What Should You Really Say in Front of Your Server?

Everything. Or nothing. Learn to read the room, guy.


For reasons I can’t explain, my friends and I always seem to be engaged in our most inappropriate conversations when we’re at a restaurant. In these moments, we’re loud and raucous — right up until our server approaches the table, at which point we’ll fall completely silent until they leave.

The question is: Are we doing anything wrong? And if so, which part? Should we not be discussing such things in public? Or are we stopping needlessly in front of someone who has heard it all before?

To get some answers, we asked some servers how they feel about the awkward silence that always washes over a table of guilty conversationalists. Here’s what they told us:

Mark, 33: I’ve been waiting tables for 10 years, and I still love the sound of hushed voices when I arrive at a table. But it’s a weird thing, because most of the time, I’ve already caught the gist of what was being said on my way over. But I don’t care what anyone talks about — in my experience, the customers who are loud and who have the most “inappropriate” conversations are the easiest to deal with. Plus, they leave bigger tips.

Julia, 28: I’ve been waiting tables on and off for five years. Most nights, I’m too busy to think, let alone listen to what other people are talking about. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice when a loud table suddenly goes quiet when I come to take their orders — it’s the polite thing to do if you’re talking about something gross.

Alexis, 30: I’ve waited tables for 12 years, and there’s definitely been some super-awkward moments when the conversation will halt abruptly, which can make you not want to check on a table as much, so as not to be intrusive. Though some people continually talk and almost pretend like I’m not there, which is its own form of awkwardness. There are also “experienced” diners who know how to manage those transitions in and out of conversations without making it weird.

Cole, 23: Sometimes I’ll hear something I can relate to and say, “Yes, I love that place.” But people usually don’t want their conversation to be interrupted, so they give a quick, “Yes, we’re good, thanks so much.” I did once overhear a weird conversation where this sugar daddy was asking a woman what he could get for X amount of money. He must have been 40 years older than her…

Tim, 38: I just take their cue. I’ve been a bartender and waiter for four years, and I’ve never noticed the silence or hush. But as a diner, I’ve definitely quieted down when the waiter approaches. A lot of the time, when approaching a table, it’ll be clear that they’re engaging me. There’s a distinct difference between bartenders and waiters, though. Bartenders are your friend and will let loose a bit more. With servers, you’re just exchanging the goods and services; it’s not as conversational. Which is why people shouldn’t worry about what they say in front of their waiter. What good does someone else’s dirty laundry do me? After all, we’re strangers.