The Waitress Diaries
I have been a server since the age of 19. For ten plus years, I have worked either full or part-time in the food industry, and I have waited tables for chain restaurants popular all across the country, family owned cafes that seat under thirty, popular beach destination casual eateries, and fine-dining establishments whose fresh seafood and tender steaks will make you drool even thinking about them. In my decade of serving the public, I have seen it all. (Or, most of it, at least). Here are a few reflections from the one who carries your trays:
1. The customer is always right. Even when the customer is clearly an idiot. Still, there is a way to inform us of a complaint tactfully. Use it.
2. I am going to do my best to give you the best service you’ve ever seen. After all, I’m working for a tip from you. Truth is, though, I will do my job to the best of my ability no matter how you treat me. No, you do not have to fear that I will sabotage your food if you make some snide comment to me. But didn’t your mama ever tell you to treat others the way that you want to be treated? Geez.
3. Don’t complain that someone who came in after you got their food before you did. After all, you have no idea what they ordered or how long it takes to cook it. Just because you ordered salads (topped with chicken grilled to order, mind you) doesn’t mean you’ll get your meals instantly. So yes, the table full of pot roast orders was ready first, even though they sat down after you. I put your order in first, thank you very much. Pot roast happens to be a blue line item, meaning all the cooks have to do is scoop the already prepared entree onto a plate.
4. I am just as embarrassed as you are unhappy when we’ve run out of an item you were planning on ordering.
5. Spills happen to the best of us. In ten plus years of serving, I’ve spilled twice in front of a customer. Both times haunt my dreams; both times reduced me to tears. If your server spills your drinks or (God forbid) your food, of course you have a right to be disappointed, but please believe me when I say that he or she is already mortified.
6. Berating a server has never led to anything positive happening to anyone, so far as I can tell.
7. Taking it out of the server’s tip if the food wasn’t cooked to your liking is just wrong. Especially if you didn’t give me a chance to try and fix the problem. But even if you did have something re-cooked, or order something different… I am not cooking your food, just delivering it. Please remember that when tipping.
8. Don’t assume that every server over the age of 22 is too much of a moron to get a “real job.” Serving is a real job, and lots of professional people make great money doing it. If you think it’s beneath you, ask your server if you can carry the drink tray across the dining room once, and unload one drink without toppling the entire tray. It may not be rocket science, but it does take more experience and practice than you’re probably expecting.
9. Good tips and bad tips come with the territory. This is a reality of the profession. More than some, I get how tight the economy is and don’t want you to stay home forever. If it’s a special occasion and things are rough, I don’t mind if you come out with your family and leave me 15% instead of 20%, providing that you’re also polite and easy to work with. But just so we’re clear—10% tips (or less!) are completely unacceptable. Stay home. Also, industry standard is trending toward 25-30% now. Seem unreasonable? Just so you understand, I make $2.13 an hour. I also tip out the support staff at the end of the night—bussers, bartenders, hostesses, food runners… if you come in with a huge party, drive my sales through the roof, and then don’t tip me fairly—I’ve essentially paid money to wait on you, since I tip out based on my sales, which you’ve now hiked up without giving me my fair percentage.
10. Don’t order off the kids’ menu if you’re not a kid.
11. If you come in during the middle of dinner rush, or at the last possible moment before dinner ends, please don’t order water and the cheapest thing on the menu, and then hang around talking for two hours, tying up my section while I’m trying to make money, or catching up with your long lost best friend or Aunt Edna when I’m trying to go home.
12. If my shift is over and I ask you politely if I can sweep a nearby table, please say yes. If I care enough to ask, assume I care enough to not be loud and obnoxious with the broom and dustpan. If you say no, and I have nothing else keeping me from going home, you’re either making more work for some other waiter, or you’re going to have to deal with me sitting at my dirty table and staring at you while you try and finish your dinner.
13. Jesus people—I love you! I am one of you! I think it is so sweet that you are trying to reach servers by leaving us pamphlets saying that God loves us. This is a great “tip.” However, when your pamphlet is accompanied by a lousy monetary tip, two things happen: 1) We immediately decide you are a hypocrite, because we all know Jesus said be generous, which you are clearly not. I can’t feed my kid with a booklet. 2) We don’t bother reading the booklet, because you are a hypocrite. How can you promote Christ while being a cheapskate? Think about what you are doing! You won’t ever reach the lost by being stingy.
14. If you are such a high maintenance eater that you have to change everything about an item before you order it, stay home and cook for yourself. Not trying to be rude, but orders like the following are ridiculous: “I’ll take the Cobb Salad, no avocado, and I don’t want the normal greens, can you substitute spinach instead? And hot bacon dressing instead of the honey mustard. And also, leave off the egg, but could you put on extra tomato? And I’ll add shrimp, but I don’t want the chicken. Okay?” Then you wonder why your food is taking forever—it’s because the entire kitchen staff is trying to recreate a salad to your liking.
15. If you’re using a coupon—please, for the love of God—tip off of the original bill. You’ve already saved your money, you don’t have to sacrifice our cut by not tipping off of the total before the discount.
Your servers come from all walks of life. We are high school students saving for college, and college students working for spending money. We are career waiters and waitresses, who will continue to serve you and your family for years and years until it’s finally time to hang up the apron. We are professionals who lost our jobs when the economy tanked. We are struggling artists who mix drinks and carry trays at night until we get that book published or land that acting gig.
We are people, just like you, and we make mistakes from time to time.
So the moral of the story is, that while there are some crappy servers out there (just like there are crappy teachers, crappy lawyers, crappy doctors, and crappy reporters), the vast majority of us care about our jobs and more importantly to you, we care about your experience. So unless your service is God awful, please give us the benefit of the doubt and realize that we didn’t forget your side salad or soda refill on purpose—we’re just flawed human beings, and though it happens to the best of us rarely, we do still make a mistake or two when the restaurant is completely full and we are slammed.
And if you get exceptional service? If you have the means, every server I know would very much appreciate an exceptional tip.