How do waiters and bartenders feel about customer using your names? If it’s the first time you’ve waited on us and I start saying “Excuse me, Brad?” is that weird? Can I start calling my bartender Carol even if I just overhead that that is her name? What if I remember your name from last time and walk in the place and say, “Hi David”? Even if none of this is a problem, do you find it weird?
I would definitely find it weird if you called me Brad, or Marvin, or Melvin, or Sugar Tits. In fact, the latter will get you a swift shove out the door. But if you called me by my first name after I’d told it to you, I wouldn’t find that weird at all.
Waiting tables can feel very personal or very cold, depending on the day. Sometimes I feel like I know a lot about my tables—their likes and dislikes, overheard bits of conversation, etc.—but we don’t call each other by our names. I don’t do the robotic introduction: “Hi, I’m blah blah blah and I’ll be taking care of you today. Have you dined at a Cheesy O’Beef’s Burger Emporium before?” But I might mention my name at some point during our initial chat, and that’s so you can call me by it if you’d like.
Like any other social interaction, if a server doesn’t offer their name—which they might not do if they’re busy, or just out of personal preference—you can ask for it. I do this with friendly bartenders sometimes. It just seems right that if I’m having a bit of a back-and-forth with someone, I know their name.
If you just happen to overhear a bartender talking with a staff member or with another customer and you catch their name, I’d still ask for it to avoid seeming like you’re eavesdropping. You can do this less directly by offering your own name and a handshake: “Thanks for the drink. I’m Bill.” Usually this prompts the bartender or server to give their name in exchange. Obviously, if someone’s wearing a name tag, it’s that much easier.
Just don’t ask about my kids or where I live or whether I’ve been working out (no, asshole) out of respect for my privacy, but mundane stuff like my name is definitely fair game. What else do you wanna know? I’m a Pisces; I like my coffee black; I’ve been working at my current gig for five years.
If you remember my name next time you come into the restaurant, that’s totally fine, too. Some people have a good memory for faces—and mine’s memorable, sugar—so that doesn’t weird me out. Unless you say my name in a creepy way or give me a shitty nickname ... then it’s definitely weird.
Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or are you a server/bartender with a horror story the world needs to hear? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.