Forget relationship therapy. What you and your partner really need is a trip to the local diner.
Believe it or not, the server at your favorite restaurant have a keen eye for the signs of a failing relationship. Servers quickly learn to pick up on body language, see, as it’s a pretty important part of the job; if you’re on the waitstaff, your income relies on tips, and you need to notice when someone’s not having a great time.
Relationship counseling is expensive, so we spoke with some industry professionals about the worst couples behavior they’ve ever witnessed while on the job—and what it might mean for the relationships in question.
Dannie has worked in the food industry for over a decade. (At her request, we changed her name for this story—she plans to stay in the food industry for the time being, and she doesn’t want to endanger her employer.) She says she has encountered quite a few “bad date” moments over the years.
“Most of the time, the people that annoy me at work are the ones who are, like, picky or really rude or mean,” Dannie tells FashionBeans. “But then I’ve also waited on couples with … clearly strained stuff going on, where you’re like, ‘There’s no way they’re happy at home.’”
We should note that servers are not, in fact, relationship counselors, so before you read these stories, grab the salt. That said, if anything on this list looks familiar, it might be time for a deep conversation with your partner.
1. You can’t stop arguing, even when you’re getting along.
Couples fight; that’s just how it goes. Any relationship is going to have its ups and down, but if you and your partner are constantly bickering—even over a nice meal—that could be a serious problem.
Dannie recalls one table that she describes as a “nightmare.”
“They would not stop arguing,” Dannie says. “I don’t even know about what. She was just like, ‘Big man to talk to me that way,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, well you’re a real woman, then. You’re a real woman.’ They basically walked in during a fight and just kept it going throughout their whole meal, except when they were just totally dead silent.”
“I see couples have spats, but they usually stop while they’re ordering food—when they’re forced to interact with their server,” she says. “That wasn’t the case. He actually started criticizing her order while she was making it. I just stood there and waited for them to finish, keeping this big, dumb smile on my face.”
If you’re that couple that argues in a restaurant, at least have the decency to speak loud enough so we can hear what you’re fighting about
— Ashley’Buffalo (@Buffadubbzski) December 30, 2017
This might seem a little obvious, but if you and your partner find yourselves in an argument strong enough to ignore a nice night in a high-end restaurant, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship—especially if these types of arguments are happening all the time.
2. You’re ordering for the other person.
There’s a difference between ordering someone’s meal while they run to the bathroom and insisting on controlling every aspect of their plate. Servers can spot controlling people from a mile away—heck, maybe you can, too. Watch the video below to learn about Dannie’s experiences with couples with unhealthy imbalances of power at the table—and what that can say about the one in control.
3. “What did you say?”
Overbearing partners don’t just order for their partners. Servers can often spot them by their use of condescending or obscene language. The domineering person might use belittling language to stay in control, undermining any confidence or authority their partner tries to claim.
The couple behind us at the restaurant been fighting all night. The waitress ask them if they’ll be having any dessert tonight. I said “nah they having an argument tonight.” I think they heard me.
— yellow moon emoji. (@BossUpErin) March 9, 2018
Just as often, both partners play this game. There’s a fine line between a little flirtatious back-and-forth and cruel, painful name-calling. You might assume it’s fine as long as both partners are flinging these barbs back and forth, each giving as good as they’re getting, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“For most people, the urge to spout negative language comes in response to a set of emotions called withdraw emotions,” wrote Daniel Jay Sonkin, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist, on the mental health site MentalHelp. “Withdraw emotions are reactions that make us want to pull away … or fight.”
Couples whose communication only consists of snide remarks and insults—even under the guise of joking—probably aren’t communicating in the healthiest way.
“Walking up to a table where [the diners] clearly have it out for the other is the worst,” says Dannie. These actions make everyone around you uncomfortable. They also make bystanders wonder why you’re even together in the first place, Dannie says.
I’ve never felt more uncomfortable at a restaurant than sitting next to a table where the couple is fighting and possibly breaking up
— kaitlyn (@kaitmtay) February 3, 2018
“Servers aren’t your sounding board for arguments, either,” she adds. “Don’t try to get me to weigh in. It’s happened. It’s always super-weird.”
4. You slip the server your number.
We shouldn’t have to tell you this, but it’s actually not cool to give the waitress your phone number when you’re on a date. Strange, right?
“Once, when I was working at this upscale, fine-dining restaurant, I waited on this couple that was totally pleasant and nice,” Dannie tells FashionBeans. “They were finished eating, and then when the woman went to bathroom, the guy handed me a piece of paper with the payment for the bill. At first I thought he had taken the receipt out of the book and wrapped it around his credit card, but then I realized it was a phone number.”
If I went on a date with a guy and he was flirting with the waitress I would just get up and leave, no questions asked. ✋✋
— PRINCESSJAY†’ (@missjoshmuella_) August 17, 2015
That’s bold. And weird. And totally inappropriate. If you’re so smitten by your server that you have to slip them your digits during a nice dinner with your monogamous partner, maybe you shouldn’t be in that relationship.
5. Public waterworks.
People do make dinner reservations for the express purpose of breaking up, Dannie says. That’s not always a bad idea, according to Women’s Health Magazine.
If your partner is prone to outbursts, public places are great places to break up, reports Women’s Health. That way, you can always get up and leave.
Besides, when you need someplace public to deliver bad news, you could do worse than a restaurant. Comfort food and all those napkins could come in handy. But what happens when tears start to fall at the table, whether it’s a breakup or something less catastrophic? That’s where things get awkward.
Your server can tell when something is off, and yes, they do notice that you’re crying. Obviously there are infinite reasons someone might start crying during dinner, but it’s all about how the other person handles the situation.
Awkward moment when the couple sitting next to you at the restaurant are breaking up…
— T (@Thuvy_) February 13, 2018
If someone is clearly upset, but their partner is talking to them and attempting to be supportive—that’s not so bad. If someone is crying throughout an entire meal, while the other person ignores that fact or even appears to be irritated by it—there’s your giant red flag.
“It’s never fun to wait on a table where somebody is crying. Obviously, you don’t want to intrude on anything, but you do have to check in. It’s such a bummer. Happens a lot, actually,” says Dannie. “And you can usually tell when a breakup is happening or just when people are just really mad at each other.”
So which is worse?
“I’d rather wait on the couple breaking up than the fighting, crying, yelling couple any day,” Dannie says.
When you notice clear signs that a relationship isn’t working out, it’s always a relief to see that relationship end—even if you’re just the one serving lunch.
Oh, and for your servers’ sake, be mindful of your phone use.
It’s fine to love your phone and all the wonderful things it has to offer. But when you’re out in public, specifically in a situation where you have to talk to another person, maybe take a break from Candy Crush and pay attention.
But not every couple who sits at a table, both caught up in their phones is doomed. Some people are completely okay with their partners being on their phone, even at the dinner table. The real red flag pops up when the phone causes problems with the actual meal.
“It is the absolute worst when people won’t get off their phones to order,” says Dannie. “When you refuse to make any effort to tell me what you want or order the wrong thing because you weren’t paying attention, it’s infuriating. Put your phone down and talk to me.”
When people are lost in their technology, it’s easy to slip up and forget to ask for something you want or order the wrong thing all together. That’s not the server’s fault, and it doesn’t give you the right to make a scene. Power-tripping on waitstaff shows a major lack of respect for others, and it’s not a great sign for your relationship.