Top Five Ways to Guarantee Terrible Service

Even if journalism doesn't work out, I know that I won't end up owning a restaurant. I have a terrible palate and a personality that will abuse the right to refuse service rule.

In all my years of serving, I've never, ever spat in someone's food or drink. I don't care enough to go around creating biohazards. The servers I work with are much more passive-aggressive. According to an informal survey of my co-workers, these are the top five most common reasons a server will simply quit trying to give good service, tip be damned.

1. Ordering coffee at a place that's neither IHOP or in Alaska Coffee isn't really an offense or a reason to give bad service, but it's a pain in the ass. We typically don't have a fresh pot of coffee on hand, especially in the afternoon during the spring and summer months. So those of you who roll your eyes when a server says he or she will have to brew a fresh pot, think about what you're asking. Brewing an entire fresh pot of coffee just for you and your $3 slice of pie is actually pretty generous. It's not like you're at Starbucks or something.

I had a table complain that they'd gobbled all their pie in the time it took me to make coffee. Whose fault is that? Think.

2. You're rude from the start Nobody really wants to serve anybody. Nobody became a server because they get tickled balancing trays of Bud Light and strawberry lemonade and retrieving flesh-melting plates of enchiladas. We do it because somewhere along the line, we made a decision (regrettably poor or otherwise) that landed us in unskilled labor.

Enchilada bearers though we may be, when people start being servers, they don't stop being people. So when I walk up to the table and recite brightly, "Hi there, my name is Brooke, and I'll be..." and you interrupt me to say, "Ice water, extra lemon. And bring me more Splenda," I stop caring about you. It's unforgivably discouraging. Not because you have less manners than gardening soil, but because if I gently remind you that ice water is neither an emotion or a state of being, I'm the rude one. Refuse to acknowledge your server, and it will be a while before that ice water reaches your table. You'll probably have to ask for lemons again. And hope you're OK with Equal, because the server will suddenly forget where the restaurant keeps the Splenda. Revenge is childish and best served cold, like that cup of soup that's been congealing on the line for 10 minutes.

Could be the Southern hospitality in me, but I always appreciate and remember the guests who manage to look up and mutter some kind of greeting, however insincere. We're in this dining experience together: Let's practice civility.

And that business about you trying to skirt the $1.99 price tag and make your own lemonade? Cut that shit out.

3. Waters all around, and you're all splitting an entrée Especially if you ordered the cheapest thing on the menu. This also applies if one of you is just going to munch the free chips and salsa, or if anybody involved is older than 12, younger than 80 and eating off the kids' menu. If you're not going to spend money to properly feed yourself, why should I think you'll spend money to tip me?

4. Oink, oink, table hog It may not sound like it, but I really want my guests to enjoy their meals. I want them to have a good experience at my restaurant. And I'm not just saying this so they'll like me better and tip me $7 instead of just $5.

But if you finished your meal 30 minutes ago and are still happily chatting at your table, get out of my booth. Take it to the bar. If I can't turn that table for two hours, then I lose a fraction of my income, and I'm just not into that, no matter how much you're enjoying yourself. I suppose you could solve the problem by leaving a tip generous enough that it makes up for all the lost income, but that's a lot of commitment on your part.

To deal with diners who won't get up from the table, I've seen servers completely ignore them and delight as they noisily suck out the last few drops from their water glasses. But the better way is to be over attentive: "Are you done? Was it good? More tea? Anything else? More water? Dessert again? I can get you another menu. Are you done? Was it good?"

Please, stay. Enjoy yourself. Have some coffee! But after a while, please give your table to guests waiting on it.

5. You've tipped poorly before Well, duh.

Serving may be unskilled labor, but a scorned server instantly becomes a mathematician with the memory of elephants. And servers aren't very good at forgiving people, or believing that they've changed.

If you've left a terrible tip before and your server didn't deserve it, I'm certainly not saying to expect spit in your food. Just watch out.