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13 of the Biggest Mistakes Diners Make at Restaurants

In the interest of making a more pleasant dining experience for everyone, we talked to foodservice professionals about some of the biggest mistakes they see customers making in restaurants these days.

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Handsome man taking a picture of his food in a pubwavebreakmedia/shutterstock

Trying to get the perfect food shot for Instagram

Social media has introduced a whole slew of problematic behaviors at restaurants, says Johnny Welsh, a bartender in Frisco, Colorado. People will knock things over to get a selfie, threaten bad reviews over minor inconveniences, or even ask for freebies in exchange for online “exposure.” But perhaps the one restaurant staff see the most these days is people trying to get the perfect shot of their food to post on Instagram or Facebook. Waitstaff report seeing customers standing on chairs or tables, making the whole table wait to eat while they take 20 different shots from different angles, moving food to a different location for better lighting, or even ordering food specifically because it will make a pretty picture and then not eating it. Take a picture or two if you like but remember you’re there to enjoy eating the food, not just looking at it. Restaurant owners would also like you to know these 24 things.

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Faking a food allergy

There are people with real allergies to foods and they can be quite severe so a good restaurant will take the word “allergy” extremely seriously, often cleaning utensils and surfaces between dishes and cooking everything separately. This can slow the kitchen down but it’s worth it to make sure people have an enjoyable meal, says Stephanie Stiavetti, founder and head chef at Fearless Fresh. The problem is when people use the word “allergy” to mean “something I don’t like or want to avoid,” she says. “People with food allergies struggled for decades to earn their legitimacy, and people with fake food allergies hurt them as this may cause less-than-sensitive restaurant staff to begin to doubt food allergy requests in general and when allergy requests are taken less seriously people can be put at serious risk,” she says.

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unfinished meal of spaghetti with beverage and yogurt / leftoverAlp Aksoy/Shutterstock

Leaving too much food on the table

Leftovers happen. That’s why doggie bags exist. Still, do your best to order only what you need and if you have extras, take them home. “It’s a huge waste of time, money, and food when customers over-order,” Stiavetti says. “It’s better to order a smaller number of dishes and order more later, if necessary. Chefs can get a little obsessed with the plates that come back to the kitchen, especially when they’re still full of food. Besides the waste issue, I’ve known many a chef to suffer a crisis of self-confidence on a night when too many plates come back with uneaten food. They take it personally.”

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Two Female Friends Sitting At Table In Coffee Shop Being Served By WaitressMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Touching your server

“I’ve seen people act abysmally to their servers, and I’ve always found it puzzling,” Stiavetti says. “You need this person’s help if you want to enjoy your meal so you should treat them with the utmost politeness.” This includes keeping your hands to yourself. Even a light touch on the arm can throw your server off, particularly if they are holding a heavy tray. And you certainly should never hug or grope your server. This is just one of 20 rude restaurant habits you need to stop right now.

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Video from friend. During dinner attractive boy receiving video message from close friend and watching it while holding wooden chopsticks.YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock

Being so into your phone you ignore the waiter

You already know (we hope) that being on your phone while at a restaurant is rude to your dining companions and, depending on what you’re doing, to the other diners around you. But did you know it also hurts the waitstaff’s ability to do their jobs? “Even something as seemingly small as being on your phone can be disruptive to the flow of service as your server has to compete for your attention,” says Justin Lavenue co-owner and operator of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, Texas.

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Two women discussing at a restaurant smiling. Young friends sitting in a cafe and talking.Jacob Lund/shutterstock

Starting a deep conversation as soon as you sit down

A restaurant can be the ideal to have a deep, intimate conversation—just please wait until you’ve ordered first, Lavenue says. Otherwise, this can lead to endless rounds of “Oh, we forgot to look at the menu! Can you come back in five minutes?” “This can delay service and inconvenience others, especially if the bar or restaurant is slammed,” he explains. If you want to have a deep conversation, just make sure you’ve decided what you will order before diving in, he suggests.

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Hostile angry restaurant client couple or friends talking with waiting staff in public place complains about cold coffee long service, spoiled tasteless dish waitress feels guilty mixed orders conceptfizkes/shutterstock

Taking out your frustration on your waiter

Maybe it’s cold food, a wrong order, or noise at the next table. Or perhaps it’s the fact you had a bad day at work or a fight with your significant other. Regardless of what’s got you in a bad mood, being grouchy with or mean to your waiter or bartender is unkind and unproductive, Lavenue says. “Often the source of the frustration is out of their control,” he explains. If the issue is one with the restaurant, ask politely for it to be remedied and if the waiter can’t help you, they should offer to bring over a manager. As for more personal problems, don’t turn your bad day into everyone’s bad day.

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A please wait to be seated sign standing at the front of a restaurantDavid Tran Photo/Shutterstock

Being impatient with wait times

Waiting is par for the course with many restaurants, especially popular ones on holidays or weekends. Yet many people have a very low tolerance for having to wait for a table or wait for food or drinks. “Please remember your server or bartender is only human and can only do so many things at once,” Lavenue says. “Furthermore, they are trying to make sure that each of their guests receives the same amount of care and level of service so be patient and understanding. Make a concerted effort to be your server/bartender’s best guest that evening, and you will receive the best service that they can give.”

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Diverse group of friends enjoying some coffee together in a restaurant and talking. Young people sitting around cafe table and drinking coffee.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Arriving with more people than you made the reservation for

If you reserve a table for six and show up with eight people you may think it’s not a huge deal but it can really impact the restaurant’s ability to provide good service, says Andrew Miller, founder of Good Fortune in Chicago. “We carefully plot every table so even if you show up with just one extra person, we have to scramble to find space for them,” he explains. “This can lead to having to increase wait times significantly which in turn makes people upset and can hurt their dining experience.” It’s one of 10 things restaurant hosts wish you knew.

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Happy friends having fun at bar - Young trendy people drinking beer and laughing togetherLordn/Shutterstock

Getting too drunk

Many people have had the misfortune of sitting near someone who has had a few too many drinks and is now loudly sharing their personal life with the rest of the room yet it can be hard to recognize when you yourself have crossed the line from pleasant to obnoxious, Miller says. Drinking too much shows a real lack of respect for everyone around you and can increase other problem behaviors like being too noisy, knocking things over, placing your belongings in inconvenient places, or even how well you can stand up and navigate around the restaurant, he explains. Being appropriate in public places is one of the 17 etiquette rules that never go out of style.

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Settling for a dirty table

On one hand, you have customers that are very critical and demanding but on the other hand sometimes people go too far the other direction, not speaking up about problems because they don’t want to seem like a complainer, Miller says. For instance, it is not too much to ask that your table be clean and inviting. “Guests should care how the table looks even as a diner,” he says. “You should always expect a clean surface and fresh utensils as you are paying for service and quality of experience so please speak up.”

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Female friends looking at smart phone in the restaurantCreative Family/Shutterstock

Camping out at a table

Part of dining out is the use of the table and space—but not indefinitely. “Be mindful of other people who might be waiting for your table, especially if you notice the restaurant is packed,” Miller says. “Think how you would feel—there’s nothing worse than when you show up on time for your reservation but your table isn’t ready, and nine times out of ten that’s because a previous party is camping out. It’s fine to take your time to enjoy your meal but I’d bet most people don’t even realize our staff has to work ten times harder to smooth everything over in these situations.”

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Waiter Serving Group Of Female Friends Meeting For Drinks And Food In RestaurantMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Monopolizing your server’s time

Some folks are naturally chatty and enjoy learning all about their server. While it’s fine to make pleasant small talk with him or her, it becomes a problem when you expect them to stay and talk with or entertain you at the cost of helping their other customers, Miller says. “A section has upwards of 20 guests in it, all of whom require time and attention,” he explains. “If you take up too much time then we won’t be able to get to know all our tables, how their meal is going, etc. We like to be personable and get to know everyone. When you strip away this ability, the service seems much more robotic.” This can be very frustrating but your server may not feel like they can tell you, just one of the 57 secrets your waiter isn’t telling you.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.