#994 Waiters and waitresses who bring free refills without asking

Ice coldOn the whole, we’re pretty nasty to waiters and waitresses. We complain they’re wasting our time if the food takes too long to come, we complain they’re trying to rush us out if the food comes too early. We warn about allergies, make special requests, ask for more bread, and talk openly about their tip while they’re busing the table next to us. We’re kings barking orders from the booth and they’re sweating peasants in aprons and pieces of flair with dirty J-cloths hanging out their back pocket.

Waiters and waitresses have to put up with us and paste wide, toothy grins across their faces, besides. They split bills, sop up spills, and slip and slide across slick kitchen floors for us.

Despite this all-odds-against-them setup, there are a few gems out there, a few rare, bright gems, who deliver perfect waiter or waitressessness. Perfection here is defined solely as bringing free refills to the table without us even asking. Because nothing beats ice-filled towers of cola arriving unannounced at our table, just as we’re finishing up our spinach and artichoke dip for a perfectly timed palate cleanse before the big entrée. The only things that come close are ice-filled towers of cola arriving unannounced right after the entrée and ice-filled towers of cola arriving unannounced with the check and handful of mints.

…Three hours later, when you lay bloated on the coach, your entire meal swimming in the carbonated sea that is your digestive system, I know your eyelids will droop heavily and your posture will slide, but I also know you’ll give a thin, subtle smile, and a slow, sure thumbs-up sign when anyone asks “How was dinner?”


Free refill is on its way

124 thoughts on “#994 Waiters and waitresses who bring free refills without asking

  1. If it’s breakfast, then the free coffee refills can not come too fast. Especially if all you have to drink out of is some tiny little cup that the coffee goes cold in within 30 seconds. A few places have figured it out, and just dump a whole thermos carafe on the table. That, my friend, is AWESOME.

    1. Until I was 18 years old I lived in N.Y.C. and, like my friends, had really never traveled. My friends and I took a trip across the Country and were really annoyed when waiters or waitresses came to our table offering coffee refills. We discussed the fact that if we wanted refills we’d ask, and we wondered if waitpeople were getting kickbacks for selling us more coffee. It happened in every state we went to. In N.Y. that never happened to us. We’d buy another cup if we wanted more. Finally, after 17 hours of driving, we stopped for breakfast in Wyoming. We were exhausted, so when the waitress asked if we wanted more coffee we accepted. When we went up to pay, we noticed that the waitress have forgotten to add our extra cups of coffee. We told the guy at the register about the mistake, and told him to add the extra cups to our bill. “When you order coffee”, he said, “you get as many refills as you want for free”. We were stunned at his statement and asked him if he knew any other areas of the Country which worked thet way: He said “I’ve never been anywhere where you pay beyond the first cup”. Until that moment we never knew that you could get refills for free anywhere! Our entire experience and understanding of how the rest of the U.S. operated changed, and we realized that our N.Y. experiences were unique to N.Y.

  2. But how do you KNOW it’s a free refill? If they simply come along and ask if you want another refill, it’s slightly embarrassing to ask if it’s free or not. What then?

    1. If they ask you if you want a refill, it isn’t free. For example: draft beer. However, if they just bring it to you, it is free.

      1. as a waitress I differentiate with: “can I grab you a another _________” for free refills and “would you like me to order you another _______” I have never to date had an issues when it comes time to pay the bill.

      2. I’m asked many times if I’d like a refill. A refill is free. If it’s another cup of _____ (insert beverage), you pay for it.

    2. Most menus will also say free refills underneath or near the selection of drinks shown. Usually, it seems that only coffee and soft drinks get free refills.

      1. Actually, the obvious ones: soda, coffee, iced tea (sometimes), water… usually free refills these days, but hot tea (where they’d have to bring you a new tea bag, though if just hot water is free), milk, and juices are much more expensive for the restaurants… those are rarely free refills, unless it’s included in a brunch special.

        I served for a few years and I always thought it was a little awkward when I’d ask if anyone else would like some more soda and they’d respond with “is it free?” but I guess I understand it. (At the beginning you refill as they drink, but as their meal slows down if you simply bring a full one it often goes to waste, or they get upset because if you bring it they’ll drink it… that one baffled me, I guess I control their will-power)

  3. Generally in the Southeast (US) soft drink and other refills are always free. It is expected. My father was visiting from the North East and was so astounded by the very friendly service and the free refills at one of our local restaurants. He must have drank eight cokes. I travel around the country and find many variations in service. I have found very nice people everywhere I have been and think that “nice” in the US is more the rule than the exception. New England can be rather abrupt and you will pay for every refill and food is more expensive there than most other areas, NY city and parts of NJ can be dowright harsh and espensive, Greater Pennsylvania area (great food!!!), southeast, midwest and most of the West are also very nice. But free refills on everything save OJ and milk in the south is almost guaranteed. Of course if you order tea in the south, expect a very very (okay syrup!) sweet drink served on ice. If you want it unsweetened, you have to ask.

  4. i am a waitress in Michigan and on a busy day this is the main thing i do. since its free and i don’t lose any money i’d rather give someone an extra drink they’re not going to dip thier straw in and make an extra quarter. the best thing should be waiters that bring free drinks and free refills without telling you, tip is guaranteed to be a multiple of 5.

  5. When I worked as a waitress, we were really instructed to refill guests glasses once they’re half-empty. So part of the job is to look at people’s glasses, and when you’ve got ten tables to attend to, that’s not quite easy.

  6. People should not have to ask for a refill. If you are a server, and you have to wait for their glass to be empty, and they ask for a refill. You fail. I mean there are circumstances where this is sometimes unavoidable, but for the most part refilling drinks is like the number one thing.

    Also never ask a customer, “Would you like a refill?” “No thank you, actually I am just going to sit here with any empty glass the rest of the night.”

    1. I understand it’s part of “the job” but when you have someone gulp a glass of soda in one sip over and over, as well as many other guests you’re taking care of, He can wait a darn second on his refill. Everyone pays the same price and deserves the same service. So depending on situations I don’t believe its a fail. Some people feel they deserve more then they honestly do, and lack respect for other patrons around them.

    2. Sometimes at restaurants I do like to be asked if I’d like a refill, in case I’m leaving soon, or if I’m filling up on soda before my food gets to me. It’s still awesome when they gimme a refill without me asking, but I wouldn’t consider it a fail for them to ask.

    3. I always find it amazing when the room is chalked full of people and my server manages to notice mine, yes MINE needs a refill.

      I find myself drinking less because otherwise it feels like I am being selfish with my server’s time, also I am obsessive and I project that – the server has already anticipated two refills and I do not want to catch them off guard and ruin their perfect record.

      One time I was ‘dying’ of thirst and after the 2nd refill I told my server he could bring two or a larger glass. It felt a bit tacky coming out of my mouth but I could tell they appreciated it.

      A waiter or waitress can make or break your meal. Keep our server’s cheerful always tip accordingly.

      I tend to tip a much larger then 20% when restaurants are very inexpensive – according to what the max is I would pay for the meal.
      (the $40 meal at the mom and pop Italian place – yet the one up the street would charge $80 for the same meal)

      If I do not have an alcoholic beverage I add what one would have cost to the total before calculating the tip.

      Why tip $10 for a $50 meal when throwing in another $5 bucks ($15) will put a smile on the person’s face who catered to you and kept you smiling for an hour.

      1. that last paragraph, amazing :)
        most servers bust their butts with tables, i know i am one. i know some places the servers don’t take the orders or deal with the money but we do both where i work.
        lots of stuff on my mind when i work.

      2. I love guests like you! I serve at a steakhouse and we get all kinds of people in but the ones that are like you always make our night!!

      3. I’m glad you mentioned the tip. When my daughter graduated high school and started attending college, she got a job as a server in a restaurant. Before that, I had no idea restaurants are allowed to pay servers well below the minimum wage because their tips make up the difference. My daughter made $2.75 an hour.

        Do I think it’s fair that restaurants expect their already paying guests to supplement their servers income? Absolutely Not! But that is reality, and because I am no longer ignorant of how the restaurant business works, I’ve become quite the tipper. All I can think about now is all those struggling students, and single moms, or widows trying to live off a constantly fluctuating income. My husband and I tip excellent servers 20-25%, mediocre or bad servers at least 15%. Now my husband and I try to pay attention to how customers treat their servers. Sometimes, when tips are left on the table you can notice how little they leave. Every once in a while, we will agree to throw in a tip that is much larger than the cost of our meals, simply to be a blessing to someone who is working hard for their money (because someone has to make up for the horrible tippers out there that don’t know any better – and there are a ton of them – I know because I used to be one). We’ve even sent anonymous tips through the manager to servers at other tables that we observed were mistreated by customers – and there are a lot of mean customers in this world.

        One thing I’ve noticed – a BAD TIP can destroy a server’s mood. They will start thinking of all the bills they have to pay and how in the world they are going to make it if every table tips like the last one. Then they start making mistakes because their mind is not on what they are doing. But a GOOD TIP can do exactly the opposite! The server feels rewarded for doing a good job and tries that much harder.

        I hope this blog helps people understand and appreciate those in the service industries. It’s not easy dealing with the public.

  7. But if your like myself who had stingy boss’s, and dont like putting in a Post-Mix machine, then well free-refills just dont happen people, not here in Australia, unless u go to Burger King or Hungry Jacks

  8. I too am a server and as part of training in the restaurant I work at, I was taught to ask before bringing a refill, because although they will drink it if it’s in front of them, some people dont actually want that whole other glass of pop, they might actually want water or an alcoholic beverage… so in asking you always make sure the customer is getting what they want. :)

  9. At the resturant i work at currently, we have whats called “bottomless” drinks and we also drop a carafe of soda off with your glass so we dont have to refil as often, same with our coffee and juices. saves some time and is easier to keep track of with large numbers of tables.

  10. As a waitress who prides herself on ‘silent refills’ I appreciate your gratitude. I never thought that customers actually think about the job we’re doing in its entirety. Thanks for this post :) Makes me feel like all is not lost.

  11. A server who can keep my glass filled is rewarded very well. My daughter and I guzzle the iced tea when we go out to eat, so not letting our glasses reach empty is easier said than done and GREATLY appreciated.

    Before we moved to the town we are now in, we had regular restaurants with regular servers. They’d see us and bring us a pitcher. It was a glorious thing. We have been in this town for 4 1/2 years, eat out often, and have only one place that takes care of us remotely well. ‘Tis sad…of course, the food/restaurants available here lack in every regard so maybe that’s a reflection of it all, but I digress.

    Anyway, I don’t think anything determines the tip as much as how full or empty our glasses are during our meal.

  12. Charging for refills is completely ridiculous. The boxes of syrup to make soda are pretty inexpensive and you get like a thousand cokes from each one.

  13. I went to a breakfast buffet, where you get given a complimentary tropical juice. They were in these huge glasses too, and as soon as you finish it they give you a new one. I downed about seven cups, and felt distinctly ill afterwards.

    It was awesome!

  14. I have been a waitress for 10 years and I will ALWAYS bring refills w/o being asked. Some people are just too embarrassed to ask so I try to make it a little easier for them. I did work at a restaurant where the refills were NOT free (I live in So. Ca. so you’d expect them to be free) and whenever people asked if they can have a refill, I told them that it wasn’t free. They, of course, had a fit and complained but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

  15. “…Three hours later, when you lay bloated on the couch, your entire meal swimming in the carbonated sea that is your digestive system…”

    love your way with words…makes me want to take a trip to the local buffet where the food is hot, the service is great, & the refills are always free…and then of course, retire to my couch

  16. As a non-US citizen but frequent visitor to various US cities i have wondered how to tell if soda refills are free. My observation is that if the restaurant gives you a glass of iced water without being asked then any soda is not ‘bottomless’. So no water = free refills. Am i right?

    1. Not quite (at least in the midwest). Many restaurants where you sit down to order give you water, even if refills are free. So most of those places give water and free refills. Most likely, if it’s a chain restaurant, the refills are free.

  17. I’ve been all over the world and I can tell you with very few exceptions, anywhere in the South and parts of the Midwest the refills on tea, coffee, and soft drinks are free. Period. If they don’t do that they eventually go out of business. Everywhere else – both in the Northern US and other countries, they charge outrages prices for any refills. Also in those places the entire attitude – as far as customer service – is totally different (like: what are you doing in my restaurant?). I never understood where that attitude came from until it was explaind to me that in many of these other places the staff is paid a much higher base salary. So they don’t care as much about tips. So in many cases you have a much more pompous attitude which is reflected in the level of service and the attention you get. And especially in places like Europe, a server is almost the same professional level as a teacher or a cop – really more of a consultant on dining. Totally different attitude…

    1. Servers in Europe are paid decent wages so they don’t need to grovel to customers. The fake-enthusiasm of a server who won’t pay rent if they don’t get your tip is just depressing. The key is finding a decent place that doesn’t work staff into the ground so they have the energy to be genuinely happy :)

    2. Not sure about mainland Europe but I can assure you in the UK 90% of servers are paid minimum wage or not far off it. Not as much of a tipping culture in the UK either. I’d say 40-50% of customers tip and most of these will be no more than 10% so if you want to make any sort of decent wage the service has to be perfect. I agree there can be some places where the servers’ attitudes are really bad but having seen it first hand in places I’ve worked I believe this is mostly a lack of training and supervision from management. Still, you shouldn’t be a server if you don’t enjoy making people feel welcome and looked after, I just want to give people a good experience and although I always tip my servers, I recognise some people disagree with the whole concept of tipping and don’t take it personally unless I have reeeally bent over backwards for them.

    3. Maybe the northwestern parts of the US, but in the Northeast servers are getting 2.63 an hour. Also I’ve worked in about a dozen different restaurants between Boston, MA and Hartford CT and they’ve all had free refills. From Chains, to hotel bars, to fine dining establishments.

  18. I am a waitress in the northeast. We always ask if customers want a refill. The owner of the restaurant has said “If you see an empty glass or a glass that is low, ask if the customer wants a refill or another drink.” A few comments back, someone mentioned they always ask in case the customer changes their mind. The owners of the restaurant I am in are also big on not wasting (as am I.. I cringe when I discard uneaten food or bring back a glass 3/4 of the way full with a refill.) So we always, ALWAYS ask. Be aware of restaurant policies before you assume we are simply not doing the “little things”, like refilling your glass without asking.

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  20. I feel the same way when I come back from dinner in a restrunt. i just want to go to sleep. I like those people who do that for us. Their so sweet!!!

  21. My husband drinks water with meals… because he loves water. Water refills are always free. But everytime we have to ASK for a refill the tip drops by a percentage. If his glass is filled without asking the tip goes up by a percentage. All of you waters and waitresses out there, keep the water coming!

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  23. Interesting opinion. I found your site with yahoo while i was searching for a job. I will recommend your site to my friends and I am sure they hopefully think the same about your work on this site.Best

  24. totally cool!
    in the philippines, a fast food restaurant has unlimited rice. this is awesome for filipinos because rice is a staple food. yay! :)

  25. Sounds awesome!

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen much in Australia (as far as I know). The exception, as Brendan said above, being at Hungry Jack’s (same as US Burger King), but then you have to get it yourself.

    It’s been interesting to read some of the other comments too, from both sides of the equation: patrons and servers.

    From my point of view, I don’t think it’s an automatic fail if the server asks you if you want a refill, or if there’s a bit of a delay in a busy time.

    I think that comes down to the customer being aware of more than just their own little world and their own needs, wants & desires. Which is something we could say about almost any situation in out societies.

    Anyway, I’ve only just found your blog, but will definitely be spreading the word!

    Keep up the great work.


  26. I have been a server in small and large restaurants and it is a give and take on both sides, if the restaurant is packed with 8 tables and only the one server, cut them a break if they don’t fill the glass right away, but if they are giving great service then tell them ! The other thing that people don’t realise if you have never been a server is not everyone tips, and we do get a lower wage then everyone else because we do receive tips.
    In all aspects of life we never know what the other side of life is like until the shoe is on the other foot.

  27. More often then youd think I have tables that limit themselves on their pop/coffee…never water… If more then 2 people order water I take a jug of water to the table with their waters. I keep a close eye on my tables drinks.. but always ask… If I ever order pop at a resturant I will never take more then one glass.. doesnt matter if there free or not i dont want it Its a waste and I always think.. I wish they would have asked.

    Its the new customers that are tricky.. the regulars you know their style , If i know one drinks a jug of coke everytime he comes in i just bring it right away. The ones I dont know ask.. better to ask then to let down!

  28. Not even just the free refills. I love when a waiter or waitress knows exactly when to come back and ask me if I would like another beer. The best ones seem to just know when I take my last sip

    1. If they’re asking to put in a beer order (likely having a delay between when they type one in and hwen they pick it up at the bar) as you are or after you have already taken your final sip, then they’re behind…

  29. My crew of 8 friends reguarly went to a Dee’s for hours on end. Every time the waitress brought a new round of drinks, we would all throw another dollar on the table for her tip. She routinely left with $30+ a night, just for that!

  30. personally, that has always really annoyed me…
    I’m mean what if I DON’T want another glass?!
    I hate wasting food or beverage, so i have to drink it, and I have to leave quickly before they bring me another… (just me)

  31. Yeah, I definitely agree that this is awesome. It costs NOTHING at all to make things like soda. You’re paying $3 for something that costs pennies to make. It’s basically like paying an inflated rate for renting the cup for the duration of your restaurant stay.

    Any waitress who brings free refills is not only a good customer service rep, but intelligent enough to know it won’t cut into her business’s bottom line.

  32. Hm, interesting! I forget that the rest of the world operates differently. (: In every restaurant I’ve been to in Florida, soft drinks, tea, and coffee (plain, not the fancy Starbucks variety… that’s a different story) are subject to infinite free refills. So.. if you’re sucking ice, or worse, you have to /ask/ for a refill, someone’s tip is suffering.

    Myself, I go through sweet tea like a fiend. I get to be good friends with the servers who can keep up with me (and have a good sense of humor about it). I once had a waitress who brought me two glasses at a time.. smart! It made me laugh out loud. (: Little things like that make my day, and I definitely pay it forward in tip.

  33. The vast majority of the world does not notice when you bring them unasked for refills. They’re still going to give you a shitty tip.

  34. I’ve been a server for about 6 years in the Greater Philadelphia area in various restaurant settings and have never seen or heard of a server earning more than 2.13 an hour…correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s still the Northeast, no? I’m curious to know where the magical place is where my kind is paid more of a salary and where tips “aren’t as important” – I’ve heard of the practice in Europe, but never in the states.

  35. In MA, the server wage is $2.67/hr. That means, for the most part, at the end of the year, there was not enough money every two weeks in our check to cover our taxes so we have to pay thousands to the state and/or federal governments. I understand it’s all part of the game, but when someone leaves a pile of change as a tip (i.e. students who don’t work and don’t understand how insulting that is; international guests who are on the way to the airport and don’t want those coins; cheap people; rude people; heartless people), it just makes the job that much harder, especially if I refilled your Coke/Diet Coke/water eight times or hooked you up with a free soda or extra bread or wrapped up your to-go food without contaminating/touching/dropping it. So be nice and factor in the tip BEFORE you go out!

  36. You friends are masters in the art of “Raising storm on a tea cup”.
    The phrase somewhere replaced by soft drink or its near derivative.
    We talk a lot on trivial issues and scare to tread in serious areas.

  37. Just stopped at a place this morning in a lovely little town called HOPE. There’s a family owned/operated since 1950’s, called “The Home Restaurant,” and believe me, they have some of the best food, portion sizes and good old fashioned friendly service of anywhere ever!
    We go there every chance we get on the way to/from Vancouver for all these reasons and they definately deserve to be appreciated.
    I have a great deal of respect for those who are servers; can remember all they do and for the most part smile “all the living long day!”
    There’s a best-ever “Touched by an Angel” episode, re: how kindness or the other trickles down and way; the cause and effect…I think people need to be more attentive to…goes a long long way!

  38. Gonna disagree on this one – my mom actually has to tell waiters not to bring her refills because she hates being given them, and I do as well sometimes. We drink one soda with our meals, just one. If you give us an extra cup, it’s going to go to waste and we’re going to feel guilty about it and force ourselves to drink from it, and then we’ll resent you.

  39. Awesome to think of someone besides yourself? What a novel idea. Generalize it beyond the concrete and look at the attitude of being thankful for the good things. Sometimes you have to look for them but they are there. Be a blessing and you have been blessed!

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