Image of customers dining in a restaurant.

5 Types of Customers You Will Encounter in the Restaurant Industry

Any person with experience in customer service knows all too well how some patrons forget that their servers are people too.
October 12, 2021
8 mins read

It’s impossible to work in the restaurant industry without noticing the distinct types of customers that make their way in and out of your place of work. While some restore your faith in humanity, others make you question how it hasn’t been destroyed yet. These kinds of customers exist beyond food service; anyone with experience in customer service can recognize some (if not all) of these groups. While some aren’t as common as others, the familiar feeling of meeting one of them still remains. Here are the types of customers you will encounter while working in the restaurant industry.

The Karen

The one everyone knows and everyone loves to hate. If you aren’t familiar with the term Karen, a BBC News article accurately describes it as “a widespread meme referencing a specific type of middle-class white woman, who exhibits behaviours that stem from privilege.” They walk into the restaurant already claiming to own the place. One of my own worst experiences dealing with a Karen occurred when I was seated with two of them at the same table.

The pair was a mother and her daughter (a Karen-in-training, if you will). Everything the mother “had” to complain about the daughter couldn’t help but join in as well. By the end of their meal, my manager had comped everything off their bill except for their drinks, which they still managed to complain about. Basically, if you’ve ever encountered anyone that just likes to complain and make your life miserable for the fun of it, it was probably a Karen.

The Elders

When encountering the older generation of customers, there is no middle ground — a lack of gray area that calls for the subgenres The Grumps and The Dream Grandparents.

The Grumps

The Grumps are much like The Karen in that they are always displeased and disappointed. They’re just better at making it seem like it’s your fault. It’s like when parents tell you that they aren’t angry at you, they’re just disappointed — but you know that the latter is far worse and the one that makes you feel like the bad guy. This group of elderly customers also never seems to stop mentioning the existence of Jesus and what a wonderful man he is. If you give off any implications that you aren’t a follower, they sometimes leave a tiny Bible for you and most likely a $2 tip on a $40 bill.

The Dream Grandparents

The Dream Grandparents are the customers you’d wish would adopt you and bring you home with them. You wish they were your grandparents instead of your actual grandparents because that’s how sweet and adorable they are. The wife is always so polite, telling you to “take all the time in the world” to get back to them when you’re busy. The husband is always cracking cheesy jokes that aren’t even that funny, but make you smile anyway.

The both of them together are a handful in the most wonderful way. Once, I had a couple like this and the wife spilled water all over the table. They both waved me over and once I arrived, the husband let out this big sigh and said, “You can’t take us anywhere.” When you say you hate boomers, they aren’t the ones you’re referring to.

The Vortex

The Vortex is how many people in the industry refer to the neediest kinds of tables in a restaurant. It’s a table that usually consists of a family of five or six, but not always. While there are many different scenarios that occur with tables like these, here are just a few that will give you a better idea of Vortex customers. I’ll bring out three of the five burning hot plates of food and begin to call out what each is. The entire family will then look at me as if I speak a different language entirely because they have forgotten what they ordered within 15 minutes of ordering.

Once that is finally settled, I am about to make my way to the kitchen to grab the remaining plates when they ask me where the rest of their food is. I’m sorry to inform them, but I don’t have five hands to carry all their plates. When I return, I ask if there is anything else I can grab for them. The daughter in the second seat requests some ranch. I return with the ranch when the father asks for a refill on his soda. I return with the soda and, well, you understand the process. They suck me back in for just “one more thing” as if I don’t have any other tables to attend to. Therefore, The Vortex.

The Angels

The Angels are the tables that make everything else worth it. They are the type of table you don’t even care if they tipped well because their company alone was enough to make your day. They create a stress-free environment and hype you up when you’re feeling discouraged. They never get modifications on their orders and if they do, they never care if it comes out wrong or incorrect. In addition to this, they always tip at least 20% and, most of the time, more. Tables like this make me cry in the best possible way. The Angels are the people that give you a purpose. They’re the reason you wanted a server job and the reason why you refuse to quit no matter how bad any one day becomes.

While these are just a few categories of customers that regularly attend restaurants, there are still many more. More experiences with these different types of customers are told from workers all over the internet, mostly through TikTok. All you have to do is search “restaurant life” and threads of videos from employees will appear. One of the most popular TikTok influencers in the restaurant world is a man named Drew Talbert, who has over 900,000 followers. His videos range from types of customers to types of co-workers and are both accurate and entertaining.

This just goes to show that in a society where people live vastly different lives and work vastly different jobs, certain universal experiences will resonate with everyone.

Tori Barney, Columbia College Chicago

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Tori Barney

Columbia College Chicago
Creative Writing

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