Want to Know What the Server Really Thinks of You? They're Talking About It on TikTok

Back when I worked as a host at a busy Manhattan restaurant, after a long shift, I’d turn to TikTok. My evenings were full of mildly infuriating guest interactions: a couple showing up two hours late and expecting to be seated immediately, someone complaining about the QR codes, and countless individuals asking, “But why can’t I sit at that table instead?” At the time, I had few friends actively working in the hospitality industry who could understand my immediate frustrations with the human race. 

So instead, I opened TikTok and searched for “hosting stories.” I was met with a flood of one-person skits – reenactments of the most relatable front-of-house moments – and a community of restaurant workers who were finally able to feel seen. 

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Creating social media-friendly content about the restaurant industry is nothing new to Darron Cardosa, who has been blogging under the pseudonym “The Bitchy Waiter” (@officialbtw on TikTok) for nearly 15 years. “Every time a social media platform came up, I would just snag my handle in case I wanted to use it,” says Cardosa. “Over time, I just started creating videos or memes or whatever it is that I thought people would relate to.”

Before the age of TikTok, Cardosa would typically make “storytime” videos, recounting a past experience in detail as if he was explaining it to a friend. But because TikTok caters to a shortened attention span, Cardosa’s most successful videos (amassing upwards of 500,000 views) are now done in under 60 seconds. “The ones that also do best are [videos] that have multiple characters,” he says. “People want to see scenarios but not a lot of talking.”

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This style bodes well for creators like Alana Fineman (@alanafinewoman) and Drew Talbert (@drew_talbert) who have backgrounds in theater. Fineman got on TikTok in 2021 in search of a creative outlet. After spending a month replicating the popular trends and dances, her friend suggested she act out one of her many outrageous serving stories. Her skit, which was a back-and-forth between a guest who demanded a Caesar salad with no croutons, no Parmesan, and no dressing and a server who was trying to explain that all she’d get was a bowl of lettuce, got over 320,000 views. Her next restaurant story, about a guest who didn’t count their kids in their total party size, received 1.7 million. 

Similar to Fineman, Talbert never expected his hospitality and acting careers to overlap. “I had worked in restaurants for over two decades,” says Talbert. “So it’s funny because when you’ve done it for so long, the last thing I wanted to do was make content about it. It didn’t occur to me.” He spent the majority of his pandemic time experimenting with comedy sketches on Youtube and TikTok, but nothing really caught on. Then one day, Talbert acted out a TikTok around the idea of a parent using a server to teach their child manners – forcing the server to wait at the table until the kid mutters, “Thank you.” It was the biggest hit he’s ever had, breaking the 1 million mark. “I had this thought of like, oh my god, if you like this, I have a million more stories.” Now Talbert has 2.2 million followers, and most of his videos receive between 500,000 to 2 million views. 

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Fineman and Talbert’s videos have grown to include an entire cast of repeat characters – wise-cracking servers, disgruntled chefs, and of course, the everyday Karens – the typical personalities one might come across at any restaurant across the United States. One of Talbert’s characters, Nicole, channels what every server dreams of: saying exactly what they want to a diner. “You get this satisfying watch of vicariously living through a character who’s doing what you wish you could do to another character we cultivated who’s a customer we all hate,” Talbert adds. 

The idea of “the customer is not always right” is a major theme in the restaurant story TikTok community. “I saw on TikTok during the beginning of the pandemic, people were starting to share their ‘Karen stories,’” says Marianne Rojas (@its.marianne.faith), who has been making content inspired by her time as a host and server since 2020. “So it was like a therapeutic release to act out that person – that stupid customer – to be in their shoes for a little bit and then be able to fake telling them off.”

One of Rojas’ most popular series was centered on a fictional Restaurant Purge Day where servers could talk back to guests with zero repercussions. The videos were so well received (each receiving up to 12,700 comments) that Restaurant Purge Day became a made-up, TikTok-exclusive holiday, where dozens of other creators jumped to share how they’d speak to guests if such an event existed. “I think it’s kind of cathartic and satisfying for a lot of people who have been in that situation, who have dealt with those kinds of customers and who have been in that position where it feels like no one supports them,” says Rojas. “No matter what they say or do, they’re going to be wrong. So getting a happier ending was a little exciting for people to see.”

Although it’s unlikely that the most problematic guests will see these types of videos on their For You pages (that TikTok algorithm is sometimes too good), restaurant story TikToks can still be educational. Any time Fineman makes a video about tipping, for example, she can open up a conversation with her largely international audience about the American custom. 

“The thing that I get the most excited about is when I get a message or a comment from someone who doesn’t work in the restaurant industry and they tell me that I’ve never thought about this before and it changes their behavior at a restaurant,” says Cardosa. “Simple things, like how to tip or when to tip or what times you should get into a restaurant when you know the closing time is 10 o’clock. When someone says that they’ve learned something that I put out there. It kind of blows me away.”

But for many viewers, the vast majority of whom work or have worked in customer service, restaurant story TikToks make them feel less alone. “I think the more the people see, the more they realize how universal the complaints are,” says Cardosa. “People just want to be reminded that there are other people who are experiencing the same thing that they are. So I think it’s just a way for people to connect and not feel so alone in their frustration with their job.” 

So, on your next bad day of work, try taking out your phone, opening TikTok, and searching for #restaurantstories. Maybe you’ll feel understood, maybe you’ll have a laugh, or maybe you can live vicariously through their sweet, sweet server revenge. 

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