How waitressing has made me a more tolerable person

 By Ann Marie Edlin

There’s something incredibly humbling about working in the service industry. I’ve been working in a restaurant for almost three years now, and I believe that I have learned more about people in my time there than I have collectively over the course of my life.

For every nightmare of a customer, there’s that one low-maintenance person who will throw you an extra two bucks, or even an endearing smile, that reminds you why you still do it.

Growing up, my family was always incredibly respectful towards the wait staff at any restaurant we dined in, so I suppose I never really knew anything different. At a young age, I was taught the importance of tipping the server an adequate amount, and for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve heard countless times that some people shouldn’t be allowed to eat in a restaurant until they’ve worked in one, and I’ve come to understand why.

A seasoned server is able to evaluate a table the moment that they are seated in his or her section, and have a decent idea of what those people will tip, given that they receive the proper service. We profile. We can’t help it.

Whether it’s the naïve college girl with her daddy’s credit card or the herd of needy middle school children that weren’t properly instructed by their parents on how to use the remainder of that ten-dollar bill, a server will regularly face the disappointment of getting stiffed.

It can also be a tricky game to play. The seemingly harmless family of four who are overly pleasant the entire meal and keep reminding you of what a wonderful job you’re doing, leave you pocket change on their $60 meal. These guys will sneak up on you and bite you in the ass, and they’re the worst.

Sometimes, I wonder if people are aware of what they’re doing when they put a dash or a zero on the tip line on their credit card receipt or if they’re just complete ignoramuses.

Let’s put things into perspective, for those of you who truly don’t know why it’s so important to tip at a very minimum of 15 percent. As a waitress in Mississippi, I get paid $2.13 an hour. I receive a check every two weeks for my hourly wages. Almost 100 percent of the time, after taxes have been deducted, that check is going to read $0.00. Servers typically live solely off of their tips.

If you think you have enough money to eat out, check again. Are you able to pay 20 percent of the cost of your meal on top of that price? If you don’t have the money to tip your server, you don’t have enough money to eat out.

It is understandable to tip less than the adequate amount if you have truly received horrendous service. From time to time, there will be that unpleasant server that doesn’t really try or care much at all about you or your dining experience. He may just be hung-over.

But if the server is giving their all, take into account all of the factors that may have caused your server to not perform every task in a timely manner. Are their other people in the restaurant besides me? Is the kitchen backed up? Did I order a drink that may take more than four minutes to make? Some of these things are sadly out of your server’s control.

There are things that customers will do that, unbeknownst to them, may make their server want to pull their hair out. That’s okay; I probably did half of these things before I was a waitress. But now that you’re about to be educated, stop please.

“Do you mind if we sit over there instead of right here?” The seating order in a restaurant is not random, there’s a reason that you have been seated where you are sitting. In most restaurants, the tables are divided into sections, each one designated for a specific server. The host rotates sections in order to give the servers an even amount of tables.

While we’re on the topic of sections, don’t take it upon yourself, as a customer, to grab any table you want to add onto your party that was originally supposed to be six people, but has doubled in size in the past 15 minutes. If you ask the hosts, they will be more than happy to assist you in making sure you’re adding on the proper table, ensuring that you aren’t splitting up two different server’s sections.

Another one of my favorite questions that I’m frequently asked is: “Y’all wouldn’t happen to have crackers here do you? Little Johnny is just so hungry, we need something to tide him over until the food arrives.” What this actually means: May I have these crackers for my child to mush between his little fingers into a million pieces to scatter about the floor so that you can clean them up when we leave?

I have four younger siblings, and I understand that a pack of saltines can make or break a dinner when you have a hungry, irritable baby. But there’s a difference between feeding the child the cracker and using the cracker as a form of distraction by allowing the child to dissect 16 crackers – maybe one makes it into his mouth, then I have to sweep up the other 15. I’m not his mama. Have the decency to at least look like you made an attempt to help me clean up your child’s mess.

Oh, here’s another one: “Can I have a water with lemon AND a diet coke?” A customer will order a pint of water to go with their pint of carbonated beverage to make them feel better about their poor drinking habits. What’s so messed up about this is that 95 percent of the time, they won’t even take one sip out of that water.

How dare you have the gall to ask me for two beverages when you’re dining with your 23 other friends that you know I have to bring drinks out for also. On a side note, where do you find 23 people to eat dinner with in the first place?

“Do you sing Happy Birthday here?” “No, this isn’t T.G.I. Friday’s or El Charro.” Okay sorry, this is a totally plausible question. But guys, you can sense when you walk into an establishment, whether or not it’s the kind of place that would force its wait staff to drop what their doing to burst into a flash mob for you or rub whip cream on your nose.

If your waitress is Jennifer Anniston from the movie Office Space and is wearing at least two pieces of “flair” on her suspenders, that’s a good indicator that you’re going to get a “Happy Birthday” ballad. I’m not Jennifer Anniston.

Despite my rant on all of the irritating things I endure at work, waitressing has been one of the most rewarding experiences. Learning to juggle a job, school and a social life can be taxing on a college student, but it’s caused me to grow in ways that I’m exceedingly grateful for.

I love interacting with people, whether they’re from out of town or my regulars. I’m more comfortable with myself when addressing strangers or large groups of people, and I enjoy having the opportunity to (attempt) to save money and support myself.

The restaurant industry is crawling with a diverse crowd of people, and through it, I’ve met so many lifelong friends. I work with a stone cold pack of weirdos, but they’re my weirdos, and I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve had working in a restaurant for anything.


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