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This Is What Your Waiter First Notices About You

Just as you make observations about a restaurant when you walk in the door, waiters observe you when you sit down at your table.

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The restaurant industry

After a long day at work, you think going out to dinner with friends, family, or partner will be a nice way to treat yourself. So once you figure out where to go and make a reservation, you arrive at the restaurant and are seated at your table. Now, how often do you notice what’s really going on around you? Because it turns out, your restaurant server has taken note of you before you’ve even sat down or handed the menu. If you’re looking to branch out, these are the 10 most popular restaurant dishes in the United States.

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Are you on your phone, or will you actually talk to us?

It turns out, your waiter notices whether you’re on your phone or actually paying attention. “When you first approach a table, you notice hands in phone…unless they’re not! That’s when you get excited–real people with a real, intimate connection, whether they are friends or romantic,” Morgan Taylor, past waiter and CMO for LetMeBank, tells Reader’s Digest. “These people are the kind you can actually connect with! Whether that results in a big tip or not, it’s certainly going to be a more interesting table than when 100 percent are plugged into their social media feed.” These are the 10 table etiquette mistakes you really need to stop making.

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We notice how you interact with each other

Waiters pick up on how parents treat their children and, conversely, how to act around children. “Throughout the years, I have encountered many different types of people and my favorite has always been families with kids. Being a kid at heart, I love to play games and interact with the kid while taking care of the family,” says Jacob Cohen, a waiter with almost a decade of experience who works at a restaurant in a northern suburb of Chicago. “More often than not, the kids get ignored…but when I take care of my customers, I don’t ignore them and in return, I get a nice tip out of it for listening to the child.” These are the 13 things polite people don’t do in restaurants.

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We figure out how to relate to our customers

It’s one thing when you’re out with a group of friends and have a ton to talk about. It’s another matter when you’re a waiter approaching a table full of strangers and trying to find common ground. “When walking up to a table, I always see if a kid is there but I also scope out who it is and what kind of conversation I need to be thinking about when conversing with them,” says Cohen. “The conversation is key in this industry. If you can’t relate with your customer on something, whether its current events, a recent show, a sports team, the restaurant industry isn’t for you. If you can’t sell yourself, how can you sell the restaurant?” Here are 11 small talk tips that will make you less awkward.

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We can tell what you’re like if you go out on certain holidays

There are times you want to go out and celebrate in a restaurant, and times when you should maybe reconsider. Kristen McLeod, a veteran service industry representative who worked in coffee shops and one of Canada’s most popular restaurant chains, recommends avoiding certain holidays, like New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, at all costs. “These holidays were populated by the people who only went out on special occasions and would sit for hours (instead of allowing me to ‘flip’ the table and earn more income),” she says, “were terrible tippers (unable to process the idea that it was fair to expect them to tip on top of paying an outrageous amount for food they could’ve easily cooked at home), and if they got drunk enough, fight.” Maybe modern dining reflects a past history. This is the surprisingly dark history of Valentine’s Day you never knew.

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We can tell what kind of waiter you want

“If it is a loud group of informally dressed people for a dinner service, I am more likely to take an informal attitude with them and be a bit more playful. When I was looking at a table, I think it was important to try and assess why they were there and guess what kind of waiter they wanted,” Ben Myhre, author of the Ramshackle Pantry blog with a decade of experience as a waiter and bartender, tells Reader’s Digest. “This involved looking at who the people were as a group, how they were dressed, and knowing the situation you are in.”

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We notice when you notice us

While waiters pick up on what’s happening at their tables, tables can also pick up on their waiter. McLeod remembers a specific experience she had. “As I approached that table the folks sitting there were also assessing me–deciding if I was a dud or one of the good ones,” says McLeod. “I developed a chameleon-like ability to perform what I figured they wanted–instantly–meaning I was lightening flash fast at figuring them out.” Here are 12 ways you’re giving off a bad vibe without even knowing it.

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We notice your body language

As well as taking note of clothing, Taylor adds that body language is huge. “Instead of clothes, go by body language,” says Taylor. “It’s the old ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ Someone’s personality is a far greater indicator of how they treat others, even strangers only serving them for 45 minutes during a one-off meal.” These are the  57 secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.

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We can tell if you’re going to try something inappropriate

Waiters can tell whether a guest is going to hit on them from a long way away. “Are you going to try to pick me up later? In front of your partner when she goes to the bathroom?” McLeod asks. “I developed a serious radar for looking and looking, and learned to deflect early while still allowing for possibly. I mean, I needed the tips!”

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We notice your clothes, but try not to make judgments

It’s important to not make first impressions of patrons sitting at tables. “Trying to judge who will tip or not based on their clothes is wildly unpredictable,” says Taylor. “I have had the shabbiest dressed characters leave $100 bills, and the best dressed completely stiff me.” Wondering what to wear on your next outing? Here are 15 simple fashion upgrades that make you look expensive.
But it’s still good to notice what you’re guests are wearing before approaching the table. “Being able to correctly assess your guests before you even start talking to them gives you an advantage before you even start talking to them, which at the end of the day can help your tip jar,” says Myhre. “Can you look at a table and know whether they are going to be good tippers before you interact with them? Not really. Generous people come from all walks of life.” As a rule of thumb, this is how much you should tip in every situation.

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a Digital Associate Editor/Writer at RD.com. Previously, she worked for HuffPost and Golf Channel. Her writing has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her work can be found on her website: www.madelinehwahl.com