How to Be a Courteous Restaurant Guest During COVID, According to Phoenix-Area Servers

The rules are changing.
The rules are changing. Dan Burton/Unsplash
click to enlarge The rules are changing. - DAN BURTON/UNSPLASH
The rules are changing.
Dan Burton/Unsplash
Here in Arizona, we're rewriting the restaurant rules as we go — daily, and sometimes by the minute.

As with any new situation, especially one as unfamiliar and unprecedented as COVID-19, that means etiquette is also evolving rapidly. So, we recently asked four Valley hospitality workers — seasoned pros from busy local establishments, a combined 44 years of experience between them — for their thoughts on etiquette in the age of COVID. They include one barista (Cheryl, not her real name), and three servers (Yvette, Zoe, and Julie). Here's what they had to say about dining in this weird, new restaurant landscape.

Check the restaurant’s website first

Should you make a reservation? Should you wait to be seated? Should you pay with cash or card? While some restaurant rules are citywide and statewide mandates (groups capped at 10 people, restaurant capacities limited to 50 percent), many restaurants have created their own in-house rules. Some are operating by reservation only, some on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some aren’t taking cash. Some have shifted to takeout only.

“Things change every single fucking day," Yvette says. "We pivot and we change structures regularly.”

Often, these changes are posted on the restaurant’s website, social media account(s), and at the entrance. So, check ahead online. Call if you must, but keep your questions succinct. “Please remain patient and concise," Zoe says. "Often we're short-staffed and know exactly as much information as we are sharing with you."

click to enlarge Some restaurants are making their own masks. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI PHOTO
Some restaurants are making their own masks.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Mask up, guys

Mask rules are changing by the minute. But they work. As it currently stands, counter service and curbside customers must wear masks, restaurant patrons can take masks off when eating and drinking but should put them back on when using the restroom, and servers are to wear masks the entirety of their shift.

“I wear a mask to keep you safe, please wear a mask to keep me safe,” says Zoe.

Again, please be patient. “It’s definitely a bit more difficult for guests to hear me," Julie adds, "especially trying to keep my distance from tables, which is nearly impossible.”

Police yourself — don’t make your server do it

Yes, servers are there to serve and even educate you on the restaurant’s new way of doing things, but they don’t want to have to get serious.

“We put blue markers on the floor so people know where to stand in line, but people aren’t following that,” Cheryl says. “My job is easier when you’re mindful of the space you’re taking up.”

If you're dining in, don’t storm ahead to the first free table you see. “Please wait for a staff member to guide you to a safe and sanitized table,” Zoe says, "unless there is clear signage stating otherwise."

Leave politics at the door

Newsflash: Your server doesn’t want to talk politics.

“A lot of people think COVID is a political debate, but it’s not something we’re trying to argue with people about,” says Cheryl, who works at least 40 hours a week serving customers. “I’m just trying to take your coffee order, not fight about Trump.”

click to enlarge CUROLOGY/UNSPLASH

Servers aren’t just servers anymore

Restaurants may have fewer tables and bar chairs because of social distancing rules, but servers are doing more. More hand washing, more sanitizing, and more steps in food handling. Plus, many restaurants are short on team members.

“COVID added a whole other job to my job,” Cheryl says. “Not only do I have to take and make coffee orders, we’ve added curbside and phone orders, and we’re working at half the staff."

Julie agrees. “The biggest change is probably just the extra steps taken to keep our space as sanitized as possible,” she says. That means wiping down everything — sugar caddies, salt and pepper shakers — after each use and changing the sanitizer water hourly. All those extra steps add up.

Don’t whip your credit card out of your bra

“People will pull their credit cards out of their bra, or cyclists will hand us cash that’s drenched in their sweat,” Cheryl says. “I don’t want your sweat.”

Other payment pointers: If you want contactless payment, say so when you phone in your takeout order or order online, not when you pick it up. And have the courtesy to roll down your window for curbside.

“One guy taped the money down in his trunk, which he popped when he pulled up curbside," Yvette says. "All for a couple of cookies.”

click to enlarge "Tip your servers appropriately and don’t be an asshole.” - SAM DAN TRUONG/UNSPLASH
"Tip your servers appropriately and don’t be an asshole.”
Sam Dan Truong/Unsplash

Tip, even on to-go orders

“If you’re not prepared to tip, you shouldn’t be eating out,” says Yvette, who suggests 20 to 25 percent gratuity. “The reality is, we’re not only doing a service for you, we’re literally putting our lives at risk to provide you a luxury. If the shoe were on the other foot and you were exposing yourself, you’d expect to be compensated appropriately.”

That goes for both dine-in and to-go orders.

“Keep in mind that most establishments are running with a skeleton staff," Zoe says, "And we're ... taking extra care in handling your to-go food.”

Yvette adds: "Tip your servers appropriately and don’t be an asshole.”

Be extra nice

“People seem to be grateful that they can come in and eat and have some sort of normalcy in their life,” Julie says, adding that she's regularly thanked by customers. A nice touch.

But not all servers are feeling the love. “I’ve been doing this my whole working life, and I’ve never experienced people being so nasty to their servers,” Cheryl says. “Remember, it’s weighing on all of us.”
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Allison Young has written about food, nutrition, and travel for Sunset, Women’s Health, Oxygen, Clean Eating, Mindbodygreen, and Prevention. Her local jam is food writing, where she happily eats her way across the Valley to discover the best hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, pizza joints, and the latest Phoenix food trends. She also loves to pick Valley chef’s brains for their favorite food finds. On her website,, she posts one thing she’s looking forward to each day, from food to books and podcasts.
Contact: Allison Young