It’s the job you get during college, to make money for weekend fun and to stock up on Easy Mac. It’s the job you get because your parents want you out of the house during the summer. It’s the job you get because you spent all your money on weekend fun and now real life is glaring right in front of you after graduation. And then it’s the job you get because the real job seems to be eluding you, the unemployment rate is rising ever higher and you can’t stand one more day in your parents’ house.
Waitress. Server. Restaurant work. Busboy. Server’s assistant. Runner. Cook. Dishwasher. Whatever you want to call it. You’re working in a restaurant because it’s probably the one job where the unemployment rate is practically 0%. Restaurants are constantly turning over employees, whether they lose them to high school or college, or people leave for their real jobs, or they show up late and hungover one too many times. And if one certain restaurant doesn’t seem to be having any of those problems then there are a hundred others within a 20 minute radius of your house that would take you.
Restaurant work is not very difficult. It’s repetitive. Table sits. Greet, drinks, take orders, serve food, refill drinks, offer dessert, check. Goodbye, next table please.
It’s all about what you do to earn that tip. You have to be pleasant, smile, leave your emotions at the door. Forget about the fight you had with your parents, forget about the fact that your girlfriend hasn’t texted you all day–any little sign you show of not wanting to be waiting on that table lowers your tip a little more. Be funny. Tell a little joke that will make the people at your table laugh and distract them from the fight they are having with their spouse. Don’t check on them too often and certainly don’t forget about them. Make them feel like they are the only table you have, even if you are running around like a crazy person and sweat is glistening on your forehead. Just try to wipe the sweat away before you ask them if they are enjoying their meal.
If the people at your table are just not having any of it–the food is wrong no matter how it’s cooked, your service is terrible even though you’ve done nothing wrong, the check is too high even though you rang everything in correctly–then you force that smile to your ears as you say, “Thank you for dining with us today and please have a wonderful evening.” And don’t let them see you slam the kitchen door behind you in utter exasperation.
These are some of the things I’ve learned through working in a few different restaurants. I’m sure other servers will tell you the same thing. Restaurant work is not much different, no matter where you are. Some tables are great and others are frustrating, needy, complaining, and don’t leave good tips. In fact, if you watch the movie Waiting, you’ll get a good idea of what it’s like to be a server (with about 92% accuracy, minus the spitting). But you might actually have to be a server to think it’s funny.
I started waiting tables in college, after I stopped swimming. I suddenly had an extra 20+ hours of time on my hands and I realized I was out of money. Miraculously, a restaurant that was just an eight minute walk from my house hired me as a server, knowing that the only work experience I’d ever had involved swimsuits and lane lines. But they trained me well, taught me the ten core values, drilled the mission statement into my head and gave me a huge written test involving every topping, dressing, and vegetable in the house. And I had “earned my kilt.” (It was an Irish restaurant and our uniform included a mini-kilt.) I became a great server and I loved the people I worked with. I hated 35 cent wing night, $5 burgers and selling shots, but I made enough money to get me through my senior year.
Last summer, I worked at a small bar and grille that might be considered a step down from the college bar. I got two days of training and then they shoved me at a table, where I proceeded to screw everything up because they hadn’t bothered to let me learn the menu. I hated the people I worked with and hated the hours. But hey, they let me read my book in front of customers when I was bored, so I didn’t complain–much.
And now I’m making a huge step up, I believe. I’m currently waiting–both on real-world jobs and on tables. The restaurant is nicer than one I could afford for dinner and so far, the people I’m working with are great. They trained me well, and it was easier to pick up since I’d already been well-trained before. I made a few flash cards to learn the menu and the manager validated me with confidence.
Those early lessons I learned from my first restaurant at college will always get me through the rough shifts. No one taught them to me, they were lessons that could only truly be learned from experience. “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way– with customers, managers, fellow servers, and cooks and dishwashers. Help bus tables, even if it’s not your table or your job–someone will help you later on when you need it. If you’re not sure about an entree or an ingredient or how to ring something in, ask. It’s worse to completely screw up an order and waste food. And always, always smile. You might make someone’s day. And yes, it’s almost always all about the tip, but you never know what kind of nice, interesting, or wonderful people you might meet.
So, welcome. My name is Meg and I will be your server this evening. (smile)