Most people being seated and served have no way of knowing what it feels like to be a waiter or waitress – and while guests are being served, we all want it that way. We want guests to leave with an experience that would warrant the words “pleasant” and “enjoyable”, even “indulgent” or “fun”. Happy guests are happy tippers, and we love happy tippers!
Having been on both sides of the counter, I cringe when I see guests get bent out of shape even when they think they are completely justified. Unless I actually see someone spit in my water, I have a hard time getting irate.
Only by being a waiter or a waitress could you ever know that tips are hardly a thank you and that your best days are still very trying. Maybe it would be a better world if everyone had to wait tables for some length of time, not just to make some extra money but to pay some bills.
Take a look at these 20 things that only waiters and waitresses would understand:
1. You know how irregular-shift jet-lag feels
You don’t get the same shifts every day, week, or month, but are instead plugged-in where most needed and in accordance with who has called out, who hasn’t showed up, what foot traffic is expected, and how experienced the other waiters and waitresses will be during the shift. Without a set time and set routine, irregular shifts make an already tiring job more tiring and stressful. Having someone inexperienced or uncaring assigning shifts can compound things and make it all worse.
2. You know what the financial drain of side work is
You don’t just grab your tips and go home but are required to assemble takeout boxes and roll silverware at the end of your shift – while standing, usually! It isn’t based on what your tables’ used, but on pre-set amounts. The manager is watching just to make sure that you are working fast and not milking the clock; or stealing from another co-worker’s already finished side work. This constant shadowing of management can make you feel disrespected and less of an adult.
3. You know you are always on Candid Camera
You have no privacy because the security cameras are on and sometimes it will be more than the manager watching from the office. Adjusting your pants, getting teary eyed, mouthing off or making a face, tripping or slipping are all recorded, and sometimes watched and replayed by the staff. What was supposed to be installed to protect the owners from theft and fraud is instead turned into a venue of entertainment and sometimes harassment. Sure you have nothing to hide, but sometimes you forget that big brother is watching – so you might regret letting your guard down from time to time.
4. You know team building exercises are humiliating for older adults
If you are a more mature waiter or waitress working for an establishment that is designed to depend on youthful staff, you might find the clapping, singing, and sometimes dancing before shifts demoralizing, especially if this is a second job you had to take on because your primary job is not paying enough to make ends meet. Some can have fun with it, but for you this might just be more sour grapes to whine about.
5. You know about parking lot perils
You aren’t allowed to park near the entrance and are required to park in the deepest part of the parking lot to make parking available to customers. While this is great for the dining hoards, you (with cash in your wallet) are sometimes walking to your car alone and in the dark, presenting yourself as a tempting target. It’s always best to have a buddy, but sometimes no-one is available. So you’ll take your chances because you really want to go home now and not at the end of someone else’s shift!
6. You know it’s a hard knock life for all
You don’t get help or sympathy from your co-workers, and whining is not an option – most of the staff is not there at their leisure for extra money. Everyone is tired, everyone is stressed, and no-one chose to be a career waiter or waitress. Bringing your problems to work, or making a problem at work, costs money in tips. So as a considerate co-worker you keep your troubles to yourself. Enabling each other to make tips and work fast is real help. Taking twenty minutes to cry it out in the bathroom or to beg someone to take your slow shift so you can go out on a date is lame.
7. You know you will get blamed for everything
You didn’t cook the food, set the menu rules about sides or combos, and you didn’t bus the table or fill the dispensers before guests were seated; but you are the person the guest complains to and punishes with puny tips if the bathrooms are messy. You have little to no control, are paid little to nothing, and are dependent on those tips – and it can all go sideways just because the FDA recalled all romaine lettuce due to a listeria outbreak. Yes, guests can get bent out of shape fast, and then their bad day gets shoved off on you! You, who have been standing on your feet, lifting heavy trays, and taking complaints for hours (about lettuce… Seriously?) Don’t even get me started on the absence of sprouts or avocados! For shame!
8. You know you will get nasty notes on receipts
You will have a guest that is eager to leave a nasty note on the back of their receipt that will attack you personally. It isn’t always provoked, but sometimes you let your irritation show and they notice. You will of course shake it off and smile for the next guest. Sometimes you can afford a few tears or a curse in the back of the house, but most of the time you just have to shake it off.
9. You know common considerations are thrown out the window at times
You would never leave trash and spills all over their table for your Mom, Dad, or spouse to clean up; or leave a wad of crinkled bills in spilled soda on the table – but for some reason, at the average eat-in establishment there will be a table of guests that will think that they are allowed to dine like a mythical rock star and dash leaving trash. Some guests stack their own dishes and wipe up their own spills, but other guests seem to delight in leaving it to you.
10. You know how the kitchen assault wrecks havoc on your nerves
While the dining area might be relatively quiet or pleasantly chatty, the back of the house is loud, steamy, clanging, banging and bright. While sometimes you’ll be wearing a headset that has the manager crackling out instructions, you are getting an ear-full of disturbance from the kitchen. This causes headaches and irritability, while at the same time you’re turning on a smile for your guests.
11. You know some co-workers eat off diner’s plates
It’s gross, but either you’ve done it or you’ve seen others do it – eating off diner’s plates. Sometimes it’s to try a new dish you would never order in a million years (like buffalo steak), and sometimes it’s because your budget is really that tight, and you had to get either gas or lunch. Maybe you are just that one young guy that does it to just gross out another co-worker! Yummy, yummy!
12. You know some co-workers drink left over alcohol on the job
As the shift progresses, some waiters or waitresses might finish off a glass of wine or other beverage when they clear the dishes. Sometimes a busboy might do it. By the end of the shift, that person might be a little happier or jovial than one would think they should be. There are others that managers watch out for who’ll hang too close to the bar, especially the underaged. This can be silly or annoying, or it can get really serious. With cameras, the practice won’t go on for long. You try to turn a blind eye and focus on your tables. Getting into other people’s business is not what you were hired for.
13. You know not to leave personal belongings around
It might be a $10 tie required by management for the staff, or it might be your actual cash. If you leave it laying around, it may be considered fair game to someone. Some staffers know the angle of the security camera and those co-workers will not be caught red handed – they might even consider it a game or get a rush stealing from you even if they don’t need to. You can’t let your guard down, because the one time you do is when your cash or belongings go missing. One big happy family…
14. You know practical jokes will be played
Sometimes it’s mean, sometimes it’s friendly fun, but practical jokes will be played. A co-worker may dramatize a nervous breakdown or suddenly a new voice will be on the headphones. If it is a funny voice with strange instructions then consider yourself lucky. If it is the screech of feedback or a scream, it might be time for you to plan some serious payback. When you are serving your last shift before leaving a job, you better watch out for being served yourself! Some places like to finish you off with a tin pan of whip in the face! Bon voyage!
15. You know substance abuse is pretty common (even at work)
Some places are clean cut, but many are not. It is just reality. The dishwasher might abuse meth. Someone on the wait staff might be abusing Ritalin. Others might be drinking pure Mountain Dew concentrate! Whatever it is that is getting the staff by, it’s best for you to just note it, keep your distance, and move on. If you know that there is a permissive culture of drug abuse, you know it might just be best to move on.
16. You know there is a high turnover
It would be nice if there was some sort of routine, but you know here today is gone tomorrow. If someone isn’t well liked or is a poor waiter or waitress, they get few shifts or slow shifts. If someone is great, they are given too many shifts at the heaviest times and get burned out. Either way: a few months or a couple of years, there is a turnover. Management sometimes understands this and a great server will be welcomed back if they return after a hiatus. You’ll be used to saying goodbye, but sometimes you get to say hello again!
17. You know profiling is wrong but…
No-one you work with wants to say who they don’t want to wait on, but when people of certain demographics walk in, while the host or hostess is deciding where to seat them they will hear pleading from certain people on the wait staff to not seat the supposed “bad” guests in their section! If the hostess is lucky, you’ll be the seasoned waiter or waitress that doesn’t make a fuss who they can really rely on. If the hostess is unlucky, they’ll seat guests and receive payback – like finding gum in their hair. You know this is all ridiculous, because while experienced waiters and waitress look forward to large business lunch and dinner groups, every other guest whether young or old, married or single, with or without kids is a pariah to some server.
Maybe you profiled when you were young and inexperienced because you had a bad experience or two, or you listened to some server and believed their prejudice. After a while you learned better. Poor tips can come from anyone, anywhere!
18. You know 20-somethings have the energy for waiting
You know 20-somethings have the energy for waiting, even the brain for multi-tasking, but they don’t have the maturity. Working with 20-somethings is likely to be high drama, like with ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends coming by unannounced and angry. Some young’uns just won’t stop talking about every unimportant thing in the world while you’re trying to deal with your table of twelve. Then there is the “who is friendly with who,” after work and then suddenly who isn’t friendly. Drama drama… You’ve been there and done that, and now just play spectator at the most.
19. You know sharing tips with the bar doesn’t feel great
It’s hard enough to earn tips, but sharing is the pits! If the drinks come slowly or not at all for your table, you are lucky – because the bartender is more interested in those actually seated at their bar or in their nearby tables. Bartenders are used to big tips and are hostile if they don’t get them from you in a timely manner. They are extra hostile if the drinks they are making are fancy, lady drinks that take a lot of time and ice but which result in poor tipping. Bartenders know they have more cleaning and more responsibility because alcohol can make or break an establishment, so you need to make bartenders your friends… Problem is, seasoned bartenders know this, too!
20. You know you are supposed to report your earnings but…
You know you are supposed to report all your earnings (and you can’t avoid it when you are electronically tipped) but you LOVE LOVE LOVE getting cash! Have a guest leave you a twenty or a fifty and that guest has pretty much made your shift… at least for a few moments. Oh, those days of cash are quickly coming to an end….
So guests: be kind! Tip well and often! Show waiters and waitresses the respect and consideration that would make even a mother happy!
And servers: smile, smile, SMILE! At least for the next guests! The bad ones usually don’t return. Cultivate the regulars you enjoy!
Featured photo credit: Jusben via mrg.bz