed lemons and empty sugar packets from the table, and take her order for a chicken Caesar salad and an extra basket of bread.

The self-seaters

The self-seaters have very particular ideas about where they're going to sit for dinner tonight. But, instead of communicating this idea to the host, like any sane human beings would do, they walk straight into the dining room and seat themselves. It could be a closed section, it could be a filthy table. Often they've walked in unnoticed, like when the host was seating another party. They will then complain to a server that they have no menus, no place settings, and no one has greeted them. And there's a pretty good chance that the two of them have selected a six-top for themselves.


I've had loads of customers over the years whom I have genuinely adored. Regular customers who would sit in my section and engage in lovely conversations that would make my slow shift just fly by. And because they were considerate, observant human beings, they would let me do my thing once the dining room started to get busy.

But not the BFF. The BFF is completely oblivious to the fact that other customers exist. They'll keep that conversation going each and every time you come within three feet of their table, yelling to you across your section about how Ayn Rand books really aren't all that bad as long as you're lucky enough to have the right college professor (true story). The BFF will also blur the lines of the boundaries of your relationship, asking for your phone number or trying to continue your conversation on Facebook... on your timeline. Go away, BFF. I'm off duty.

Strangers from a strange land

I might get some flack for this one, but I defy anyone who has ever waited tables out there to tell me they have not experienced this.

I waited on a TON of tourists from other countries when I was working in Manhattan. So many of them had read their trusty guide books, and would calculate the tip they owed on a tab, despite this not being the custom in their own country. They would also frequently ask for photos of me as I presented their food, particularly at a hipster breakfast place that served massive plates of fruit-covered waffles.

But then you also had the tourists who played dumb on this whole "tipping thing," even though you could clearly see the guidebook sticking out of their backpack. These people would try to leave zero for the tip, frequently on tabs that were well over $100. Thankfully, I had a boss who would allow us to chase them out the door, and "educate" them on American tipping habits. When that got old, she eventually let us just go ahead and add it to the bill. Did we have any complaints about it? Sure, a few. But it's not like they were coming back anytime soon.


Parents, please teach your kids how to properly eat out, and pay, at a restaurant, so that they don't become teens who are condescending and cheap with wait staff. Some of the things I've had teens say to me over the years: "Do you ever want to get a real job?", or "ummmmm... how hard could it be to make a strawberry and kale smoothie?" or the classic, "Can the six of us get ice water with lemon, and one basket of fries to share?"

Teens are also the customers most likely to try and pay the check by leaving large piles of change on their table instead of bills. Which means we have to count that change in a hurry before they scamper out the door, to make sure we don't get stuck paying for their virgin daiquiris with our own money. C'mon folks... let's be a village and train these kids to eat out like the 60 percent of us who are actually decent human beings.

The "send it back" lady

It doesn't matter what she ordered, it matters not if it was a five star chef preparing her meal. The "send it back" lady is going to send back her meal. And her wanting to send it back won't be nearly as annoying as her reasons for sending it back.

We might have the vacant sweetheart, who gives you, "It's just.... I don't know... off? A little bit? Like, you know what I mean? Off?" Or we may have the indignant perfectionist, who is shocked and dismayed that her vegetable was plated on the same dish as her salmon. And of course, there is the perennial favorite send-it-back-line, "It just wasn't what I expected." (Really? When you ordered the rib-eye, did you expect me to bring you the chicken?)

Other folks will eat 75 percent of their meal, and then try to send it back, but not want anything else instead, because, duh, they are full now. And yes, they will expect you to take the entree off their bill. Cheers to all you restaurant managers who refuse to do this for a customer. You restore my faith in humanity.

Hot and heavy

You know that couple. You've seen them together, sharing the same side of a booth when a perfectly good side remains empty. They are completely and blissfully in love, and pawing at each other like a couple of unchaperoned 14-year-olds in a finished basement. These two barely come up for air long enough to order, and when they do, they baby-talk their order to one another like you aren't even standing there. "Do you want another drink, Boo-Bear? Go ahead, get another drink... " Their behavior wouldn't send you over the edge if you were in a swanky lounge, but it is 2 p.m., and they just ordered tuna melts.

The "there goes your tip" guy

If there is any justice in the universe, then there will be a special place in hell reserved for this guy. This is the guy who will use any excuse to decide he's not going to tip you, and then loudly proclaim it for his fellow diners to hear. "Well... there goes your tip!" he will triumphantly bellow, when you inform him that the salad bar is, temporarily, out of saltines.

There are off-shoots of this guy, and I can't decide which one I hate more. The most popular variation is the "I'm starting you with $20 on the table guy." When you greet this clever fellow and his party, he will proudly inform you that the 20 singles he's displaying are the beginning of your tip, and that he will remove one single for each of your infractions. You'll undoubtedly respond with something appropriate, like "Huh?!?" at which time he will remove a single from the pile, and say, "See? That's how this works." Don't believe me that this person actually exists? Google it. I am far from the only server this has happened to.

The late arrivals

The late arrivals are the people who will show up five to ten minutes before a restaurant is officially set to close, and expect to be seated. There will be chairs up on the tables, lights blaring, and a busboy cleaning the floors with an industrial vacuum, but they'll still ask if they can have dinner. At privately owned restaurants, as long as it's cool with the owner, we can thankfully turn these inconsiderate monsters away. If it's a corporate chain restaurant, however, we will begrudgingly have to seat them.

Maybe they'll be kind enough to ask what they can get that's quick. Or maybe they'll order well-done steaks and desserts. Either way, they'd better be real sweet to their server, because that's the person convincing the exhausted kitchen staff not to spit in their food.

The clueless foodie

The clueless foodie is an interesting and frustrating specimen. This person is positive they are knowledgeable about food and wine, when, in fact they are absolutely clueless. Examples I have experienced myself have been two women who sent back a bottle of rose wine because "the bubbles have gone out," and a lady who insisted to me there was something wrong with her Caesar salad because the dressing was fishy, and wouldn't believe me when I told her it was because Caesar dressing has anchovy in it. Other favorites I have heard over the years include the man who told me his pork chops couldn't possibly be pork chops, because they had bones in them, and the woman who nearly lost consciousness when she learned that her prosciutto and mozzarella panini was not vegetarian.

Special shout out to all of the colorful pronunciations I have heard over the years of "cabernet sauvignon" and "filet mignon."

Oblivious parents

Once again, I'm aware I am treading on delicate, precious ground here, but it needs to be said, folks. Parents who don't keep their little ones in check when they're out at restaurants are the worst. If your baby is screaming, take it for a walk. If it won't stop, you ask for your food to go, and leave. End of story. Got older kids? Please don't let them be rude to me, allow them to get under the feet of the staff, or look away as they destroy the sugar caddie and condiments.

Seeing a table fill up with little kids is depressing to begin with. How much of a tip can I possibly make when the majority of your tab is dedicated to chicken fingers and chocolate milk? So if I'm giving you and your little angels service with a smile, please give me the same courtesy. And by courtesy, I mean don't mentally check out and expect me to babysit while you order your fourth black and tan.

The professional comedian

I noticed that glint in your eye as soon as I saw the hostess guiding you over to my section. You've likely already had a drink or two, you're out with the boys or on a couples date, and you're confident that you're going to be my favorite customer I've had all week.

Why? Because you're the professional comedian, and nobody loves your jokes quite as much as you do. In fact, every time you tell one, your laughter at your own jokes drowns out the rest of the room. The real problem with this? Dude, you are not funny. I mean, like, painfully not funny. And all this time you are taking up trying to use your schtick on me is time I could better spend reciting to you the specials and running drinks to table two. So go join an open mike night somewhere... maybe start a blog. But please just save your night's material for your friends, and tell me what you want for your appetizer. Thanks.