Advice Columnist Tells it Like It Is To Bad Restaurant Customer

Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post

Until today, I did not know who Carolyn Hax was. She is an advice columnist for The Washington Post and she has zoomed to the top of my list of favorite people in the world, right behind my husband, Jose Cuervo and Mindy Cohn (not necessarily in that order.) When a woman wrote in for advice after her daughter informed her what shitty restaurant customers she and her husband are, Carolyn reached down into her purse and grabbed a big ass handful of shade. It’s awesome and I can only aspire to be as wise as Carolyn is.

Dear Carolyn: My daughter and son-in-law live an hour from us, and we meet once a month or so at a midpoint restaurant for dinner. I always enjoyed this time and thought it was a nice custom.

Recently I caught my son-in-law talking to our waiter, giving him an extra tip and saying something about how sorry he was for the table. The next day I called my daughter to see what that was all about, because my husband and I have very hurt feelings over the exchange.

She told me she doesn’t think my husband and I realize it, but our restaurant habits are not very thoughtful. I demanded specifics, and she told me that we split an entree and order water only, so the bill is really low. She also said we are demanding of the wait staff, which is especially bad because we aren’t giving the establishment much money to make up for it.

I am insulted by this. I don’t see how splitting an entree is rude. I also don’t see why I shouldn’t do what I want, that’s the entire point of a restaurant, to serve their customers. The customer is always right.

She also told me 20 percent is a standard tip. My husband and I tip 10 percent for normal service and 15 percent for good, maybe 20 percent if they washed our car while we were eating or something.

My daughter said she is sorry I overheard the exchange, but they didn’t know what else to do.

My husband and I don’t feel like we are dining incorrectly and that it’s rude for my daughter and son-in-law to correct our behavior behind our backs. I don’t want to meet up for dinner with them anymore and I can’t get over my bad feelings about all of this. Where do we go from here?
— Bad Restaurant Guest?

This is when Carolyn becomes a true hero, because the first line in her response is this:

Yes. You are bad restaurant guests. I’m sorry to have to redeliver an unwelcome message.

BOOM! And she goes on to cut this woman down to size with other 5-star advice like:

The wait staff makes next to nothing per hour and so the livelihood is in tips, and 10 percent is seriously — decades — outdated.


And I suggest that, instead of harrumphing over this couple’s “rudeness,” you take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.

Carolyn Hax is the Dear Abby all of us servers need in our lives. You can read her full column here. Thank you, Carolyn, for reminding this world that we servers deserve respect from customers. And as for the bad restaurant guest who sought advice: careful what you wish for.

13 thoughts on “Advice Columnist Tells it Like It Is To Bad Restaurant Customer

  1. DancerDiva

    I thought Carolyn’s response was great. You can’t be cheap AND demanding. Running a server back and forth like your personal servant and then stiffing them on the tip is just asking for your food to be spit in.

  2. Clarissa

    I thought she was too soft if anything. This woman was so awful and entitled, I really expected Carolyn to come down harder. I am glad though that she did still tell the woman she was wrong. The entitlement of the writer really bothered me, that not only was she awful and demanding but was upset when the server was pulled aside to be properly treated. I read Carolyn Hax from time to time. I’ve never disagreed, and I don’t in this, I was just hoping she would give a lot more detail as her responses are usually highly detailed and long winded.

    1. Anne

      She did. This is only the abridged version. Here is the full version:

      Bad Restaurant Guest?: Yes. You are bad restaurant guests. I’m sorry to have to redeliver an unwelcome message.
      So, where do you go from here: You act like grown-ups and push through the awkwardness, go back to your once-a-month dinners, order as you see fit but leave a 20 percent tip for a skilled and friendly server. The wait staff makes next to nothing per hour and so the livelihood is in tips, and 10 percent is seriously — decades — outdated.
      And, hereafter: Always be mindful of the price point and service level of a restaurant before making demands of the staff. You can send back an order that was botched somehow at any level, from Mickey D’s on up, but you don’t fuss over the garnish on a $7.99 entree.
      And I suggest that, instead of harrumphing over this couple’s “rudeness,” you take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.
      I think you would learn a lot from my colleague Tom Sietsema (, a restaurant critic and dining-out etiquette expert.
      Please also give a hard think to the fact that you’re reacting so defensively. You just received kind, honest, constructive criticism from a daughter who lovingly spends time with you. Instead of looking inward, you’re looking to cut her off. Is that really the best you can do?

  3. Just A Poor Server

    I applaud Carolyn because she not only told the truth, she gave it in a way that was both snappy and smart. I am more than happy to have a guest split an entree. At the place I work, the plates can be really big. However, I will judge you if you are splitting, order waters (with lemon and sugar perhaps?), and nothing else, because that tells me you are eating here on a budget, which doesn’t boast well about my tip. Do I hope to be proven wrong? Of course! Am I usually wrong? Not really.

    20% is considered the standard “You did a good job” tip. If service was beyond stellar, tip more. If it was so-so, 15% is the way to go. NEVER STIFF! Yes, your server could be an asshole, yes they could have been horrible, but they also have bills to pay. I overtip whenever I go out. All the time. One of my many joys is going out to eat alone and seeing the light die out of a server’s eyes when they see me by myself, expecting nothing. I aim to make their day usually.

    Also, keep your non-tip related memorabilia to yourself. I accepted Jesus long ago, I don’t need your church card and I’m pretty sure Jesus wants me to be able to eat and have a roof over my head. You don’t believe in tipping? Then I don’t believe in serving you but have the balls to tell me BEFORE I serve you. Can’t afford to give me a good tip because you are a student/parent/worker/etc.? Guess what…I don’t care! If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it. It’s for that reason you don’t see me in a Mansion in Malibu, driving my Porshe with my Butler Jeeves. Because I CANT AFFORD IT!

    Rant over! Hopefully, the woman learned her lesson and, next time, they go out to eat, split their entree, order water, and then tip their server above and beyond what they would have done. And kudos for the kids who wanted to make sure the server was taken care of AND their parents/parents-in-law weren’t embarrassed (though they probably are now…)

  4. dead_elvis

    Carolyn Hax just got herself a few new fans, deservedly so!

    But Bitchy – there’s absolutely nothing shady in that column, not a bit. Shade is subtle, makes you wonder. This is a (great) straight-up verbal beat down.

  5. M

    Also maybe restaurants could pay a living wage to their employees and let them accept tips from customers if customers are so inclined. Considering the profit they earn from their servers… (Coming from someone 9 years into the service world) #legitimatelabor #wtf

    1. Milo

      That would be a gigantic I mean life changing cut in pay for literally any skilled server. I make More than every manager in my building except my GM. I have turned down management positions for years. I earn a livable wage, but if you went hourly with a tip if you are inclined situation you would ruin a lot. First of all the price of eating out. You like the prices offered by restaurants well in order to cover high server wages that would change. Making the tip if you are inclined situation change drastically. Furthermore I average 30-40 an hour on a slow day they aren’t going to cover that so please I wish all servers would fight the wage inflation if You aren’t Making a livable wage change jobs You are doing something wrong.

  6. Hercule

    When I read the Post today, I thought you might pick this up. Carolyn’s advice is usually tart and on point, as here.

  7. Karri

    For a confusing second there, I thought you were saying your husband was José Cuervo, and this is why we need the Oxford comma.

  8. Jaclyn

    If you are happy with your service, tipping 20% or more has been the norm since the 90’s people. If you don’t understand this, that’s why God invented takeout! Stay home!! We don’t want you in our restaurants or bars. Luckily most people are not demanding and cheap like you. They treat us with the kindness and respect we all deserve

    1. Shelley

      And if the service is not only insulting and atrocious, then what?
      I’ve had amazing service and some of the worst experiences in my life with bad service.


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