waitress laughing at table with customers

Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

Clearly we hated it!”

That’s the little joke my family used to say at restaurants whenever the server would come and ask how our meal was while clearing our dishes away, each plate visibly empty after we’d chowed down. We would chuckle, the server would chuckle, and we’d settle the bill. We sure thought we were clever. Little did we know that servers everywhere hear that same joke 50 times per shift.

Never having worked in food service myself, I’m always eager to hear friends’ anecdotes about their restaurant adventures. Waiting tables, it turns out, is more of a study of the human condition than anything else, and servers have pretty much seen it all: our worst habits, strange tics, and our oh-so-original jokes. I polled a number of servers (all of whom shall remain anonymous) about the corny, played-out jokes they never want to hear from customers again. You are by no means a bad person if you use them—you’re just not as funny as you think you are.

Jokes about your server’s name

If a server’s name is, say, Delilah, do you really need to make a “Hey there, Delilah” joke? Do you think that maybe, just maybethey have heard that one before—that, perhaps, they even now brace for the inevitable tired jab once they’ve introduced themselves?

It’s never a good idea to make a joke about someone’s name, whether it’s a harmless little comment or not. Folks should be able to introduce themselves and just hear “nice to meet you” in return.

Jokes about the cost of the bill

Your server isn’t the one who priced out the menu, so even good-natured jokes that balk at the total cost aren’t fair to direct at them.

“Hold up, I didn’t order that!” is a weirdly common joke that people make about seeing their entree listed on the check. Try to put yourself in the server’s shoes for this one: The worst part of any shift are the problem customers who yell at them for order mix-ups and other minor errors, so when you pretend to be one of these customers, it’s not immediately evident that it’s a joke. Telling a server they’ve messed up is bound to produce undue anxiety, and the payoff of the joke—that you’re just, like, lying—isn’t a good reason to make them feel that way.

Some customers will gesture to diners at a different table and say, “Wait, I thought that guy was paying!” or they will gesture to the server and say “I thought this one was on you today!” In either case, what’s the logical endpoint of their banter? The server can only really smile and say, “Nope, not today!” or “Maybe next time!” Is that… a satisfying exchange? Besides, jokes about how you don’t want to pay your bill, don’t inspire confidence that you’ll leave a good tip.

And finally: “I guess I’ll be washing dishes!” This is a joke about being straight-up unable to pay one’s restaurant bill, and given that no restaurant would ever actually make you do thisit’s both unfunny and woefully outdated.

Jokes about COVID

For diners worried about COVID, the main option has always been not to attend restaurants until they feel safe. Servers, however, don’t have that option—they have to show up if they want to get paid. As such, it’s not really a topic they want you to joke about.

Jokes are often a way to deal with one’s nervousness or cut through social tension, so many diners might be tempted to make an offhand comment like, “Don’t worry, it’s not like we have COVID or anything!” This is likely to come off wrong, no matter how much you intend to put your server at ease. It can sound like you’re trivializing the risk the server is assuming, or that you’re somehow better than someone who might have contracted COVID. There are just too many ways for it to be misconstrued, and it’s not really funny in the first place. Skip it.

And for god’s sake, if you order a Corona, don’t make any “coronavirus” jokes. Those got old by April 2020.

You don’t have to prepare a list of bits in order to be an exemplary customer. You’re not there to be the evening’s entertainment. Being a server is challenging enough without the additional labor of conveying fake amusement for the sake of earning a tip, so leave your A material at home.

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