I just watched a rerun of Friends in which Dr. Green, Rachel’s dad, yells at a waiter for bringing him a ’74 bottle of wine instead of a ’75 (“Everyone knows that ’74 was a sewer year! Is that what you wanted—to bring me sewer water?”) and he follows it with this charming sentiment:
“Are you an idiot? Is that why you became a waiter?”
Now. As I mentioned in my last blog, I started waitressing again because I’d like to be able to afford rent, and in my first week back in a restaurant, it’s become clear to me that many people are under the same, Dr. Green impression.
Either they think all servers are idiots, or they think we have an easy job, or they think tipping is just a courtesy and should remain optional.
NONE OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE.
Hypothesis Debunking #1: The Idiot Hypothesis
I can’t speak for all restaurants, but servers in the restaurants in which I’ve worked are required to take, and pass, a battery of tests.
That’s right, Einstein. Tests.
And these aren’t multiple choice, “ohmygod, duh” questions. These are questions that I, Jenny, who holds a BS and an MA degree, had to study for– questions like: “What does stock velvetting mean?” “Name five menu items that are stock velvetted.” “Of those, which are offered as both a lunch and a full-size portion?”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, first thing’s first: Every table in the restaurant is numbered, and every seat has a number. We have to learn the floorplan because if my section is 44, 45, 54, and 55, I need to know what that means. And when I’m entering orders into the computer, I need to enter orders by seat number so the people delivering food (“food runners” or “back waiters”) know who gets what.
(Just as a reference point, the tables at my current restaurant range from 11- 605, and seat numbers start at 1 and go clockwise around the table.)
Next: The restaurant’s history.
It’s important to know the background of the restaurant. For instance, I had to learn who the founders are, where the first location was and in what year it was founded, and who the CEO is, the COO, the OP, and who our managers and culinary partners are.
I know fun facts about our interior design, like the history of the Terra Cotta warriors [nearly 8,000 life-size clay statues buried for the First Emperor Qin] and what the Maneki Neko “Lucky Cat” is and what the story behind our mural is.
What does a first-time guest need to know?
They need to know practical things, like the fact we are a family-style dining restaurant [and I would explain what that means] and how to navigate the menu and what our pre-fix dining options are and what kind of wine list we have [progressive] and how that wine list is categorized [by flavor, varietal, and intensity].
What do I need to know?
I need to know the menu, what every dish is and what comes in it. I need to know which items are lunch items, dinner items, or both (since we serve lunch from 11-4, but dinner all day), and how the portion sizes differ; I need know our happy hour deals and what to ask when guests order dumplings or spring rolls or a dim sum lunch; I need know which options are gluten free, which are vegetarian, which have an option of beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, or vegetable and which are just chicken and shrimp; or shrimp and scallops; or beef, chicken, and shrimp; or beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp; or chicken, shrimp, and scallops. I need to know which are spicy, which claim to be spicy but aren’t, and which dishes cannot be made mild because the chili paste is in the sauce and the sauce is pre-mixed.
I need know which soups are made to order and which ones cannot be altered and which ones are gluten free and which ones are offered with lunch and which ones only come in a bowl versus which ones come in both a cup and a bowl. I need to know the sauces that come with dumplings and egg rolls and spring rolls, and which dressings come with each salad, and which salads claim to be salads but actually have no lettuce, and which menu items don’t claim to be salads but do come on lettuce.
I need know which specialty cocktails have rum, which have vodka, which have Bourbon or tequila, which come with a sugar rim, a salt rim, a salt and pepper rim, a cinnamon sugar rim, or a honey graham cracker rim, which are garnished with a mint sprig, a strawberry, an orange peel, a dollop of whipped cream, a lemon peel, lime wheel, a star anise or all three! I need to know which come in a bucket glass, a pint glass, a pilsner glass, a coupe glass, a bamboo glass; I need to know the beers we have on draft and our domestic beers and our imported beers and our “big bottle” beers. I need know which drinks are made from our house mixes (which are non-alcoholic) and the ingredients in each of those, including which drinks have juices and which have sprite and which have sparkling wine. And I’m not even a bartender!
And this is just a TOUCH of the things we have to know.
Not only that, but we also have to learn and adhere to the steps of service, and how to enter an order and split checks and stock side stations and run plates, and all of those other duties we must do.
So, for those of you who think waitressing is just a walk-in-the-park, mindless job—IT’S NOT.
Next hypothesis: an easy job?
The only time it’s easy is when a server has one or two tables. At three or four tables, the server is constantly busy, and at five or, heaven forbid, any more than that, chaos ensues. This can best be painted with a simple scenario.
Imagine I’ve just been sat a fifth table, whom I’m supposed to greet within two minutes of their sitting down, but I’m carrying a tray full of dirty dishes from Table One that I’ll need to drop off in the kitchen and sort for the dishwasher, then process their payment because Table One is in a hurry. But they’ve just paid their thirty dollar tab with $100 bill, so I’ll have to go to the bar to get change—but I’ve still got the tray of dishes, and on my way to the kitchen I notice the drinks are low on Table Three and they need refills; then someone stops me at Table Two because they’d like extra sauce, and another table has just received their appetizers and I realize I haven’t entered their entrée orders, so I HAVE to do that otherwise they’ll be waiting forever, and EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE DONE AT ONCE, soooo….
I attempt to drop off the tray of dishes, but there’s a line at the sink*, so I have to wait for that to clear; I ask the chefs for extra sauce, but it’s going to take a few minutes to make* (or it’s in the back near the freezer and I have to scoop it out myself*). I need to get new glasses, fill them with ice, invariably have to use the OTHER machine* because club soda is only on this one and root beer is only on that one; I’m still waiting for the sauce*, so I rush to enter Table Four’s order into the computer* (which will take me forever* because I’m new and can’t find any of the buttons on the computer, and of course they want the shrimp and candied walnuts with chicken instead of shrimp and no walnuts); the sauce is possibly still not ready, so I ask someone else to drop it off to Table Two*, then take the drinks to Table Three* and head to the bar for change*, but the bartender is busy with guests, and since I can’t drop off a hundred dollar bill and walk away, I have to sit there and wait until he’s free*, and I still haven’t greeted the guests who just sat down!
And that’s the easiest, run-of-the-mill scenario.
*Please note: all of these things take time, so even though I’m trying to hurry the payment and greet the new table, I can’t do it in a “Scotty, beam me down a sweet-n-sour sauce and change for $100” time frame.
Imagine when orders have to be sent back, or tables need their food boxed (which is a whole production in itself and takes FOREVER), or the kitchen has a thirty minute ticket time, or there’s a huge line of orders at the bar, or there are no entrée plates or trio sauces or straws or spoons.
THIS IS WHAT WE DEAL WITH ALLLLL THE TIME.
And I haven’t even touched on the difficult sides of the job, like dealing with rude customers, or cleaning up tables after kids (or on occasion, adults) have thrown food EVERYWHERE, or internal dilemmas, like the kitchen staff harboring hostile feelings toward servers, or servers who steal tables from each other, or dishwashers who walk out on the job and everyone is screwed (thankfully I have not experienced the last three).
Do that on repeat for another seven hours, after which we end up covered in sauces, smelling like a weird mixture of food, with feet that ache and wrists that feel as though they might fall off if we have to pick up one more tray, when we haven’t gone to the bathroom or had a drink of water or had a bite to eat since before we arrived, and ask yourself if you’d feel like greeting the next table with a cheerful smile.
Which brings me to my last point.
Everything that I’ve just described? We do that for $2/hour.
This isn’t Europe or Australia (or, supposedly, New York City) where servers make a decent wage (or even minimum wage).
Tips are our livelihood.
When a customer doesn’t pay 20% of his or her bill in tips, I feel like I did something wrong. If he pays 15%, and I did my best to get them everything he wanted, I assume he’s cheap; and if he pays less than 15%, then that person is just plain MEAN.**
Keep in mind that not every delay you experience is the server’s fault. And if a server forgets something you asked, but is polite and apologetic and fixes the problem, please give him or her a bit of slack. It’s possible that there was a hold-up somewhere along the way and that they didn’t forget about you.
Also keep in mind that there are people in this world (like myself right now) who have to waitress to survive, so when someone pays me $2 on a $30 bill and I get cut early and walk home at the end of the day with $13, IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.
And conversely, a little kindness goes a long way. When someone leaves me $10 on a $38 bill, I want to envelope the world in a hug filled with sunshine and rainbows. I want to be the world’s best server. I want to skip to every other table for the rest of my shift.
Those moments are memorable!
Flashback: Nearly four years ago, someone left me a $40 tip on an $80 bill, and today I’m still thankful. [I actually remember asking my manager to double check with them to make sure it wasn’t an error.] And yesterday, when two customers said they wanted to come back to our restaurant and have me as a waitress, it made my day.
SO TO CONCLUDE THIS RANT:
Be kind. Appreciate good service. And hope that the ivy-league educated waitress doesn’t write you into her memoirs as the jackass who left a 5% tip after receiving fourteen soda refills and a free dessert.
The new standard etiquette: 20% means “no complaints.”