Every summer during college I worked at a swanky four-star restaurant in Baltimore. I started out bussing tables and was eventually “promoted” to lunchtime server. By my third summer I was also waiting tables two evenings a week, but only on slow nights (Sundays and Mondays). It was hard work, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. The clientele was entitled and demanding, except for those celebrating anniversaries or using gift certificates. One diner found a bug in his water and asked if it came from my hair. Another accused me of going to Disneyland instead of bringing him a Manhattan. The manager yelled at me for forgetting to button my top button and tucking a strand of hair behind my ear while talking to diners. Some nights I went home in tears.
And yet! I learned some valuable lessons during my time there (besides how to iron a tuxedo shirt in five minutes flat):
- Your co-workers will help you; you just need to ask. The maître d’ reminded me of this after a particularly brutal night when I tried to handle everything myself and ended up botching multiple orders and dropping a tray of soups.
- Don’t auction off the food. Instead, remember who ordered each dish and place it down in front of him or her. It’s still my biggest pet peeve when dining out.
- Stay in school. Several “lifers” told me they never wanted to see me again after I graduated.
- Mo money, mo problems. The people I served had gobs of money to spend on steak dinners and pricey wines and yet they were so miserable. Nothing made them happy. Some couples came in for a meal and never spoke a word to each another. Others enjoyed watching me squirm. The nice ones were there for special occasions. Go figure.
- Sharing is caring. People are a lot more understanding if you share why things aren’t going smoothly (e.g., the kitchen is slammed, half the waitstaff called out sick, the fish delivery never arrived). If that doesn’t work, just keep bringing them drinks.
- Never try to show off by memorizing an order. It ALWAYS backfires.
This is a tough time for the foodservice industry. Restaurants are dealing with staffing shortages, angry customers, health concerns and supply chain issues. It’s a lot. My advice? Be patient and tip generously.
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