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10 Things Servers Want You to Know If You’re Eating out on a Holiday

Dining out on a holiday can be incredibly stressful. Preserve your sanity—and your server's—with these tips on holiday dining.

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Portrait of smiling adult friends in outdoors restaurant and smiling waitress. Focus on blonde girl.Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

It’s Cool That You’re Here

Really, it is. While no one wants to work while the rest of the world is spending time with family, servers—who are often artists, students or freelancers—choose to serve because it affords them a flexible schedule. But come holidays, ’tis time to pay the piper. Until all restaurants voluntarily close on holidays or the whole world simultaneously decides to boycott holiday dining, restaurants need people to work. And if a server has to be there, they’d rather be paying their bills with a busy restaurant.

These things do annoy your server.

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Smiling business people ordering dinner from pretty waitressESB Professional/Shutterstock

Gratitude: Not Just for Thanksgiving

Most servers genuinely enjoy helping their guests have a good time. That being said, it can be tough to serve families all day knowing that your own is celebrating the day without you. As a dining guest on a holiday, a simple “Thanks for being here today” goes a long way.

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Female barista talking on the phone and using tablet while standing behind the counterKaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

The Early Bird Gets the Reservation

If you do not book your reservation well in advance of the holiday, you will be very, very sad when they cannot accommodate your party and you have to wait for two hours. And your server will be very, very sad when they get your sad table. Holidays are insanely busy for most restaurants. Call ahead, and call early.

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Group of chefs in hotel or restaurant kitchen busy cookingTwinsterphoto/Shutterstock

The Kitchen Might Be Backed Up

While working in a restaurant usually feels like bailing water out of a sinking ship, holidays make it feel more like the ship is also on fire. Let’s break it down: Add the sheer volume of people to the presence of many multi-generational family parties, plus infrequent diners who aren’t practiced in ordering, then multiply that by it being really important to every single guest that they have a special time—that’s right, it does equal your server’s worst nightmare!

Unfortunately, you may have to wait a little longer than you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you’ve been forgotten. Plan ahead, be patient, and know that your server is trying to make sure all of their tables are taken care of.

Psst: Here’s the right way to order your steak.

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Dine and Dash…the Legal Way

If you have an important event after dinner, let your server know right away. It’s much easier for a server to push along a meal at the beginning, and they can usually work with the kitchen to accommodate your time constraints if they know well in advance.

If you really want to fly out of there, consider sitting down with your order ready. Many restaurants post their menus online, which can save you lots of deliberation time in the restaurant. You can also ask your server for the check as soon as the food arrives, which allows them to process the payment as you’re eating your meal, and allows you to finish your meal without the stress of upcoming, unknown time variables.

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Cute healthy preschool kid boy eats pasta noodles sitting in school or nursery cafe. Romrodphoto/Shutterstock

Avoid the Hangry Holidays

Nobody wants to be part of the table with the screaming toddler—not the parents, not the server, and honestly the toddler isn’t really into it either. If you know your kids are going to get hungry before the main food hits the table, ask if the kitchen can send out the kids’ meals as soon as they’re ready (oftentimes, they’re easier to prepare). Your server will also know what appetizers and sides have the shortest cooking times, and can help you get at least some food out as quickly as possible.

If all else fails, pack snacks. Even restaurants with strict “no outside food” policies will look the other way when it comes to kids. Be prepared with these super easy snack recipes.

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Waitress with notepad in commercial kitchen and chefs preparing food in backgroundwavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Don’t “Fix” the Fixed Menu

While this is always a good rule of thumb, it’s especially pertinent on holidays because of the aforementioned chaos. Overly modifying menu items creates confusion in the kitchen and hassle for your server. It also has the potential to multiply, as another table may see the special item being brought out to your table and decide they would also like to order it. If you have allergies, dietary restrictions, or even strong food aversions, let your server know when they explain the menu—they’ll be able to point out your best options, and it’ll save you from potentially having to send an item back to the kitchen.

If a restaurant has a holiday prix fixe menu which offers a meal with several pre-selected courses at a set price, you shouldn’t order around it. When a restaurant is running a selected menu, they do not prepare the food for their full menu, and usually will not be able to make the item you request.

Don’t ever order these things at a restaurant!

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Meal Cafe Eating Collaboration Business Food

Know When to Call It

This is especially important on holidays often tied to alcohol consumption, like St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve. Servers want you to drink and be merry, but they’re also trained to make sure they’re not over-serving you. If a server cuts you off, they’re not trying to embarrass you or put a damper on your night—they’re making sure you get home safely, and that they keep their job.

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In the Bar Waiter Holds Credit Card Payment Machine and Beautiful Woman Pays for Her Order with Contactless Mobile Phone Payments System.Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

There Are People Waiting for Your Table

When you sit at a table way past the time your meal has ended, you are preventing your server from making money, as they cannot fill that table with new paying guests. It also wreaks havoc on the host’s quoted table wait times for incoming guests. If you have gifts to exchange or family gossip to catch up on, consider moving back home or to a nearby coffee shop.

Check out these secrets restaurant owners wish they could tell you!

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To pay the bill at the restaurantMediaGroup_BestForYou/Shutterstock

Your Server Doesn’t Get the Whole Tip

Holidays often bring in guests who are “dining up,” meaning they’re dining one level nicer than their normal restaurants. This can result in sticker shock when the bill is dropped. Some people will “verbal tip” with compliments about the service in order to make up for a less than 20% tip. (Save money in restaurants without hurting your server.)

When you see the bill, remember that your server isn’t just pocketing your tip. Especially at a nicer restaurant where there is plenty of support staff, they’re required to give some of that money to the bussers, food runners, bartenders and others based on the total cost of your meal. So, if you leave a small tip or no tip at all, they actually lose money serving your table.

So be kind, tip well and relax—you’re ready to dine like a pro.

Maggie Ward
Maggie’s background in the arts gave her a penchant for collaborative communication and the pursuit of conveying ideas in a clear, striking way. Outside of writing for Taste of Home, Maggie loves playing the piano and writing music, as well as performing with various bands and theatre productions around the city of Chicago.