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At Your Service: Out To Eat

My experience going out to eat has completely changed since I began working in restaurants. While I was not as clueless as most, I would occasionally make the mistake of asking the overworked bussers for refills. Or I would leave everything wherever it fell and walk out blissfully unaware.

Things have changed.

I began my restaurant experience as a host. I would seat the tables and manage the wait list. I began to understand the flow of a restaurant and how important it was to have teamwork. Then I began bussing. I had a whole new perspective on how dirty and needy people were. After cleaning up a bloody syringe and having someone assume I couldn't speak English because I was a busser, I decided it was maybe a good time to move on. From then on, I cleaned up any mess I made, placed the pepper shaker back in its proper place and was not irritated if I did not get a water refill right away. I still do this. It has stuck with me for almost five years.

A few months later I became a server for the first time. Going to a restaurant will never be the same for me. I am not satisfied in just getting a table and sitting down. I read every server's body language. I see whether our server acknowledges my table's presence even if he or she cannot take our drink order right away. I try to figure out how many tables are in our server's section. This is all within five minutes of sitting down.

I will no longer order a dish if I want to do more than one substitution. In very few restaurants is there a limit as to how many changes can be made, nor is it usually too complicated for the kitchen to change a couple of things out, unless they are very busy. To me, it is now the principle: if I want to change more than one thing, I do not really want the dish. I try to make my server's life as easy as possible. Besides, the more changes you make, the more likely it is something will be screwed up.

I always smile and make eye contact. Once again, there is no rule about this, but it's always nice when the server is made to feel like a person, not just an order-taker. If the server has a particularly unruly table nearby, I try to be especially friendly. I feel their pain. Tonight, my fiance and I went to a smaller restaurant; there were probably 15 tables total (yes, I actually tried to count them as we left). Five of these (aside from ours) were occupied. One table, about ten feet away from ours, had a young man that apparently thought everything he was saying was more important than anyone else. He was large and boorish and his female companion wasn't much better. About halfway through their meal they were joined by another gentleman. Mr. Obnoxious tried to get his server's attention by yelling, "Hey, Mr. Waiter! Get my friend a drink."

The server, to his credit, walked over there with a smile on his face. A little bit later we discovered the friend who wanted a drink worked at the restaurant. Not only was Mr. Boorish a douchebag, he was a douchebag with connections. Those are the worst customers, because you do not dare even to be passive aggressive.

Our server was a younger girl who did everything she was supposed to: we got refills, she checked on our food, sold us on dessert and dropped the check in a timely manner. This was the complete opposite of our server the previous night: we never got refills, he did not once check on us, he did not offer us dessert, and we saw him just standing around at the bar while the others cleaned up. I have no patience for this kind of server.

Granted, when it's a really slow night, it's harder to motivate yourself to do things than on a busy night when you're already in the groove. But I cannot understand the server who stands right by his or her tables but doesn't check on them. Even if I do not need anything, it does not look professional.

One thing I've come to understand is that even though servers survive off of tips, we are not entitled to them. We cannot be snippy, rude, condescending, or anything else besides pleasant and expect more than a 10 percent tip, if that. When I first began serving, I would overtip everyone. Now, it is performance-based. I will not bat an eye leaving a 25 percent tip if the server was great, but I will just as easily leave a 10 percent tip if there was no excuse for the poor service.

I now also stack plates and place everything within grabbing distance of the server or busser. This is not something I expect any of my customers to do, but one of two things happen if they do it: they help me save a couple of minutes of awkward reaching-right-in-front-of-grandma's-boobs-for-her-plate moments or they stack it up the wrong way and it actually becomes harder for me to grab the plates. Nevertheless, it is a kind gesture that does not go unnoticed.

As awful as some customers can be, as much as they can ruin our night . . .we can ruin theirs as well. That customer chose your restaurant, ended up in your section, and came to have a good meal and get everything they need (within reasonable boundaries). We don't have to be entertaining puppets or comedians, though that is a good way to enhance someone's experience. If we do our jobs as servers, at a good speed, we will make our money and our customers will leave knowing that if they had a shitty time it wasn't because their server was an ass. They're on their own with their ugly children and unhappy spouses.

-

The pseudononymous Patty Hunter brings you tales from the front lines of serverdom every week. She welcomes your comments. Catch up with the rest of this series and its companions in our Life At Work archive.



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Posted on August 13, 2009


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Corporate Spies Like Us.
SPORTS - Why Was This Game Even Scheduled?

BOOKS - Postdictatorship Argentina.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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