Illustration of a server being bombarded with annoying jokes or comments while on shift
If you've got a joke, your server has probably already heard it hundreds of times before. (Illustration by Katelyn McManis, Columbia College Chicago)

10 Things Customers Say That Make Every Server Cringe

Working in the customer service industry is difficult enough as it is, but there are certain lines that can really push someone over the edge.

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Illustration of a server being bombarded with annoying jokes or comments while on shift

Working in the customer service industry is difficult enough as it is, but there are certain lines that can really push someone over the edge.

Working in the customer service industry often requires adopting a pretend smile and a fake laugh to make customers feel better about themselves. Employees do not dislike joking around every once in a while, but many servers and retail workers are tired of hearing the same clichéd lines over and over again. In no particular order, here are 10 of the most cringe-worthy phrases that customers say and advice on how to make the experience better for both the customer and the server:

1. “Diet Coke”

It’s a wonderful drink for those looking for an ice-cold soda, but it is not the answer to the server’s question, “How are you doing today?” Diet Coke, coffee and water with lemon are often the first words out of customers’ mouths.

Many customers have taken up the habit of ignoring their server’s introduction and skipping right to ordering food and drinks. Maybe they assume they are saving their server time by cutting right to the chase; however, skipping a few lines in their script will probably throw the server off their game. Servers are there to make sure that their customers have a positive experience at the establishment. They are not robots for people to bark orders at. Take the opportunity to get to know your server, or at least humor them with a simple “hello.”

2. “There’s no price on this, I guess it’s free!”

Both servers and those who work in retail will definitely groan after hearing this line. Cost is often the biggest factor that affects a customer’s decision to purchase something. On rare occasions, the price may have been removed or displaced from its location near the item. This is not an invitation to suggest that the item is free.

While it may seem like a funny joke, it is not funny to the worker who has heard this line thousands of times before. Reddit user littlewoolie came up with a clever answer to this line. When their customer pointed out that there was no price on the plate of pavlovas and thus, “It must be free,” they responded, “Actually, that means I can charge whatever I want, that pavlova is now $1,000.” Posts such as these are correcting the way people speak to servers and retail workers everywhere.

3. “But what’s your real job?”

To many people’s surprise, working in a restaurant or store is a real job! These brave individuals wake up to a real alarm and pay real bills. Some businesses even offer their employees benefits, upward mobility and even retirement. Customer service jobs are often appealing to people such as single parents or caretakers because they offer opportunities to be handed cash rather than having to wait for a check. In fact, nearly 3.5 million parents work in the restaurant industry and more than 1 million of those are single parents.

On one hand, college students or people between jobs often turn to service work part-time to pay their bills, but many other people choose to serve as their full-time job. Both types of employees are valid and valued! The server may appreciate those inquiring about their life, but this line is often seen in a derogatory light. Just because someone is serving you food does not mean that they are below you.

4. “I get this all the time” or “They do this for me all the time”

It may not sound like a big deal but it is very frustrating for your server to hear this phrase uttered time and time again. Servers are meticulously trained and tested on the food items and the available sides that come with each meal.

When they hear this line, it may be perceived as an insult or an insinuation that the server does not know how to do their job. Servers are not immune to making mistakes, however, and may allow a customer to order something a specific way that is not allowed. In turn, this causes every other server to adjust and correct the way they allow customers to order meals. Most often, the phrase “the customer is always right” is false. Sure, the server will always cater to the desires of their customers but the server likely knows more about the menu than the customer.

5. “I know the owner”

So do the employees! Sometimes customers expect that knowing the owner means they get special treatment and it excuses their poor behavior when dining out. In many instances, people use this line to get bumped ahead on the waitlist or get a discount without actually knowing anything about the owner. This line is even more entertaining for employees that work for their family’s business. If the customer does know the owner, that’s more of an opportunity to support their business and pay full price, especially during a time when small businesses are struggling.

6. “You should smile more”

“Service with a smile” is a common mantra in customer service occupations. Working as a server often means you have to be a good actor, smiling and being polite in unpleasant and stressful situations. It can be exhausting to bite one’s tongue from snapping back at the Karen who is demanding to see the manager or the old man who is a little bit too handsy with the employees.

If your server is not smiling in the middle of a full restaurant or at the end of a long shift, don’t be surprised. These workers are not robots with unlimited energy and stamina. Their social battery can expire. Servers and retail workers are hired to be friendly and make sure customers are comfortable, but it is not the customer’s place to tell servers how to do their job.

7. “Just run to the store and get me…”

Sometimes when a server has to inform their customers that they are out of an item or do not offer it on the menu, the customer may say something like, “Well can’t you just go to the store and get it for me?” This usually gets a fake chuckle out of the server, who will likely roll their eyes on the way back to the kitchen. Restaurants and stores cannot be expected to provide everything the customer wants down to the smallest, minute details. If you are especially particular about the way you like your food, it is a good idea to stay home and make it yourself.

8. “You can give that table our bill” or “We didn’t order the bill”

Working as a server, this cliché is something that is heard at least once every shift. Once the bill is placed on the table, older men will ironically try to pass off their bill to another table or say something along the lines of “We didn’t ask for this” or sarcastically ask, “We have to pay?” Of course you have to pay (and tip!), especially for putting up with jokes like these! Surely, customers know this and are just attempting to tease the server for a laugh, but it is only funny the first few times they hear it.

9. *Pointing to Their Empty Plate* “I didn’t like it”

If a customer does not like their food after the first few bites or they were given something they did not order, the server would like to know as soon as possible! Many people with social anxiety will endure eating something they do not like to avoid bothering the server. Others eat the entire plate, ignoring the times the server comes to their table to check on them and only complain about the food after they’ve finished it. This is not helpful information for the server.

There is a big difference, however, between waiting until the very last minute to complain and just goofing around with your server. A common dad-joke is to comment on an empty plate and say something like “It doesn’t look like you liked your food.” Regardless, it is becoming a clichéd phrase that servers are fighting the urge to cringe about.

10. “A million dollars” or “The winning lottery numbers”

The last and certainly most annoying thing customers request is “a million dollars,” “a bundle of 50s” or “a winning lottery ticket” in response to “Is there anything else I can get for you?” What is someone supposed to say to that? If the server or retail employee had that much money lying around, they probably would not be working in customer service and they would definitely not be handing it out to customers who say phrases like these.

Waiting on tables certainly is not easy but at least there is always something to laugh about (and it’s usually the funny things that customers say). As of July 4, many restaurants and stores in the United States will be open at 100% capacity, but many places are certainly not staffed at 100%. Be sure to go easy on servers, especially if their establishment is noticeably understaffed. Just because servers rely on your tips does not mean you can make them jump through hoops for you.

Do not mistake the word “server” for “servant.”

Writer Profile

Jenna Amore

Oakland University
English

Hello! I’m a senior at Oakland University in Michigan with an English major. I enjoy writing nonfiction and dystopian science fiction. I’m excited Study Breaks is giving me the opportunity to write for them!

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