Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting 101

            For a little over fifteen years I’ve been working part time as a waiter in a small, family owned, casual, fine dining seafood restaurant. From what I understand, this is rare in the food service industry. One waiter working at one place for that amount of time is either family or crazy. I’m not family. As a matter of fact this was my first food service job, outside the ninety days I spent in the vegetable preparation room onboard the USS Austin (LPD-4). This was also my first introduction to dealing with customers. Sailors aren’t too demanding when it comes to food. As long as the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold, they are happy.
            In all this time, fifteen plus years, I’ve accrued thousands of stories of customers, co-workers, managers and cooks. This blog is not about my co-workers. This is about customers and what I’ve been able to understand about them.
            You see customers are a funny sort and when I get a new table and I approach it, I never prejudge them. Nope, I save that for after the bill is paid. I try and give every person I wait on the same good service as the previous ones. When they pay and leave, and when I’m checking out the tip they left for me, that’s when I judge them. To me, there are three kinds of customers, good tippers, average tippers and bad tippers. And as a waiter who has known many other waiters, this seems to be an industry standard. We all remember the good tips as well as the bad ones.
            Now, if you’re an average tipper or a good tipper, you waiter or waitress will always do right by you if you are a returning customer. As for the bad tippers, if they return, well, the service they receive drops proportionately to the amount of tip they leave. Drink glasses will go unfilled, some food will arrive before other food, and in some cases, some food will just never show up. Bad tippers will rarely have a good meal when they return to a restaurant for a second, third or even fourth time. Word gets out. We talk to each other and we know who is difficult and tips shitty and who is difficult but tips well. The good tippers will always have a better meal and service.
            After all, when a person is making two dollars and fifteen cents an hour and is expected to move heaven and hell just for a lousy ten percent that the customer thinks is more than deserved, well, let me come to your work and pay you on your performance at whatever rate I want to pay you.
            I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time if you couldn’t tell and so I thought I’d try a little experiment. A few months ago, an elderly woman came in to the restaurant with a pre-teen girl and a teenage boy. She ordered one meal for herself and a couple of sides for the kids. I gave them the same amount of attention as I would anyone else. When the bill was paid and they had left I looked at the tip, it was less than ten percent. I wasn’t upset or angry, I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on.
            Then, a few weeks later they came in again, I waited on them again and I gave them just about the same amount of service as I had last time. The result was the same. I chuckled to myself knowing that this woman who reminded me of a walking talking toadstool would never be satisfied by anyone in the food service industry.
            Tonight, they came in again and once again, I was their waiter. I chuckled to myself and thought “I’m going to try an experiment.”
            My experiment was this, I was going to give them nominal service and see exactly how much of a virago she was. Once again, when she ordered, she ordered herself a meal and some extra sides for the kids. No meals for them. Just French fries.
            I didn’t make sure her drink was always full, I did ask her if everything was okay and satisfactory, I didn’t offer anything extra and I made sure that when she was snapping her fingers at me when I was talking with other customers that I did not hear her. After all, her first tip had been only two bucks and her second tip had been the same amount. What sort of crap am I willing to put up with for two dollars? Not a lot apparently.
            By the time she had finished eating, spilling crumbs everywhere, while her kids made a sticky mess on the glass tabletop with ketchup and salt I delivered the bill at her request. When they left, I looked at the bill, I didn’t get a tip, I was out two bucks. I laughed and knew my experiment had been a success.
            On the flip side of this coin, I had some regulars in tonight that I wait on at least once a month. I always give them the same good service as I do everyone else, they are regular tippers and nice people. Not too demanding, fun to talk with and are always smiling. Very steady, normal people who are just making their way in this world. If they ask for something extra, or need more of anything, I’m more than happy to get it for them. Not for the tip, not because they are regulars but because they treat me like a living, breathing human being. They know that I am a person and treat me as such. Which goes a long way in this world. That is something the Toadstool lady with her thick, coke bottle glasses doesn’t seem to get.
            It’s all about respect and understanding. Most customers get it, some don’t. The ones who don’t will never have a good repeat experience because they don’t treat the waiters with respect. You see, a please or thank you goes a long way in this world when dealing with waiters and waitresses, hell even calling them by their name garners a certain level of empathy that will make your dining experience a hundred times better.
            Do I think the toadstool lady will be back? I hope so. Do I think I will wait on her again? Probably not. Which is no skin off my nose. To me, she has no respect for me or the other customers in the building. After all, if I’m taking an order from one table and you’re snapping your fingers at me to get my attention, then it is clear you don’t care about me or anyone of the other diners in the place. So, you can wait just like I have to.
            Is this cold and callous? Maybe, but I do know that in all my years of waiting tables I’ve become a better customer when dining out. Also, I’ve become a pretty harsh judge of waiters and waitresses in all the establishments I visit.
            I guess what I’m trying to say is this, if you’re out at a restaurant and you want great service from your server, be a great customer. Learn their name, call them by it and if something is wrong don’t get pissy, just talk to them as you would want to be spoken to.

            Have a great week.

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