Why You Should Follow the Waiter Rule at Work

It can reveal a candidate’s personality and their fit for the job

Anita Durairaj
5 min readOct 25, 2020


Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Some years ago, I was a budding PhD scientist in Chemistry trying to make it into the big leagues of academia. I never did make it but that’s another story. Anyway, what I needed most at that time was a recommendation letter. Whether you are applying for a research grant, a travel award, or some other academic benefit, the recommendation letter is an important footnote in the life of a young scientist. In my case, the letter would also carry more weight if it was written by a professor of the highest rank and order.

With this in mind, I pitched for recommendations and ended up contacting professors of all ranks and titles from Ivy League schools to professors at third tier universities. I received a bag of mixed responses from outright rejections to zero replies. Luckily, there were a few positive responses. I remember one in particular because it was from Sir Harold Kroto.

Sir Harold Kroto was a British chemist, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. As a scientist and professor, he would be considered the cream of the crop in the academic hierarchy. Thus, his email response to me was a shock because it was so unexpected, warm, friendly, and supportive. I ended up receiving a letter of support from him and my application was approved one year later. This famous scientist did not have to help or even respond to a lowly and unknown person like me, but he did. In my opinion, Sir Harold Kroto did everything right. Maybe he didn’t know it but he was following the ‘Waiter Rule’.

You might have heard of the ‘Waiter Rule’. It is attributed to Dave Barry and retired CEO of Raytheon Company, Bill Swanson. It states:

If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.

I don’t mean to imply that all the professors who rejected or did not respond to my request for help were rude or not nice. Not all all. This is just to point out a general rule. In fact, the ‘Waiter Rule’ can be applied to all aspects of everyday life including the workplace. It has important implications and can act as a test in the…