How To: Not Steam Your Server 

Your waiter is a person, too

Servers are anthropologists. They deconstruct our slovenly eating habits while cleaning the messes we make. With practiced eyes they scout out how they'll be treated by patrons; with their standard issue white food service cleaning rags they wipe away the evidence of our spilled sauces, wayward clumps of food and puddles of drinks that didn't complete the short trip from our glasses to our mouths. Too often we forget that they're our silent judges--the people we most consistently fail to treat the way we'd like ourselves to be treated.

Topping their list of pet peeves is customers treating their tables and surrounding environs like a pig sty. Food fights of any kind, of course, are verboten but even less severe grossness can be enough to drive your server to distraction. That includes heedless disposal of straw wrappers and paper napkins, the careless swinging of drinks and the reckless flailing of arms, which frequently result in messes. One waitstaff member at a downtown Boise restaurant put her gripe with untidy patrons succinctly:

"I know I'm here to serve people, but when people throw shit around everywhere, that's a no-no," she said.

Like the old saying goes: You are what you eat--but you're also how you order what you eat. Here are a few pointers:

Check your attitude. Dining out is a social experience, and it can be easy for patrons to forget that they can't act as they do at home. For servers, the best customers are the ones who make serving easy--well, as easy as possible. If you have to wait for a table, you'll probably have to wait a bit for your meal.

Communication is key. Patrons should be able to communicate their needs and get their servers' attention without being obnoxious. That means no shouting for attention, no shirt-sleeve grabbing and absolutely no finger-snapping. Never, ever.

"When I'm talking to a table and another table starts snapping at me and trying to wave me down, that drives me nuts," said one server at a downtown Boise theme restaurant.

Get organized. Even if it seems slow in the restaurant, odds are the servers are still hustling behind the scenes. When a member of the waitstaff comes to take your order, be ready. If you're not prepared, let your server know that you need a few minutes rather than sending them back to the kitchen for something else every time they stop at your table.

Be sociable. Nobody likes to be treated like they're a piece of the furniture or--worse--some kind of robot. Say hello to your server, please and thank you. Ask their opinion on dishes you're interested in, but not familiar with.

"Realize someone's trying to serve you," said a server at an upscale downtown restaurant and cocktail bar. "Make eye contact."

Settling up. If you know you're going to need a lot of separate checks, say so from the get-go. It'll spare everyone a lot of trouble at the end of the meal. When it comes to tipping, remember that 15 percent is standard, unless the service was truly godawful. Idaho is not know for its high wages, and most servers rely on their tips for the bulk of their income. And, finally, tip for the service, not the food. The waitstaff doesn't do the cooking.

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