10 Questions Service Industry Workers Would Rather You Didn’t Ask
"Are you a student?"
Do you ever wish your server would tell you what they’re really thinking, like if they’re secretly annoyed by your banter, or if the swordfish you just ordered is totally mediocre? Well, we asked bartenders, baristas, and waiters all over the country for their unfiltered opinions about server-customer interactions, and they didn't hold back.
Most service workers we talked to really, truly loved the social aspect of their job. Still, there are some things they’d rather not talk about—and here are 10 questions they’d rather not answer.
1. “Are you a student?”
“I get asked if I’m going to school all the time. When I say no (because I finished college over a decade ago and am not currently a student), it prompts all of these follow up questions like, ‘Where did you go to college? What was your major? Are you pursuing your major now? Why not? Why did you move here? Will you ever go back to school?’ It comes across as nosy, and it’s a topic I’d rather discuss in my personal life and not to strangers while I’m working. Maybe others don’t mind talking about their education history and future plans with their customers, but personally I’d prefer to not have that conversation.”
“People would always ask 'What are you studying?' long after I graduated college. It was always so awkward, and they would try to play it off like, 'Oh you look so young!' but usually followed up by asking why I didn't get a ‘real job.’ Then I'd have to nicely explain that I did have another job, but sadly student loans exist. Also I liked waitressing and didn't want to quit!”
“Don’t assume that all waiters are in school or ‘just’ doing this as their side hustle.”
“When I hear, ‘So, do you go to school?’ I’m like *SIGH* here we go, here come the school questions.”
2. “What’s your real job?”
“I was a bartender here in LA and in NYC for many years … as if bartending wasn’t a real job.”
3. “Any recommendations?”
“I'd honestly rather hear ‘What's not good here?’ ... Business owners will probably disagree with this stance, but it creates a sense of honesty (maybe grit?) between the server and customer.”
“It’s sometimes hard to give recommendations to people if you don’t know what they like, so I always prefer if somebody tells me the things they are deciding between so I can help guide them. But not a huge deal.”
4. “Can I buy you a shot?”
“If I politely declined because I didn’t feel like drinking, I would get a barrage of questions about why I didn’t want to drink. If I made up an excuse, like I was on antibiotics, they would insist that one shot wouldn’t hurt me. As if he’s the only guy in the bar trying to get me to do a shot with him and the others won’t see this and think it’s ok for them to ask, too. Ugh.”
5. “How are you?”
“I wished that customers wouldn't ask how my day was. I know it sounds bizarre, but being asked 500 times how my day is by people who don't really care can be really exhausting. Likewise I wished regulars wouldn't ask what I had been up to. It's so tiring having to come up with unique answers, yet to repeat the same thing hundreds of times a day also feels strange.”
6. “I know you’re the bartender, but can you help us with a table?”
“As a bartender: asking me anything pertaining to how the host is seating tables or why the restaurant is on a wait when they can see empty tables, or why happy hour is only at the bar and not at every table in the restaurant. I have absolutely no idea. I’m behind the bar making drinks, and I have zero concept of what is going down at the front door at any given time. And I am not involved in the decision making process for happy hour, or any other restaurant policies for that matter.”
7. “[Insert sexual innuendo or romantic advance here]”
“I don't know if this counts, but my experience waitressing was in a huge Texas-based country dance club and bar. Dudes would order sex named drinks and make me read it back to them before changing their order. ‘Heh heh heh! We'd like two buttery nipples and a pitcher of sex on the beach. Read that back to us, sugar, make sure you got it all down.’ *uproarious laughter, inappropriate grabbing, etc* ‘Oh, no, we'll just have two Bud Lights ... Smile, baby, or there'll be no tip! Sit in my lap, and maybe we can work something out.’ One group of guys kept asking me for a table dance and I was so jaded at that point I assumed it was another drink, so I went and asked the bartender what went into a table dance and the bouncer who treated me like a little sister went over and threw them out of the club.”
“I had just started bartending and a man in his late 50s was at dinner with his wife and another couple. I was a very young bartender at the time. In AZ you can be 19 (where I was) and after I served them dinner, his wife went to the bathroom and he came up to me telling me I needed to go to dinner with him, blah blah blah. Ew. Me being 19, I proceeded to yell quite loudly about how he was asking me out while on a date with his wife and the fact that he could be my dad, why did he assume I was that kind of woman, and he took off out the back door pretty quick.”
“I think the one thing I notice most about bartending when I did was how much more brazen people are with you. Their questions, manners, attitude. Verrrrry interesting.”
8. “What’s your Instagram?”
“Your local coffee shop is not your personal Tinder, please leave employees alone. Don't lurk and don't ask for our numbers and don't ask for our social media.”
9. “What are those tattoos about?”
“I’d be four deep at the bar, completely in the weeds, and people would ask about my tats, the significance, how many I have, etc. Drove me crazy!”
10. "Just make me something”
“Don't ask the chef to ‘just make me something’—they're usually pretty busy and will sometimes still do it, but it puts stress on everyone."