Commentary: Five things I never want to hear from a customer

I’ve spent time on both sides of the dinner plate, and though nowadays I am only on the critic and diner side of things, I have had my share of experiences dealing with customers who were less-than-easy to please. While I kept to the opinion that a service job requires a service personality, I have to admit that just as much as servers can grind my gears, there is a whole different list of pet peeves that develop when you are one. Here are my five least favorite things to hear from customers.

1. “Do it, or I’ll take my business elsewhere.” – Customers constantly pull the “but your competition will do this for me” card hoping to leverage something your restaurant does not provide. Yes, you can do that. It’s the American dream that you have freedom to decide what you want for dinner, right?

Well, if you wanted what they offered, you should have gone to them. This restaurant has reasons to operate the way that it does. There are rules it can’t break, and considerations you don’t have to think about to explain why things are what they are. Restaurants serve hundreds of very different people every day. Sorry that they can’t satisfy everyone’s demands.

2. “I like X’s food better.” – Once at my first job at Burger King, a kid showed up in a McDonald’s T-shirt and a smirk on his face. Was he trying to make us mad? I’m not sure about the intent there, but I’m pretty sure the guys at McDonalds make the same wage we do (minimum) and have the same level of brand loyalty required of them as we do (none). Working at a restaurant does not require servers to love the food, and it’s not some kind of personal insult to insult it to their faces.

3. “Yeah, right.” – My next food job, serving at a university cafeteria, had me handing out food to lots of people in short order. Not all of them liked it. I got a lot of sarcasm when I would explain what food was, thanks in part to the old adage that college food is all awful. Well, I’m not lying to you about what’s in the food. We don’t hide laxatives in it. We don’t put worms in our burgers. I’m legally required to tell you exactly what’s in the food, so don’t act like I’m a lying salesman when I’m just trying to tell you what’s on the plate.

4. “It’s their job to clean.” – There have been times when I wondered if there was a messiness contest going on between tables. I’ll admit this is a vast minority of people, but it’s irritating nonetheless to find people have left half-eaten food all over the table, chairs and floor and expect me to clean it up. Yes, it is my job. No, you don’t have to go out of your way to make it difficult for me.

5. “Can I get your number?” – Of course there are plenty of customers who like the pretty waitress (and plenty of waitresses who will give their numbers) but the whole idea that a restaurant is a place to score a date is asinine. I have no problem that this happens on a daily basis, but there have been times when the restaurant had people coming back day after day, practically stalking the waitresses. Don’t go down that road.

Have you ever experienced rude customers? Share your stories: comment or email at


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