I've been waiting tables for over six years now. If there's anything I could change in my life, I promise you that being a waitress is not one of them. The hospitality industry has taught me a lot. More than one post can begin to explain, which is why this very well may turn into a two or three part post. Come what may.
I am a proud working restaurant server. I am. So naturally, when stories like this one start circling among the social networks, I find myself upset and irritated with how ignorant and just down right rude some people can be. Turns out, this particular story turned out be a hoax, the receipt was photoshopped. And still, if you scroll down to the end of the article and read over some of the comments, you'll see that there's still some pretty baffling opinions towards individuals who work as servers and towards the traditional practice of tipping your server.
Fact of the matter is, I can't explain entirely what working in a full-service restaurant is like. My opinion: everyone should work in the hospitality industry at one point or another. I've worked in quite a few different restaurants, in a quite a few different locations. From sushi to Italian to mom and pop to fine dining. From small privately owned joints to large corporations. From humble little Ventura County to the high and mighty Orange County and Beverly Hills. Whether I'm toping off iced teas or bordeaux glasses of wine, I assure you, there's a hell of lot more to the job than just keeping your drinks refilled and taking your order. Doesn't matter what kind of establishment it is either. Any serving job, plain and simple, is challenging.
In defense of those, myself included, who choose this line of occupation, I would like to elaborate on why it is exactly we choose it. And why exactly there should be no shame in saying, "I'm a restaurant server. And no, this isn't just a job. It's my career."
I don't know why, but for some reason, the title "server" has developed this weird negative connotation to it. As if it can't be taken seriously as a "real job". I used to work with this woman Kristy. She had to be in her mid thirties. Married with kids. Had worked at this particular establishment since it opened and loved her job. I remember talking to her one night about being a server. She admitted to still feeling embarrassed at times to tell others that she "waits tables." She talked about wishing she could just confidently state, "I'm a server." But she could never stop at just that, "I'm a server." She always felt obligated to follow up that statement with some sort of reasoning or explanation as to why. Which is silly. Sure, there's a lot of people who take waiting jobs as a means of survival while they work towards other things. College students, actors, artists, musicians, individuals who are in between career changes. It's a great way to get the bills paid with flexible schedules and free gourmet cooked meals. But just as much as it is a great gig for said individuals, it's an even greater gig for those who love serving. Those who love being around people. Those who are passionate about food and wine. Those who are good at selling. Those who work extremely well under pressure, constantly. Those who can multi-task. Those who can multi-task quickly. Those who can entertain. Those who want to move up into restaurant management. Those who eventually want to open up their own restaurant someday. Those who want to invest in other restaurant concepts. Those who want to build restaurant corporations. Those who want to show Darden who's boss. Ok, now I'm just getting carried away climbing my own personal ladders. Let's go back. Serving can be a great gig for those who love to serve. Those who consider waiting tables an art. Which I do believe it is.
Like I said, it's hard to explain everything a serving job truly entails, but I assure you, not everyone can do it well. Understand that, as a server, our employers are only paying us minimum wage. It's up to us, to not only maintain good standing with the establishments we're working for, to please our employers and carry out our numerous duties, but to carry it out exceptionally well so that the guest is happy and will tip us. Obviously, the tipping is where all the money is made, and that's a whole separate can of worms to unlock in part two of this post, (since there seems to be some pretty harsh opinions against the concept of tipping). But what I'm trying to say is that, as servers, we have to go into work everyday and truly earn our pay. There's a responsibility to not just our employers to do good, but to our own wallets as well. If I'm having a bad day, which I certainly have them (not too many bad ones, mostly moody. Ha, I can be very moody somedays), I can't just go hide behind a desk or go to the back and wash dishes or take inventory. No. I have to go to my tables, ready to interact and serve, with a huge smile on my face. Which can be quite exhausting for even just your average easy-going table. Now throw a couple of miserable a-holes into the mix who seem more interested in putting you down as a human being rather than enjoying a pleasant dining experience/life, and now I'm just as moody as moody can be. And still, I have to wear that smile on my face, make apologies to the moon and back for whatever it is they're miserable about, with or without the hope that still they'll leave me a small ten percent tip in the end. With serving, comes a heavy practice of patience. Constantly.
And so does owning up to your mistakes on a regular basis. The restaurant business is very fast-paced. Unpredictable and often chaotic. Which means tons of room for mistakes to be made. One of the greatest things I've ever been taught by my fellow serving companions is this, "Be quick, but don't hurry." With that piece of advice in mind, I have managed to eliminate many mistakes made on my own part. But I still make them. Furthermore, I can't control other mistakes made by my staff. They happen. And constantly, I have to own up to them. I have to go to my tables and tell them, "I'm sorry, but I forgot to ring in your drink order." "I'm sorry, but I forgot to ask you how you would like your meat prepared." "Unfortunately, your dish was delivered to the wrong table, it's going to be another ten minutes as the kitchen is firing a new dish for you. I'm so sorry." "I'm sorry, but I ran the wrong credit card on your bill." etc, etc, etc. There's just so many things that can wrong, and I assure you they all do at one point or another go wrong. And there's no covering any of it up. I am constantly having to be open and honest and communicating with my tables. And swallowing my pride. Admitting that I messed up and doing whatever I can to remedy the situation. Taking the blame myself for things that sometimes I didn't do, instead of blaming it on the kitchen, or the busboy. Because we're a team, and it doesn't matter who's fault it was, all that matters is that the guest is informed, and ultimately satisfied.
There's an exceptional amount of yelling that goes on in the restaurant as well. Though, I am still at times sensitive to yelling guests, I have grown used to yelling employers. You just eventually learn not to take things personal when your chef or your manager is yelling at you. As long as they aren't personal attacks on you as a person, it's simply just raised voices under pressure. Which they can get away with fine, but as a server, all we can do is nod our heads and get going. You really have to go into every shift ready take fire in any which way. Whether it's necessary or not. And we do.
And in the process of staying upbeat while working under pressure, dealing with disgruntled guests, owning up to our mistakes, getting yelled at by the chef, practically losing our minds at the server stations because we only have 8283 things to do all at once, doing a lofty amount of sidework (which most people don't even realize... um yeah, we polish all your silverware, all your glassware, sometimes bus all your tables, fold all your napkins, make sure all your condiments are filled to the brim every time you come in, your tables are wiped down and swept underneath, the entire restaurant is broken down, spotless and clean, only after a long night of running around), in the process of all these things, we also sell expensive bottles of wine, make recommendations that prove to be great, magically manage to have everything hit the table in the most perfect timing, against all odds, and in the end, provide a memorable dining experience. And if we are truly blessed, we get to do more than just that. We get to laugh with our tables, sometimes cry with our tables, experience all kinds of interesting people, people who aren't just interesting, but interested. People who want to know more about you then just the name that reads on your server name tag. This is truly the best. I mean, yeah, obviously I like to talk about myself. Not a problem. But really, there's nothing greater than the unexpected connections you make with your guets. It's just nice sometimes to have conversations with my tables, even if it's just a small debate over who's a better trainer: Bob or Jillian.
And when I'm not interacting with my tables, I'm interacting with my co-workers who are always the most exciting and eclectic group of people the world has to offer. All in one space. Who naturally become my very best friends, my family. Who I work with, in a huge collaborative process to execute an exceptional dining experience, from the steward who washes your dishes, to the hostess who greets you at the door and takes you to your table, to me (Hi!) the server who guides you through the menu and see's to your every need, to the cooks who cook your food, to the chef who expedites your food, to the runner who runs the food to your table, to the busboy who cleans off your table, to the manager who oversees the whole circus of events that you often don't grasp much thanks to that glass of chardonnay and your chatty friend Kathy.
The restaurant business is a beautiful thing. Like many others, I love my job as a server. Sure, it has it's rough points. I've enjoyed working in some restaurants much more than others, but when you find the right place, the right concept, the right standards, the right group of people, it's really a pretty grand line of work. And I've been doing it long enough now, that I can confidently say, I'm good at it.
If you're good at something, and you love doing it, and you make great money from it, why shouldn't it be considered a real job? Why should you feel ashamed to call it your career? Remember, I believe success is doing what you love. Don't let any ignorant fool trick you into believing that what you love to do is a joke. It's not.
Here's a great article I came across that I think ties in well with my little (huge) piece here.
Stayed tuned as I assemble a part two to this post on why it's nice to tip your server. Always.
Until then, what are your thoughts about serving as a career? The restaurant business? The comments on the first article? I would love to hear!