As a waiter or waitress, what are some things you wish the general public knew more about?

Oh, what a nice question. Do I have quite the list.

To summarize, all of the points below boil down to "know your etiquette and act accordingly. It makes it easier for both yourself and for me."

  • Don't beckon me over if you're not ready to order (unless you have a question about the menu, then feel free to signal that you need my attention, I will happily answer your question). Especially don't start flailing your arms around dramatically, only to be speechless when I hurry over to your table. "Yes, ma'am?" "Uh, yeah, I havent decided yet." What am I doing here, then?
  • Oh. Basic manners. When I say, "good evening," the least you could say back is "hi." There's no reason to start panicking ("oh shit oh shit what do I want to order?"), I'm just greeting you. There's also no reason to just bark "cappuccino!" at me. "Hi. A cappuccino, please," is so much more friendly.
  • Close your menus if you're ready to order. I know I have given you your menus, and I keep half an eye at your table for as long as I haven't taken your orders. I know that's going to be the next step (assuming I don't need to answer any questions about the menu in the mean time). The very moment I see you have closed your menus, I'll understand that you're ready to order. This is an internationally recognized signal: menus closed? Ready to order. As long as you keep your menus open (or worse, in your hand) I'll assume that you're not ready yet for a while, until I think "well that's taking them long enough, let's see if they need any help." Additionally, if you just close your menus, you don't need to flag me over once you're ready. Just close the damn thing and I know what to do next.
  • Don't try to "help" me by redistributing the stuff I'm giving you. For example, imagine you and three others have ordered starters and mains. Starters include soups, sushi, and salads, and say main courses include fish dishes, steaks, and pastas. After I've rung up your order I'll grab the necessary utensils and put them on my tray in such a way that I can go around the table and give everybody the utensils they need (spoons for the soups, chopsticks for the sushi, fish knifes for the fishes, steak knifes for the steaks, and so on). I'll put the appropriate utensils right next to the person who'll be having that particular dish. Don't fuck up my system by deciding that two sets of knife-and-fork are too much for you and handing one pair to the guy sitting next to you. No: you ordered a salad and the sea bass, so you're getting a regular knife-and-fork pair and a fish-knife-and-fork pair. The guy next to you ordered a soup and a steak, so none of the utensils I've given you are useful to him. Don't redistribute that shit while I'm setting the table for you lot correctly.
  • And more general, don't move stuff around on your table while I'm at your table. If I'm serving, say, a coke, I'll move your glass from my tray to your table. Next, I'll grab the bottle of coke and start pouring out about half of it into your glass. If you move that glass during this time, chances are it will result in a mess: the glass is not where I expect it to be, and your coke will spill on the table. Similarly, if I'm pouring out a glass of wine for you, don't fucking move the glass. I know you think you're helping, but you're not.
  • Even more general, while I'm at your table serving stuff or removing empty plates or glasses, basically don't move your hand across the table. I'd much prefer if you were to literally sit on your hands, honestly, but that's a bit too much to ask. But if I'm moving a hot plate from my carrying arm onto your table, and suddenly I see a hand shooting across the table, that startles me. I might burn you! This plate is hot! I'm not wearing gloves because it looks fancy, I'm wearing gloves so that I don't burn my fingers!
  • In the same vein, and this is becoming more and more prevalent in recent years, when I come to your table to collect your empty plates, don't pick them up to hand them to me. It looks impatient ("pick me! pick me!") and it might mess up my system. I'll prefer to grab the largest plate first and hold it in my hand, and then pick the next largest plate and balance it on my arm, moving the utensils and whatever leftovers there are onto the first plate, continuing until I have all the plates I can carry with the smallest one on top.
  • Oh, and speaking of utensils again: if you're finished eating, put your utensils in the "20 past 4" (as on an analogue clock) position. I, and waiters around the globe, will recognize that as a signal that you're finished eating, and we'll promptly clear your table for you. If you leave the utensils in the "40 past 4" position, we'll think you're still eating, especially if you still have leftovers on your plate. We'll leave you alone, maybe just check upon you to see if you need new drinks.
  • Continuing on that thought, if you're finished eating, don't stack your plates for me. Just leave the plates be, put your utensils in the closed position, and I'll remove them for you or have a coworker remove them for you. You'll almost certainly stack them in a way that makes it hard for us to carry them or pick them up properly. Again, I know you think you're helping, but you're not.

So, basically: sit back, relax, and let us do our job. If, by chance, we need your assistance, we'll ask for it: "sorry, sir. I can't quite reach your plate. Would you mind handing it to me? Thank you. And there's a used fork left right there. Can I have that as well?"

Sit back and relax. And use the widely recognized signals: closed menus, closed utensils. We do notice them.

Speaking of which, recently I've been noticing a new trend. I don't know if this is proper etiquette, but I think it works fabulously. Some people who have ordered a bottle of white wine (which we serve in opaque coolers) have taken it upon themselves to place the bottle in the cooler upside down when it's empty. I don't know if that's how it is supposed to be done, but the signal is quite clear: "this bottle is empty, you may remove it from the table." Also, it gives me an opportunity to check up on your needs: "would you like a new bottle? Or anything else to drink?"

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