Three servers from busy Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, dish on your ordering habits and offer tips for having a great dining experience. Answers are provided by Nathan Purdie, Jason Dixon and a waitress who requested anonymity.

What are your job’s biggest annoyances?

When a customer starts ordering before I’ve had a chance to greet them. There’s no “Hello!” or “Ready?” Equally annoying are unprepared people. With our counter service, we’ll have lines to our doors and people will get to the front and look at the menu for the first time. But nothing is worse than messy kids, and going back to a table with crayons, syrup and jelly all over the table and seats.

Stacked plates … helpful?

Yes, helpful, until the stack falls and I have to clean it up.

Worst way to get your attention?

Whistling or snapping. I’m not a dog. Please don’t snap at me, or grab my arm as I pass by. Instead, wait for eye contact and give a wave. If you’re at a bar, most bartenders keep mental notes on who’s been waiting and will get to you. Walking up to the bar to try and skip the line isn’t clever. You’re just an a**.

Let’s talk tips. What’s normal?

Standard is 15%, generous is 20%. If it’s counter service, please still leave something. At a taproom, a standard tip is a dollar a beer.

Have you ever been stiffed?

Every. Single. Shift. Some people will drop US$100-plus (RM390) on brunch or lunch and not leave a tip. That’s when I get really disheartened.

What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for a meal?

Depends on what you order and the kind of eatery it is. Let’s take a diner. Breakfast is about 15 minutes; dinner about 20 minutes. People can’t expect a burger or steak to come out in under 10 minutes. In a hurry? Order soup.

Is there a certain type who just likes to be miserable about everything?

Yup. You will encounter these people in your life no matter where you work. The food or beer is not good enough. It’s too expensive. The service wasn’t fast enough. They’ll tell you to your face, your manager’s face, and Yelp. I always try to take a step back and consider that the person might be having a really miserable day.

How often do people send food back?

For every 30 plates I drop off, I would maybe have to take one of those plates back. The biggest issue is red-meat temperatures.

Food tampering, such as spitting in a complaining customer’s food … fact or fiction?

I have never done this, nor seen a co-worker do this. For people who do find it appropriate to be rude to service industry workers, I will say this: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If you’re nice, I’ll resolve your issue and probably throw in a couple bonuses.

When everyone is on his/her phone throughout a meal, do you just want to serve them cold gruel?

That’s their dining partner’s problem. But I do get frustrated when people are on their phones when I’m trying to get their order.

Do you comment when someone barely eats?

I always offer a to-go box. If someone seems visibly upset, I’ll ask if there’s something wrong. Luckily, I don’t come across that situation too often.

How do you deal with increasing requests for special foods?

The ones who are picky without the allergies are the worst. Most of the time when people say they don’t eat something, it’s not allergy-related, but just a fad. I get frustrated with people who don’t actually have gluten allergies, but still order gluten-free. Or if people are on Whole30 diet programme, I don’t go out of my way to try to help them find something they can eat, like I would with someone who is seriously allergic to dairy. If your diet is so restrictive that you literally can only order fruit and eggs, why are you going out to eat?

Can you tell when two people are on a first date?

Sometimes. I generally try not to eavesdrop on conversations, but you definitely overhear a lot of the first-date questions while tending bar. – Star Tribune (Minneapolis)/Tribune News Service/Gail Rosenblum