I found out last week that the BBQ restaurant I have been working at one night a week is closing. I have mixed feelings about this…I am a little sad because it was my first waitressing job ever and I learned a lot of valuable skills, as well as developed a great respect for people in the service industry. On the other hand, however, it was a very disorganized restaurant, and was a little bit stressful at times.
The one night a week I worked was called Country Night. It was a fun night to work, because we had a DJ, and a dance floor set up for country line dancing. It was always really neat to watch the line dancers do their thang, and every once in awhile I would get pulled out onto the dance floor to dance, and they would twirl me around a bit before I went back to getting drinks and dinner plates for my tables. The customers loved it when the staff joined them! (even though we had basically no clue what we were doing, haha!) It was a unique atmosphere for Country Night, and it certainly had its charms. I also learned a few steps here and there which was an added bonus!
Speaking of learning, I think a great way to reflect on my experience as a waitress and to close that chapter up (at least for now) is to recap the things I have learned about the service industry.
So here goes! (I’ll do a top 5 again)
1) Serving is very humbling. I can think of few things that are more humbling that cleaning up a table (and under it) after a complete stranger is done with their meal. You find the craziest things! ABC gum, wrappers from people’s pockets and purses, half chewed bits of food, ranch dressing puddles, used napkins containing things I dare not even say, and the list goes on. It is weird knowing such intimate details about strangers like that, and also pretty disgusting cleaning up!
Serving is also very humbling in that you have to be willing to do things like go back to the kitchen 3 separate times for 3 separate people at the same table that all decided at separate times that they wanted ranch or bbq sauce, but waited to tell you even though you asked them before you went back the first time. All this in the name of trying to get a decent tip so you aren’t only being paid minimum wage. Yeah, humbling, right?
2) There is a difference between being a server and a servant. A server is someone who takes your order, brings you your food and any condiments or sides you may needs, checks on you as you enjoy your meal, brings you refills, and brings you your check at the end. A server is there to assist you through the process of enjoying your meal at a given restaurant establishment. He or she is the ambassador, if you will, of the restaurant, making sure you have a pleasant experience.
A Servant, on the other hand, is subjected to much more. He or she must bend to every whim of the person being served. A servant is a subject, and is often treated with disrespect and indifference. A servant must often oblige to being harassed and abused for the sake of a paycheck because their employer wants to feel superior, or feels inadequate in some way. Waiters and waitresses are not servants. They are servers. They are there to perform a job, not become a slave. Treat them with respect, and they will treat you with respect in return.
3) Many customers have no clue how to tip appropriately. There should seriously be a class in school that teaches people how and when to tip appropriately for the services received. Some people will walk in to a restaurant and expect first class service, and then act like they walked into a fast food chain when it comes time to tip. Never mind that the restaurant is packed to the hilt. Never mind that they asked for a zillion sides, extra napkins, extra plates, extra silverware because they dropped it on the floor, extra drinks because their kid spilled it all over the table…nope, you deserve minimum wage for all your extra effort because they never planned on tipping in the first place.
Things I wish people would keep in mind: It is not the server’s fault that the restaurant is crowded. The server didn’t cook the food themselves. The server has multiple tables. Beyond that, I say start at 15% tip, and then consider the following:
1. Was the server polite and friendly
2. Did the server remember to bring refills, and extras like napkins, bbq sauce, etc.
3. Did the server check on you to make sure your food was to your liking
4. Did the server address any concerns you had and take care of them in a professional manner
If you answered yes to the above, they deserve at least 15%. If they went above and beyond the above criteria, then you should tip at least 20%. Never walk into a restaurant expecting to leave less than 15%. If you can’t afford it, or do not wish to leave it, consider fast food or cooking at home.
4) Side work and bussing tables are thankless but necessary. Picking up dirty dishes, wiping down tables and resetting them, and cleaning food gunk from seats and under tables is gross. You get food gunk all over you if you’re not careful, and it’s a little demeaning to crawl under a table after a dirty fork and a greasy napkin. However, if you don’t clean up and reset quickly, it affects the overall appearance of the restaurant, and tips go down.
Side work, such as rolling silverware, cutting salad veggies, wiping down the server station, and refilling condiment containers is important for the same reason…better appearance equates to better tips! Being prepared for a shift by having salad and butter pats ready saves you time when the rush comes in. It is thankless work, because you are only making minimum wage at the time, but it pays off in the end.
5) Waiting tables teaches you valuable life skills. I did a lot of bitching venting above, but I do have to say that the skills used when waiting tables can have a positive effect on you and can translate to other areas of your life. For instance:
1. It improves your communication skills. You learn very quickly the best way to ask questions and make conversation so that the guests are happy.
2. It improves your memory. You have to remember multiple requests from multiple tables at the same time, while staying aware of new guests coming in, or other guests leaving.
3. It improves your ability to plan ahead. The rule is, never be anywhere without something in your hands. It saves time to grab a finished plate on your way to the kitchen to get a drink refill, etc.
4. It improves your ability to anticipate needs. You develop a sense of timing, and attention to detail when looking at your guests and what they do. it’s common sense that people need extra napkins when eating a plate of ribs, and common sense that when a drink is low they need a refill. The more you anticipate, the less they have to ask, and the better the tip!
So that’s my top 5 list of things I learned waiting tables!! I can now say farewell with a sense of peace and accomplishment, and move on to (hopefully) greener pastures, knowing that I gave it my all, and picked up some new skills along the way.
If you want to hear some hilarious rants and raves about waiting tables, visit The Bitchy Waiter’s blog. Trust me, it’s seriously funny even if you’ve never waited tables before. He’s a little crass and over the top, but that’s just his charm.
Question: Have you ever waited tables? What did you learn from the experience?
Thanks for listening!