I work in a restaurant, so naturally every time I sit down to write something, the first thing that pops in my mind is something about the business, something about waiting tables. But I don’t want to be that guy. There’s a really talented guy who writes about waiting tables, and he did it already, he wrote all about it. I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything novel to add to the conversation. But still, I spend a good chunk of my waking day serving food, and sometimes it just begs to leak out onto the page.
So I’m thinking about maybe, just this once, letting myself write some restaurant stuff. But everything that’s coming to mind immediately sounds so boring, so tired. I’d say trite, but that word is really trite. Everything is just going to come off as whiny. It’s one thing to write about stuff in a funny way, but I’m worried that once I get started on the little things I feel I need to get off my chest, it’s going to snowball into this giant Death Star of bitterness.
How do I do it without sounding too angry? How do I do it without giving everybody a huge lecture on how to behave at a restaurant? Because nobody wants that. I get it, you don’t go out to eat for the benefit of the staff; you go out to eat for your own enjoyment. And so even after I complain to myself in my head about certain things that bug me, another voice in my head starts saying stuff like, “Well, it’s your job. If you hate it that much quit. Or stop complaining.” And I hate it when that side of me butts into my inner monologue, and I get even angrier.
But a lot of my troubles all boil down to the fact that there really isn’t a cohesively American restaurant etiquette. Everything, little things, big things, they might all be done differently at different restaurants. Don’t pay your waiter, pay at the register. Don’t pay at the register, pay your waiter. You have to ask for extra here. Over here you don’t ask, it’s automatic. I recently switched restaurants, and I’m just shocked at some of these differences in the way service is carried out. At my old restaurant, I had my section, my tables, everybody had to go through me. And there were benefits to this, like I knew exactly what I had to do and I could figure out how to prioritize my actions in the short term. All while keeping my head above water and trying to make some money. I mean, that’s the idea.
But at this new restaurant everybody is supposed to be available to anybody. So a random customer asks me for a Coke and now I have to get it. At my old restaurant I would have just pretended not to see him waving. I’m only kidding. Sort of. I joke around about how I can be this huge dick, but really I had my own little tasks that I had to take care of, and so pretending not to see him was actually nicer than the alternative, me just kind of saying to this guy who wanted a Coke, “Your waiter’s coming right over.”
But customers don’t know how the staff operates from restaurant to restaurant. And the guy just wanted a Coke. Maybe he was really thirsty. I hate that whole, “I’m not your waiter,” business, even when I was working at that old restaurant and I had to do it every ten seconds. Who hasn’t ever found themselves sitting at a table for way too long without a drink? It happens. But customers get cranky and the staff gets upset for the customer getting pushy and, ultimately, if he or she is pissed off enough, they won’t get a good tip.
Tipping. It’s a pretty crazy way for people to make a living. It’s all so arbitrary. What do you do about that table that received great service but still only left fifteen percent, or less? And why? Why did they cheap out on the tip? Because they’re allowed to. Because restaurants don’t have to pay their staff a decent wage, they can leave it to the discretion of the customer. And a lot of the time customers are jerks. Why pay more when I can pay less? I’m giving myself a discount on the dinner, and in life, by being a bad tipper.
What’s the theory behind this, that without the expectation of a tip, the waiter or waitress wouldn’t work as hard, right? Let me tell you, it’s total bullshit. If I knew that I were to receive an automatic twenty percent from every check, everybody would be having a more pleasant dining experience. Because I wouldn’t be stressed out over a tip. I wouldn’t be trying way too hard to be fake nice or running around the floor like a crazy person, trying to show all of the customers how hard I’m working. I would just be chill, relaxed, and I’d perform my duties with a lot less nervous energy.
And another reason why tipping is detrimental. I don’t know about other servers, but I can only take so much disappointment in one shift. After three or four shitty tips, I basically just lower the level of work that I’m putting in for the rest of the night. Because I’ve worked hard already for money that just wasn’t coming in. Why bother? Just shift into autopilot and keep that mediocre money flowing in.
But nobody wants to hear this stuff. That’s why I’m not going to write about it. Except this one anecdote. Really quick. The other night I had these two women who refused to leave the restaurant. It was like an hour and a half past closing and I was the only waiter left, because I had to wait for them to leave so I could clean the table. Finally I begged the manager to kick them out and he eventually approached the table. They knew right away, they were like, “Yeah, yeah, we know …” and got their coats on and left. And I was just standing there, holding back the explosive rage inside, wanting them to turn around and see the look on my face as I wiped down their table, tell them thanks a lot for their shitty twelve percent tip. But I can’t do that. Waiters are strictly prohibited from being rude to a customer, even if they were rude to you by not paying you what you were owed. “Don’t you dare talk that way to a customer! Or look at them funny! Smile! Now! We’ll fire you! We pay you a special minimum wage, special in the fact that it’s comically lower than regular minimum wage, which is already comically low in and of itself, to be nice and friendly and subservient and obedient!”
And they didn’t look back anyway. They were just oblivious to my existence, not a care in the world regarding the fact that, not only did they waste my time, but they didn’t even pay me enough for the job I did for them. That’s how this works. You don’t get table service at McDonald’s so you don’t have to tip. In any other profession you complain if your employer doesn’t give you all of your money. But waiters have to stand there and smile. “See you next time! Get home safe! You forgot your doggy bag miss! Wouldn’t want to forget those two shrimp!” Come on. Who sits in a restaurant that long? Get a life. Go out to a bar. You’re just going to sit? Can’t you sit somewhere else? Like at home? Don’t they realize that other people want to get to their homes, get some sleep? Just completely inconsiderate of other human beings. It’s unimaginable.
See? That was way too bitter. I’m scowling right now. I think I’ve aged a whole month in like half an hour. I could never do this, the whole writing about being a waiter gig, because I can’t even make it funny. It just gets dark. And I don’t want to be dark. I don’t want to complain. Nobody wants to read it. Everybody’s got to work. I wouldn’t want to read somebody writing about how much it sucks to be an accountant, how these idiots come in at tax time and have no idea how to manage their own numbers, these jokes of human beings who didn’t save any receipts or bring any of the papers they were told to bring in order to have their returns processed properly. That would be super lame. And I would get pissed, thinking, hey, that accountant is talking about me. I’m not stupid. And so I’d stop reading. And I’d probably stop going to him for my taxes.