I have been waitressing for almost two years. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but with the amount of shifts and hours I have put in, I’ve learned a lot. I have had very negative experiences, and I have also had very positive ones. Here are just a few things I have learned along the way and a few things I like to remember when I’m the one sitting at the table being the customer.
1. Everyone has had a different day than you.
A lot of the time, I come into my 4:30 p.m. shift a fairly peppy person; 4:30 p.m. is usually the beginning of my day. Chances are that I haven’t had a lot of anything going on before I come into work, and when I get my first table of the night, I am usually extra friendly and extra attentive. However, I have come to realize that 4:30 p.m. is the end of the day for a lot of people. They might’ve had a terrible day. So, when I get someone who is grumpy or not very friendly, I no longer get offended like I had before.
Now, I just know how to read a person from the minute I walk up to the table. I have learned how to base the amount of times I check on them and the octave to keep my voice in based on a few things: first, if they look me in the eyes when I approach the table versus if they keep their head down and stare at the menu; second of all, how they reply to “Hello, how are y’all doing tonight?”; and lastly, how many times they say "thank you." No matter what, I understand that if they aren’t the happiest customers I have ever had, they might’ve just had a bad day and it isn’t my fault.
When I am the one sitting down, I make sure that if I had a bad day, I don’t take it out on the waitress or waiter. On the contrary, if I had an extra-good day, I make sure that I am extra friendly.
2. Know when to admit it was your fault.
A lot of times as the waitress, you get blamed for mistakes that were often made in the kitchen, when in reality, you are just the messenger. However, as the messenger, you might make a mistake, too. There has been more than one occasion that I have written something incorrectly and the kitchen staff, just doing their job, has made it exactly as I wrote it. In those occasions, I have made sure to take fault (and apologize profusely). When the kitchen staff are the ones who have made the mistake, I’m sure to make sure that it gets fixed, or that the customer is accommodated to their pleasure.
On the other end, when I’m the customer, I do my best to be understanding as possible. Mistakes happen and it isn’t the end of the world if I have to pick mushrooms off my pizza as long as I’m not charged extra for something I didn’t actually order.
3.Don’t interject yourself into the fight over who's paying.
When you have a large table that is only getting one check, be ready for the battle at the end of the meal which will probably include strong eye contact as your walking to the table with the bill and flailing arms when you put it down on the table. Grandma might pull you aside on her way to the restroom at the beginning of the meal telling you that she wants the check when it comes to that time, and if that’s the case, your life is usually made easier, as you have an excuse as to why you handed it to Granny. The worst is when you aren’t quite to the table yet and Uncle John and Uncle Dan are already fighting over the check and you’re dead in the middle, having no idea who to hand it to. What have I learned in this situation? Give them both a fair warning that you’re putting the check down in the middle of the table and the first to get it wins; continue to throw the bill in the middle and immediately turn and walk away because chances are there is going to be a testosterone fight over whose turn it is to pay.
When dining out with family, I do my best to mediate who is paying (because chances are that it’s not me) so that our waitress or waiter doesn’t get sucked into the middle.
4. You will meet some of the best and worst people ever.
Working in a kitchen in a restaurant, you meet all kinds of people, good and bad. There will be people that you have to work with that you wish you didn’t have to, you serve people that you wish you didn’t have to, but on the other side of that, you work with some of the best and most fun people you will ever meet and you will get to serve people that will turn into your favorite customer (and every waitress has them, I’m lucky enough to have a few). No matter where you work, you will have regulars that drive you crazy and you will have regulars that you look forward to having either every day or on their regular day.
I like to strive to be someone’s favorite customer of the day.
5. You don’t always get tipped based on your performance as a server.
Sometimes as a server you will get tipped not based on your performance, but based on what your customer can afford. No matter how annoying it is, some people aren’t prepared to tip the full suggested 15-20-percent. Some people can only afford 10-percent or maybe even less.
As a server, it without a doubt grinds my gears when I get a huge table and get tipped less than recommended, especially if I feel that I have catered to them in all of their extra napkins, seven drink refill needs. But most of the time I make myself take a step back and realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to dine out as much as my family was, and still is.
Some people can only afford to do it on special occasions, and although the argument can be made that tipping is part of the dining out experience, nowhere does it say that tipping is mandatory when eating out. Sometimes, however, people give you a huge tip. Maybe even 30-percent or higher. Those most definitely make up for the lesser tippers. Being personable and taking extra time to make sure your customers are happy has seemed to pay off for me. It also helps that I work in a small pub which makes it easy for me to take my time with customers and make sure their experience is pleasurable.
When dining out, I do my best to give 20-percent tips. Unless, of course, their service is actually terrible.
Working in a restaurant as taught me a lot. I have a new appreciation and love for the kitchen. There are without a doubt pros and cons to being a server, just as there are in any other profession. But, I have been blessed with a pretty great boss and staff to work beside. I have learned a lot and wouldn’t change my experience for anything.