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You Have to Wait...

What a concept,You have to wait…, well of course you do!  But this story isn’t about waiting in line for the movies, or slogging through the line at the DMV, or even about waiting for a special package due in from UPS. This is a story about being a Waiter, or Waitress, and why this profession should be in everyone’s background resume.

I would say that almost every well rounded and patient person I know has at one time or another performed work as a waiter or bartender.  This skill set is invaluable to a persons growth as a human being.  How else would you know how to deal with rude, self entitled people, whining, crying children, or indecisive seniors, if it wasn’t for your time in a black apron?  I mean nothing ever started my day off better than a self-important hair stylist throwing scrambled eggs at me screaming, “I ordered poached!”, even though that particular establishment never cooked a poached egg in their ten year existence. 

The website Yelp has really changed the landscape for restaurants, their owners, servers and bartenders.  No longer are the actions of a restaurants employees anonymous, and cursory. Their actions, or lack thereof, can have a lasting economic impact on the establishment being “reviewed”.  I use quotations around “reviewed” because, none of the writers are actual journalistic reviewers, they are lay people, or, average customers with opinions. Within these reviews you can clearly tell through their writing which have had, and which people have not had, any restaurant experience.  When I read things like, ” I told the server that I have to have crushed ice in my water, and all she could bring me was cubes! Epic fail!”.  I don’t think this person has ever tied on an apron to serve others, and quite possibly doesn’t know how to boil water.  

When eating at a restaurant there are things every diner has to take into account: How busy is the place?  What time are you going out?  If you are eating out between 6:00pm and 9:00pm on Friday or Saturday night, guess what?  You are most likely going to be waiting for something, and most of the time it’s the kitchen who’s to blame for the delay, not the waiter.  I have been both a waiter and Chef, and the roles could not be more different.  In the kitchen it’s hot, stuffy, filled with bad language and contempt for ALL of humanity, not just the wait staff. Incidentally the wait staff receives the lions share of verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse from the chef and fellow cooks. That very same waiter then has to take the food, or the excuse for why the food isn’t there, and smile while they deliver, or not, the food to your table, having just been called a son-of-whore, or worse, by a kitchen staff member. Great life, huh?

There are obvious things that are not permissible when being a waiter: being cruel, rude or petty towards your patrons.  These things are obvious, as it cuts into the bottom line, tips. So any patron who is abused in this fashion should respond accordingly, tip less.  But to write a scathingly personal review on Yelp is not always the best answer, unless it happens more than on one occasion.  Sometimes people do have bad days.   

My favorite story of being on the patron side happened to me 20 plus years ago while dining at a very popular Thai restaurant on Geary Street in San Francisco.  My wife and I thought it would be a great idea to take some mid-west out-of-town guests to this Thai food place to experience sitting on the floor in a cool carpeted environment. We arrived on time for our reservation, and were told that we would have to wait for our table.  Wait we did, for 45 minutes!  When we were finally escorted to our table our waiter yelled, yes yelled, at someone in our party for not leaving her shoes at the front.  She had new expensive pumps, no way was she leaving them at the front of the place, and when she went to put them in her purse he screamed at her again. Strike one and two.  We sat at our table and looked over the menu briefly and were ready to order in five minutes. Fifteen minutes later our waiter returned to inform us that most of what we were going to order was not available, and was not good anyway. We settled on some items that weren’t as exciting.  Twenty minutes passed, and none of our drinks had arrived, but our food did, but it wasn’t our food.  This food belonged to another table.  Our waiter descended on us like we had invaded the kitchen and had stolen the food for ourselves, he snatched all of the dishes up and right before our eyes handed them to the other table, even though we had already started prodding the food around with our utensils. The waiter then proclaimed, “your food is coming, have some patience”.  Okay… Strike Three.  The rest of the story is bland, but the conclusion is legend.  Upon departure we decided we had all had enough, and made a joint decision to tip the waiter pocket change only, about $4. We got up, put our shoes on and were waiting outside the restaurant’s front door when our waiter burst out screaming, “What the hell is this”, holding a mound of change in his hand, “fuck you bastards, I kill you!”, he wailed, and threw the change in my face.  My response to him, “Thanks for the lovely evening, we’ll tell our friends.” Where upon he mock spit at me, cursed and slammed the door as he re-entered to restaurant. You don’t have to ask, we haven’t been back.

Being a waiter is important, it can help shape you as a human being, it can provide you with valuable insight into how to treat other people, and how you want to be treated, it can also tell you this: I don’t want to be a waiter all of my life.  But being a waiter may not be for me, but my own brother has made a career out of it, waiting in some of the nicest restaurants in the western world.  He loves it, no long term responsibilities, you finish your shift and you leave your troubles behind you, and every day is a new, and hopefully profitable, day.

My advise to parents everywhere: when your kids go off to college tell them to get a job as a waiter, it can be as revealing to them as the course of study they choose to pursue. It will definitely help them decide where they want to be, and help how they interact with people for the rest of their lives.

Bon appetite!        

Posted on June 16, 2011

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