Waitstaff Needed. The Mandatory Service Industry Draft

| November 15, 2007 | 25 Comments
  • 25 Comments

I have a radical idea. It’s edgy. Cutting edge, perhaps. Or you could say I’ve fallen off the edge.

Being in the restaurant business means every one I know wants to tell me their latest eating-out stories. They want my ear, they want to run something by me. They whisper me close and want to find out the dirt I might know about so and so. “So,” they start by leaning in and looking furtively around, “What was it like working for X?!”

But mostly, people want to tell me about how much the service sucked at their latest eating-out experience. Customers pull me aside, friends and strangers alike, and tell me about a faux pas they witnessed, or experienced.

Because I wear a double-breasted button up white coat for most of the hours during a given day or week, I am now The Expert On All Aspects Of The Restaurant Industry. I’m supposed to offer advice, help, insight, compassion, dishing fuel and maybe I’m even supposed to solve the state of the service industry in North America restaurants.

But what I’ve come to is something I’ve felt and known for some time now: being a waiter is one of the hardest positions in a restaurant. It’s neck-in-neck with washing dishes. Before my fellow whites clad brethren walk away and label me a traitor, pick up and deftly pocket stones a la Shirley Jackson-style, let me clarify.

A waiter is the liaison between kitchen and diner. She/ he must intuit the tone of a kitchen, its cooks and what moods Chef is in. He/ she answers to a myriad of managers (hopefully, although I’ve worked in some restaurants that have no one in charge on the floor), needs to be on the good side of who’s hosting (oftentimes this can be an alliance worth more money than either one would care to admit or have anyone know) hungry and impatient diners, and on top of it all, waiters must have multi-tasking skills far outweighing those of a juggling, elephant- training, acrobat.

At the end of their shift, if they’re not shifty, waitstaff “tip out” bussers, bartenders, hosts, and (sometimes) dishwashers. And still, to this day, some diners don’t have enough math skills to figure out percentages translating into the only language which waiters speak fluently: money.

A few years ago, well-spoken NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni went under-ground and became a waiter just to see how hard it was. “… I traded places and swapped perspectives, a critic joining the criticized, to get a taste of what servers go through and what we put them through, of how they see and survive us.”

“How they survive us.”

An apt line. Which brings me to my radical idea.

Many say that the only way to end America’s wars in the Middle East would be to have a mandatory draft. If everyone could feel how war presses down on us all, then maybe we would be a little less clueless and apathetic.
My radical idea is this: I say we should have a mandatory service industry draft. I am the first to admit what a terrible waiter I make. I worked for over a decade behind a counter, tried on being a waiter once or twice, and now, although my position is called Chef, I cater to the needs of people I may never meet face to face. I am their servant, so to speak.

I’m in the pleasure business. In the business of pleasuring people.

And when you’ve catered to stranger’s needs, not because it was fun, but because it was paying your way in the world, your compassion gear shifts and fires on a denser oil, through a different, more varied, set of pistons. Your ability to assess the whole situation, not merely your own, changes. When you wait on people all day who treat you like a servant, like you’re stupid for the mere fact of creating their double-decaf-single-shot-soy-mocha latte with extra foam or bagging your croissant or pointing you in the direction of the clear, waterproof band-aids, you tend to become a different customer when it’s you looking for the newest gadget at Sur La Table or bagging onions at the farmers’ market or ordering your sweater over the phone.

In the United States we don’t treat front of house staff like professionals. We assume they’re writers and musicians and actors or students saving money for the other thing they’d rather be doing. Diners and restaurant management staff treat them like this, so it would make sense that most waiters do not treat themselves like professionals. If the circle turned in a different direction, imagine what kind of service you’d have!

My inner cook folds her arms angrily and pouts. “Why are you standing up for them? Look how much money they make!” Yes, you’d think a person who takes home 15-30%, working in a business that makes, overall, at the end of all that’s said and done, about 3-5%, selling a product made by persons earning one third to one tenth (yes, this is not an exaggeration) what said staff will take home in a year, might want to work a little harder, for you, the diner, and me, the kitchen manager and food creator, but…

maybe we will all remain complacent, lazy and apathetic until our name is called in the:

Mandatory Service Industry Draft.

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Category: restaurants, bars, cafes

About the Author ()

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She's had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC. Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna's resume reads like the who's who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers' markets her muse. Currently "at large," Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.
  • Anita

    Can I presume this post is a response to the recent spate of ‘diners’ rights’ posts and articles? Might I gently suggest that the backlash (of which your post is an extremely thoughtful and clever example) feels a thin-skinned and unseemly to those of us outside the industry?

    There are plenty of places that do it right; I’m confused at how calling the non-performers on the carpet somehow denigrates the entire restaurant-serving population. If anything, I would expect chefs and servers who care about how their food is received would rally to the diners’ side in this debate: Bad service can turn good food to ashes in my mouth, and superb service can make me eager to return to a place where the food may be less than perfect.

    I actually waited tables full time all through high school and college; I took pride in my profession, and I know exactly how hard it is. (I also made a sh*tload of money compared to all of my friends at that point in my life, with one exception: union grocery clerks.)

    But, even knowing what servers put up with, I am still a tough customer. I still want the server to be able to intelligently answer basic questions about the menu and its offerings. I still want my wine to come before my entree. I still want to be kept in the loop about when my dinner might appear, if the wait has been noticeably long. I still want my food delivered without having to answer “who ordered the porkchop?”.

  • Richie

    If we start a server draft, I think a suburban Applebees or Chili’s should be the boot camp.

  • Rachelle

    Anita,
    I agree with you 110%. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thanks.

  • Jennifer Maiser

    I can see your point here, but I’m with Anita. People who don’t write feel free to critique my writing, and people who don’t build databases feel free to critique my databases or the speed with which I build them. I think that this is an issue that crosses many career boundaries.

    I understand that many people treat waiters like mud, but at the same time there are a lot of us who show them respect and treat them well and tip well (even when we’re starving or hurried or cranky or hate the food) — and I think that we deserve great service in return.

  • wendygee

    Well, criticism is based upon experience and comparison. And sometimes those who have enlisted in service rather than being drafted can be the harshist critics because they know what goes on behind the scenes and can easily tell when service is less than optimal.
    Being professional at any job requires experience, motivation and good training. Going to restaurants that spend time training and managing their front house staff…as well as hire people with waitstaff/hospitality experience shine in comparison to those that provide minimal support to their staff.
    Yes, to be a good waitperson is a difficult job that requires numerous skills–multi-tasking, good timing and people skills are among them. But typically you don’t need a degree in Hospitality or much experience to get a job waiting tables and so it falls into the category of “anyone can do it” jobs. And the nature of the restaurant biz having high turnover, low salary, no benefits, odd hours, etc fuels the fire of inexperienced workers enlisting for duty.
    So, I think it is really the responsibility of the establishment to provide training to their staff as well as hire people who are experienced in providing service. Both the quality of the food and service are key to a good dining experience.
    …and yes, I have been both a cook and a waitperson… and think that with a greater understanding of both professions have less tolerance for inadequate service and mediocre quality food.

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    I’ve had several jobs in the service industry and I know that it makes me a polite, patient, and good diner. I would rather slink away quietly than complain about something and exasperate an already over-tired server.

    That said, I’m really getting tired of being afraid of the rude, dismissive, and disinterested servers I sometimes encounter.

    On a recent pick-up of Delfina Pizza, we were made to wait twice the amount of time they told us. Was that the problem? No. The problem was that when my husband went in — leaving me to circle the blocks for the next 40 minutes — he was told his order would be ready in 5 minutes. It wasn’t and they never came over to him to say, “I’m sorry, it’s going to be longer than we expected.” Nothing. They just ignored him until his order was ready at which point he firmly told them he would have preferred to know the full extent of the wait so he could have updated me as I continued to drive around. Not the exact amount, just an update that it was clearly not going to be five minutes.

    Their response? A snappish: “WE DIDN’T KNOW!” No apology, no politeness and he had been nothing but calm and polite with them.

    Man, I was constantly apologizing at the cheese counter if customers didn’t have a good experience for whatever reason. I didn’t snap at them and I didn’t talk back, even if I felt their complaints were unfair and unjustified.

  • Aaron

    Just because being a waiter is difficult doesn’t mean those impacted by this service shouldn’t be allowed to criticize. Flying planes is hard, but if my pilot crashed one, I’d be pretty pissed off. I’ve had service that feels like a plane crash! If you take a job, you are taking on the responsibility of doing that job well. The service industry is an interesting one in the sense that a person has several bosses: the customer and their manager. That leaves them susceptible to a lot of criticism. However, you always say if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. I say, if you can’t handle the criticism with some grace, get off the floor.
    I echo your sentiment that waiters aren’t treated as professionals, but that’s because most of the time they are not. Career waiters are few and far between, but when I’m placed in their competent hands, I know and treat them with the same care and attention that they treat me.
    I know waiting tables is hard, and I could certainly never do it, but I couldn’t be the president either. That certainly hasn’t kept me, or anyone else from criticizing his public service.

  • shuna fish lydon

    What’s ironic here is that you are all speaking to my point, even when you are attempting to make arguments against it.

    It’s almost funny, except that it’s left me a bit confused.

    Thanks for jumping into the ring with me at any rate. The discussion is great.

    I am doing my best to train restaurant staff at the moment and I can’t speak much more to that except to say every day I get a more and more clear understanding of why we are where we are (as an industry), why we feel what we feel (frustrated as cooks/service staff/ diners), how we are treated and so forth.

    You’re gentle suggestion, Anita, that I am taking it all too personally is right. When someone looks to me for advice, because I am a professional in my industry, I think about the whole picture, not merely their personal run-in with yet another bad waiter or host etc.

    Should I know that I can’t solve everyone’s restaurant service issues? I guess I should. But it’s not me.

    I care about the history of my profession. I enjoy looking at its complex issues. It’s what I write about, it’s what I think about, it’s how I teach, it’s how I learn.

    Thin skinned? I think not. Sensitive? Yes.

    Humour is my best defense. Every industry has its own coping mechanism. With ours, it’s dark humour.

    I teach as far as I can, as far as my arms can reach. But after that? You’re right, it’s not my jurisdiction.

  • John

    Wile diners certainly should be treated well, so should the waitstaff. And I have seen FAR more sheer rudeness on the part of patrons than on the part of servers.

    For example, I would bet real money that Stefanie didn’t say what she had to say gently, she said it pointedly (even though I would also bet that she will disagree.) Now think with me for a minute: how could the staff have KNOWN that it would take more than the stated time? Should they try to micromanage the kitchen? Is it the servers responsibility to make sure that every customer is not circling the parking lot? Why is it not up to the customer, who knows what’s going on in their life, to check back in with the staff? And we all know how long “40 minutes” is: it’s the same as being on hold for “an hour”.

    There are many clueless servers, of that there is no doubt. Hosts/hostesses who don’t knwo how to keep things flowing, bussers who can’t remember to fill water and clear, etc. are rampant throughout the industry. They always have been, and with barriers to entry so low,, they always will be. But the unwillingness of the current patron to deal with what are minor annoyances without flaming has grown exponentially since I broke into the industry in 76.
    Many of the “diner’s rights” articles need to come with “diner’s responsibilities” sidebars.

  • FaustianBargain

    sorry, john..the staff SHOULD know. thats part of their job profile..to communicate between the kitchen and the diners. and if there is a delay, they should TALK to the kitchen and CONVEY to the customer. thats what they do. or at least be trained to do…

    surely, you dont think that ‘service’ simply means filling up glasses and sliding plates of food across the table? or did you?

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    First of all, my name is spelled “Stephanie,” and second of all, if you had actually read my response, John, you would have seen it was my husband who registered his complaint. And yes, I was there and he did it politely. How do I know? Because I get embarrassed in these situations and really agonize over making any complaints whatsoever. However, I can’t prove this to you and I really don’t have to.

    As for the wait time, given that our pizzas weren’t even in the oven when they told us 5 minutes, all we wanted was an update when it was clear that they weren’t coming for another forty. I agree there isn’t much difference between forty and one hour, but there’s a huge difference between five minutes and forty.

    Hell, when we placed our order, they told us thirty. We waited that amount of time before we even went to pick up the pizza and it was still another forty. As I said before, the time is not the issue, the lack of update was. And as I said before — though it’s clear you didn’t really read what I wrote before you attacked me — I didn’t expect a precise time frame, just an acknowledgment that it was clearly going to be longer than 5 minutes.

  • Rachelle

    Stephanie,
    I feel your pain. First, John clearly has spelling issues, and not only with your name.

    Second, its unfortunate that our society has such issues with communication. I hear where you’re coming from. I have experienced so many incidents where a crumby meal could have been salvaged simply by a little communication. Its not the wait, etc, that’s the problem, its the staff not informing (us, the customers) that the wait will be longer than expected, or that they messed up the order, or forgot to put the order in,etc.
    Yes, I admit, its always difficult to confront a customer to let them know that there is some kind of problem b/c you never know how the customer will react (there are definitely some unreasonable people out there). However, I guarantee that people would be far less likely to over-react if they are informed of the problem ahead of time so that they are not left to wonder if they are being ignored/forgotten about, etc.
    Shuna,
    Thank you for bringing this up. I’m not sure if we are on the same page regarding this issue or not, but it sure has spawned some wonderful discussion. It is a topic that is extremely near and dear to my heart, having worked professionally in various aspects of the foodservice industry for many years, and I appreciate hearing others opinions on this topic.

  • Jennifer Maiser

    5 minutes for a pizza means your pizza is in the oven. 40 minutes for a pizza means there will be several turns of pizza before yours even goes in the oven. If the kitchen’s not communicating with the wait staff, that’s an issue for management and shouldn’t be the responsibility for customers to bear.

    I know you’re trying to make a broader point here John, but you’re picking on the wrong person. If S. says the wait was 40 minutes, it was 40 minutes. The husband in discussion deals with numbers for a living and is rather precise about these things.

  • Anita

    Shuna, I’m sorry if my original comment came off as snippy; I didn’t mean it to, but I suppose it’s possible that I’m (also) overreacting to hearing how my reasonable desires are somehow outrageous.

    Matt’s post made me scratch my head, but it seemed so gentle and so well-meaning that it didn’t irk me. LineCook’s related snark got under my skin, and I told him so (politely, I hope). And then there were more and more posts elsewhere, piling on to the “you slobs are damned lucky we even let you eat here” mantra. I tuned it on and went on my way.

    But then you posted this, and it made me really wonder. If it had just been some stranger saying what you did, I probably would have let it go. But I thought you would want to know how petulant the rest of the chorus sounded to outside ears, even though you yourself were merely sighing in disappointment.

  • Anonymous

    After reading this article I was inspired to do some math. The results were shocking to me. I decided to work out approximately how many hours I had to work in order to afford a meal in a restaurant such as the one that Shuna works at. It turns out it took me about 12 hours, hard graft at the office, for me to be able to treat three friends to a meal at Sens, including more than two hours spent slaving away for the tip alone.

    I am sorry Shuna, I am not apathetic, I’ve already worked hard enough for the privilege of dining at a restaurant, I plough a large amount of what I earn into the restaurant industry so forgive me for not actually wanting to have to know hard it is to be a waiter on top of that. (I can have a good guess). I spend my days making things that entertain people and give them pleasure. I choose to find my own pleasure over dinner and I don’t think it’s too much to ask to expect good and pleasant service. If I’ve spent two hours working to afford their tip, the least waiters can do is spend a couple of hours returning the favor by doing their best at their job.

    I am sorry I have to remain anonymous on this post, I don’t really like posting anonymously but I don’t want people to start speculating about how much I do or do not get paid. Thanks for your understanding.

  • FaustianBargain

    i dont know about this ‘diner’s rights’ posts and articles that is going around the net…but a google search brought up this..

    L.A. Times, “Diners, stand up for your rights”

    i would like ‘John’ to give it a read and tell us which one of those demands is unreasonable..and what exactly is his list of ‘diners’ responsibilities’

    curious minds want to know.

  • shuna fish lydon

    Goodness Me Oh My.

    You know what? We all have a story. We all get horrible and exceptional service, we all work hard to make money, we all want to be treated with respect, we all have manners,

    sometimes.

    And sometimes we are awful customers, awful workers, awful cooks, awful managers.

    This piece was meant to say, in an ironic way, that it seems that if more of us tried to walk in the other person’s shoes, we might be able to extend a broader, less petulent, more well-thought out argument/ benefit of the doubt, etc.

    I guess not.

    Perhaps those of us who have done it before are worse customers, because we know how it COULD be done better, how it SHOULD be done better.

    The state of the industry today, or how I see it in my myopic world is this: it feels hard to find people who have my work ethic. (When I was 14 and working in a factory I was proud of the work I did– it’s who I am– I like to learn and hold my head up.)

    But not everyone is me.

    I didn’t read the Diners Bill of Right’s. I will on my next day off.

    It’s dreadful getting treated poorly, no matter whose shoes you’re wearing. It’s dreadful being kept in the dark or givent the silent treatment by those unable to take responsibility for their actions/ inactions and the actions of others who they are working alongside with.

    I wish I could say that my workplace is perfect and that all that I have done and do every day to inform and teach and inspire and communicate and problem solve etc etc etc but I can lead them to water but I can’t make them swim.

    “I’m confused at how calling the non-performers on the carpet somehow denigrates the entire restaurant-serving population.”

    Yes, I’m confused about how suggesting that more people take a look at the possibility of wearing someone else’s shoes is seen as an attack on everyone I’ve ever served/ known.

    If I am to take responsibility for being thin-skinned and bratty, then so must you.

    We all feel like we deserve. We all feel like we’re worth something.

    And depending on our delivery of such feelings, we will get various responses in return.

    I am a harder customer, but also more grateful customer in return, t please in a restaurant. It’s just that these days I feel like throwing up my hands in exasperations because I see the whole picture of the whole industry and anyone who comes to me with a story (it happens to me all the time, everywhere!) either will hear the story, as I see it, or they will hear my frustration (because I am now the boss of some of these people) or maybe I’ll just be in a bad mood and I’ll say something like the condensed version of this post,

    “Have you ever cleaned toilets for a living? Have you ever thanked your garbage collecter, bus driver? Have you ever sent a letter to the management of a restaurant when your service was stellar?
    Have you ever stood behind a counter for minimum wage because you had to eat/ pay your own way?”

    This is because sometimes I am patent, and sometimes I am not. Just like the rest of the humans in the world, wearing a uniform or not.

  • brett

    Woof!

    Sorry. I should say something more intelligent. I’m just glad to see that eating out inspires so much passion! Everyone’s right on both sides. Restaurant guests should be graceful and polite. Service should be a flawless, beautifully choreographed dance. Unfortunately, not every server is Baryshnikov, nor is every guest Miss Manners. Waiters, cooks, managers, paying customers — we’re all just humans trying to do our best, trying to lead happy lives. Mistakes happen. People act abominably on both sides of the plate.

    As a customer, I’m with Matt on this one. I rarely get poor service, because I treat people with respect, have good manners, and I smile. And when I do get “bad” service, I’m forgiving and don’t take it personally. I figure everyone has a bad day every once in a while.

    As a soon-to-be restaurateur, I know I’m on the road towards mountains of frustration, just as Shuna has expressed. My service staff and I will make mistakes, especially early on. Just know that we will all be trying to do our best to dance our little hearts out.

    My two cents: the kitchen is a huge part of the service equation. The most likely reason Stephanie’s pizza was delayed was because the cooks underestimated and/or miscommunicated how long it would take them to fire the pizza, how backed up their orders were. I could go on and hypothesize about the mounting frustration that must have ensued in both the kitchen and on the floor that night, but I’ll leave that up to your imaginations (none of us were there that night or know what actually happened. Clearly the issue wasn’t even communicated to Stephanie’s hubby).

    The point I want to make is this. The kitchen is service staff. They are members of the same team. Therefore, they deserve a portion of the tips. The laws as they are currently written do not allow the kitchen to receive tips. There is only one legal way around this: a mandatory service charge. That’s the way it’s done throughout Europe. That’s the way it’s done at Chez Panisse, where they add 18% to your bill, even in the Cafe.

    A service charge would accomplish several things, but I’ll just focus on one here. It would help decrease the great disparity in pay between front and back of the house. Earning a portion of the tips would communicate to the cooks that they are part of the team, not the second class citizens that their pay tells them they are. The way the system is set up now inspires a lot of animosity between the kitchen and the floor staffs. I could go on, but I’ll stop for now and save it for a longer post on my own soapbox.

    Oh, I shoulda just left it at “Woof!” Thanks for ingniting our passions, Shuna.

  • FaustianBargain

    looking at anita’s links..if i knew where linecook415
    worked, i’d never patronise that restaurant. i love food and i believe that the person whose hand cooks and serves a meal transfers *something* to the meal. when you start bitching about the food habits for the one you cook for, maybe the kitchen isnt the place for you…

    and yes..i have worked in restaurants. and no, i never thought it was my(or *yours*) business to change the diners’ personality or character..not to mention their food habits. this shabby show of manners is not an excuse for a disgruntled employee. if you are disgruntled, take it up with your employer and ban vegans from your restaurant. sheesh!

  • Michael Procopio

    Shuna,

    My friends and I have often mused on what wonders a compulsory service stint could work. I’m all for it!

    I am a professional server (who also served his time behind the lines in the kitchen) who only recently realized that I was, in fact, a professional. I do think the vast percentage of us consider ourselves as something other than a waiter. The plain fact for me is that, though I am lucky enough to actually get paid something for writing, waiting tables pays my bills. Actually, it allows me to do the other things in life that interest me. For that, I am very grateful.

    I am also lucky enough to work in an environment wherein I am taken seriously as a server; a place where service is considered as important (or moreso) than the food itself. I love going to work at a place where guests, in general, do not view the service staff as, well, servile. I’m saddened to know that this is a fairly rare situation.

    I could go on and on about my views regarding service, but I think I should spare you all. For now.

    Great piece!

    Michael

  • Rachelle

    The thing is that, while mistakes are perfectly normal and forgivable, complete lack of respect for your position and customers is not. Nor is complacency. I admit that I cannot always accurately read people and/or situations, however, it is often quite obvious when one or more of these is present.

    I believe this is what we are discussing here, not simple human mistakes.

  • John

    Well, I guess you could say I have spelling issues (or maybe just didn’t want to take the time to deal with it. You never know, do you?)
    Stephanie, I apologize for misspelling your name. My niece spells hers with an “f”.

    Here is the text of the mail I sent to Leslie Brenner, the write of the piece in the LA Times. Make of it what you will.
    ——-Begin Quoted Text——
    Hi Leslie,

    Nice article in today’s LAT. You might want to check out the blog WaiterRant (if you haven’t already) for more on the same line.

    Also, there should be a comparable Diner’s Bill of Responsibilities:
    1) The diner has the responsibility not to lie when they make a reservation: it’s really for 8, not 4 or more maybe.
    2) TDHTR to show up on time or call. 15 minutes leeway is very normal, showing up 30-45 minutes late and expecting the table anyway is just rank entitlement.
    3) TDHTR to order what they REALLY want and not expect the waiter/waitress/bartender to read their mind.
    4) THDTR not to lie to the waitstaff about allergies.
    5) TDHTR to tip appropriately, and bring complaints to management’s attention, not just stiff the waiter because the steak was underdone (but eaten).
    6) TDHTR to not disrupt other diners, either with excessively loud conversation, cell calls or shoving chairs into other tables.
    7) TDHTR not to behave like a spoiled brat. If there’s a problem, asking the waiter to take care of it is sufficient. Publicly announcing all your travails is not necessary.

    There are more, but I think you could write it better than I can

    ______end Quoted Text_________

    I eat out 2-3 nights a week. I was in food service for 10+ years (started as Pots, moved up to dishing, bribed a cook to show me short order, talked my way into prep, eventually cooked for a construction crew out in the woods. Quit when i found out I could still cook for my friends but also have a life.) I started and closed a retail store. I think I understand something about customers (even if my spelling isn’t always perfect.)

    Calling non-performers on the carpet implies some measure of specificity: who what when where. Making general comments is not specific. (Not specifically directed at Anita: many people who are not happy with the response they get to complaints about the food service industry believe that they were making a point about someone specific, but in the effort not to attack, they left out ALL the salient details, and ended up with what feels like an attack on the industry.)

    take care, all.

    John

  • Owen

    Interesting to see some friends and/or acquaintances on here (hi Shuna, Stephanie, Brett).

    Despite various connections to the restaurant industry, I have in fact only worked at the one job that is clearly lower on the totem pole by anyone’s standards than waiter – and that would be dishwasher, a job I held part time from the age of 14 through 19 at various establishments and which I still believe was what really taught me about work and how to work hard.

    I never saw tips – but I didn’t expect to.

    I think that all this kerfuffle about diners/waiters rights is very much an American issue. And while I agree with Brett that the mandatory service charge is a good thing (I grew up in London after all) I think the real issue for Americans is a different cultural problem. It is the issue of time. Both sides of the equation are hurrying too much. Yes, sometimes I want my meal fast – but then maybe I should have gotten a sandwich? Conversely, I do NOT like being pressured to move along just so the restaurant can turn the table. If you were only planning to ‘average’ 90 minutes per sitting then maybe you should have told me that up front?

    When we eat out and ARE in a hurry we make sure to tell the wait staff and tell them how fast we hope to be done. Then they are on our side and tell us things like XYZ takes too long – you won’t make it.

    Less rush would mean more time for civility, fewer errors and a better atmosphere.

    I really think this is at the root of the problem. Many European restaurants assume that a table booking is for the whole night.

    So maybe the real solution is to slow down a bit?

  • Sam

    This is a great idea – but at the same time let’s force those same servers to spend 25% of their hard-earned wages on being our customers for a truly rounded experiment. They should remember to give us a 20+% tip, even if we don’t deliver.

  • Path to the Truth

    Shuna,

    You are right on the money with this one. I have spent the last 16 years in the food service industry, doing everything from waiting tables, hostessing, line cook, prep cook, bar tending to managing a restaurant. Everyone should have the experience of standing on your feet for 10 or more hours, carrying trays of food and drinks while being abused by snobbish, rude people who refuse to see that you, too, are a professional and a human being.

    My last day as wait staff came about because as I was exiting the kitchen with an 8 person bowl of freshly made won-ton soup just as a fellow waiter was on his way in… through the out door. Needless to say, I was covered from chest to knees in boiling broth in full view of the dining room. I ran back into the kitchen to strip and get cold water on my thankfully quite minor burns and another member of the wait staff had my table’s order out to them with only a few minutes delay. I changed, and when I returned to the table with the next course, one of the diners said: “I hope you don’t expect us to pay for this meal. We shouldn’t have had to wait just because you’re clumsy.”

    We suffer cuts, burns, bruises, sprains, repetitive stress injuries, corns, bunions, blisters, callouses… We endure rudeness, harassment, inappropriate sexual come-ons, diva-like attitudes… We are expected to smile and be gracious and go the extra mile for minimum wage or less…

    So, thank you, Shuna. Thank you for telling our side of it, and thank you for recognizing that most people who complain about how we do our jobs would run home crying on their first day.