Waiting tables is no longer the venerable position that it once was in America before World War II. It's still a fairly prestigious job in much of Europe, but even in the United States, waiters used to pay for the right to work at good restaurants. If a head waiter position opened up at a fancy, well-known restaurant, a person might have to get a financial backer in order to bid on the position. The financier would then receive a portion of the waiter's tips after he got the job.
Today, waiting tables is more of a punchline. Most waitstaff don't even make minimum wage. They rely solely on tips to pay their bills, and many members of the public see waiters as people who have to serve because they can't get any other job. You know, all those unemployed actors and singers and high school drop-outs.
While this is definitely not always the case in America, waiting tables is a largely thankless job. Because it's not always a job that people seek out anymore, and because the pay is fickle, some servers have lost a sense of propriety that should come with any service job. Most waiters I've encountered in Houston are great, but some could use a reminder about a few specific etiquette tips. I've talked to waiters around town to get their impressions about how to behave properly at work, and this list reflects their suggestions.
In my last post on diner etiquette, I gave the impression that I'd never worked in the business, when what I should have said was I've never been employed by a restaurant. I have family in the industry, and I've volunteered in restaurants on more than one occasion, taking a turn in the kitchen or on the floor to see what the job is all about. And it's hard. So be nice to your server, and chances are your server will be good to you as well.