Op-Ed: Dear Los Angeles: You seriously need to learn how to behave in restaurants

Diners at a restaurant in Los Angeles on March 23, 2016.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Growing up in the Bay Area, we are taught to hate Los Angeles. “It’s so shallow,” they say.

What many Northern Californians don’t realize is how vast and diverse the city truly is — how thriving with art, culture and, yes, food. For all these reasons and others, I love L.A.

But there is one caveat: how Angelenos behave in restaurants.

Like many others pursuing artistic interests, I support myself mostly by waiting tables. And for some reason, in L.A. far more than in other cities, I am often met with questionable manners and outright disrespect.


I noticed it within the first year of moving here, nearly nine years ago. Not much has changed. At every new restaurant, I keep thinking people will cease to be ridiculous. I am always proven wrong.

After I’ve dropped off your food, don’t make me take five trips to get hot sauce, aioli and all your other condiments.

So, L.A. diners, it’s time we had a chat. I know you can do better. Here are some guidelines to follow when eating out.

Let’s start with gluten.

You’re “allergic” to gluten? Are you sure about that? Because Celiac disease affects only 1% of Americans. Gluten is in pizza dough, and I think we can all agree that pizza dough is delicious. But more to the point, no, we are not obligated to have gluten-free bread.

Please stop deviating from the menu.

We can only serve so much “on the side,” and we can only deconstruct a pork chop so much before it is no longer a pork chop. If you want the fish in your fish and chips boiled rather than fried, you’re at the wrong restaurant. Likewise, if you want cauliflower instead of chicken in your chicken wings, go to Café Gratitude for that nonsense. Better yet, you explain it to the kitchen.

Start saying “please,” please.

I don’t know if people forget this word the minute they land in L.A., but it really ought to be a regular part of your vocabulary. I could do with more thank yous, too. I’m actually not your servant. Speaking of which, don’t wave me over or snap your fingers to get my attention. I see you. I’m just busy.

When I ask if you need anything else, think about it.

Think long and hard. After I’ve dropped off your food, don’t make me take five trips to get hot sauce, aioli and all your other condiments. I need to ask the kitchen for half of them, and I have many other tables to worry about.


When I ask how your food is, answer honestly.

Don’t tell me it’s fine and then ask for a discount at the end of your meal because the cauliflower was too spicy or the up-charge on your avocado was too steep. You probably don’t understand restaurant inventory, so your thoughts on the latter are irrelevant.

If you’re having a bad day, don’t eat out.

Whatever your troubles are, I challenge you to wait tables. Life will seem pretty fantastic after dealing with the finicky appetites of L.A. diners, some of whom don’t understand why they can’t get a discount simply because a restaurant doesn’t have a vegan option. No joke: This is not an uncommon request.

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Brunch people: You especially need to calm down.

I understand you’re hung over, but you’re also eating brunch with your friends. I’m working. In other words, I’m running around, fetching your thousands of drinks. You don’t need to keep asking me for coffee. I already know you need a gallon of it, but we only have so many coffee pots. I’ll get to you when I can.

Don’t tip less than 20%.

It’s 2018. You should know better. If you think this rate is high, look around. See all those other workers who are delivering food and clearing plates? Those people are tipped from your 15%, which means you left the server more like 10%, which is just rude. Really you should leave more like 25%, but I realize that asking L.A. diners to tip 25% is like asking them to carpool.

You still have to tip when you eat at the counter.

Don’t get me started on counter service. Just know this: If there is a tip option on the receipt or the computer screen you are signing, or if you see a tip jar, assume you should tip. While we’re on the subject, yes, you should tip even when you’ve ordered food to go. Someone had to wrap up all that food.

Close your tab quickly.

I’ve probably had to smile and be nice to impolite customers for eight hours straight, hustling to get your boiled fish and bun-less burgers out on time while trying to describe what each of the 60 wines tastes like. Spare me the task of having to ask you to please pay your bill, so that I can go home, watch Netflix and forget that my shift ever happened. We cool?

Natalie Gregory is a writer, comedian and restaurant worker. She hosts the podcast “Tip Your Server,” about comedians who wait tables and tend bars in Los Angeles.

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