As servers, it is our job to create an experience for every customer. We answer their questions, provide them with drinks, serve as the medium between them and the kitchen, and make them feel they have everything they need and nothing they don’t. We are their trusted source of the restaurant and it is our responsibility to have the knowledge and skill to make their experiences positive and fulfilling.
It never ceases to amaze me how little so many people understand of the service industry. Restaurant experiences are highlights embedded in our culture as means of celebration, romance, relaxation, and, overall, fun, yet aspects from behind the scenes largely remain a mystery. I am asked the same questions and told the same things by customers, friends, and family. I respond to these inquiries and assumptions based off my own experience working in the service industry, and by no means am I generalizing that these are the circumstances of every restaurant. However, you begin to pick up on themes after serving for a while.
“Anyone can be a server.” I’ve heard this assumption countless times. While this may be true to an extent, it does not mean that anyone should be a server. It requires time management because at any given moment, we are juggling 10 different tasks in our heads, all of which need to be completed as soon as possible. We must be able to cohesively work as a team, otherwise the restaurant would crumble to pieces. We have to consistently present an unlimited amount of energy in order to remain enthusiastic toward every customer, and move quickly and efficiently from one task to the next for the duration of the long shift. We ought to have tough skin to endure those customers that simply will not be happy, no matter how much we bend our backs attempting to make them hate us a little less. Attention to detail is important because we are expected to anticipate what the customers want before they ask. Most importantly, we need strong communication skills since that is, ultimately, our job: talking to customers. We do not have a script memorized to regurgitate to every table—rather, we must understand how to appropriately communicate with our different audiences, make them feel comfortable around us, hold a productive conversation, and know how to handle awkward situations (because those definitely happen).
“What’s your name again?” Customers have no idea how much we appreciate being called by our names! Of course we say it when we greet a table, but how often do the customers listen and, what’s more, care? Individuals’ own names are reportedly the most important word in the world to them. People develop connections quicker, are more attentive and alert, respond with an increased positive attitude, and feel downright special when someone addresses them by name. This applies to servers, as well. I’ve noticed I am an overall better server with a customer who says my name; I do not intentionally do it, it just happens. It feels demeaning when someone calls me “Waitress”—I understand not remembering, but to have such little consideration that I also am a person with a name is flat-out disrespectful. So please, make your server’s day and receive better service at the same time by knowing his or her name, even if it means asking them to repeat it halfway through your meal. I am willing to bet your server will break out in a smile while saying it.
“Serving isn’t considered a real job.” If working 14-hour shifts, making money to pay the bills and being held responsible for upholding a company’s reputation is not considered a “real job,” I don’t know what is. You don’t have to receive a degree for it, though the concept that it is not a good enough job to be taken seriously rubs me the wrong way. I work alongside talented, dedicated, intelligent and diligent individuals—why should they be looked down upon because they do not have a nine-to-five job? I admit, serving is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a dream job, except it is refreshing to interact with new people and work in an environment that revolves around a good time.
“You can’t wait to go out and party every night.” There are stereotypes about servers that place negative images on the job, especially about being partiers who drink too much and thrive off drugs. Yes, there are those individuals that exist in the restaurant industry, like there are at any other job. There also are the employees who work hard to support their families, pull all-nighters after work to study for upcoming exams, and have other jobs bright and early the next day. I recently dropped the bill for my last table of the evening while they were finishing their dessert and as I walked away, I overheard one customer say, “She must be impatient to go out tonight.” Perhaps I gave them their bill a little early, though I was actually stressed about completing two final research projects due the following morning, and I could not help but be offended I was judged in that manner due to my occupation. However, one of the first rules we learn in the service industry is that the customer is always right—even when they’re wrong. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I have had to bite my tongue, take a deep breath, and walk away.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Heads up, the answer will be “Yes” every time, no matter whether there is truth to it. It is the best method to avoid a guaranteed awkward conversation, which almost always leads to a lower tip. It is flattering to hear, but I am not looking for a relationship with a customer while I am at work, and trying to charm me when I have a full section is just not going to happen. In addition, it is funny when guys leave their phone numbers on the receipt (partially because we must turn all receipts in to our manager at the end of the shift) and tip poorly, not specify which of the six guys at the table he was, or make no attempt to reach out to me, like finding out my name, over the course of the last two hours. No one is that attractive.
“The food took too long.” Believe it or not, we do not cook your food and, therefore, we are not personally responsible for the amount of time it takes to go from being inputted on the computer to coming up ready at the expo line. I can go to the kitchen and tell the chefs to hurry up as much as I want, but it is not going to make them prepare it any faster when they have a dozen other food tickets (in fact, impatience is an effective way to make them less inclined to quicken their cooking pace). We know and understand that customers are hungry when they sit down at a restaurant, yet it is impolite to verbally attack and blame us, especially when you make it even worse with a tip giving the middle finger.
“You get to leave right after your last table.” I wish! We do not get to leave after our last table exits the building, or after we clean our stations, or after we polish glass and silverware. We do not even get to leave after we spend 30 minutes rolling silverware (last week, a customer was shocked when I informed him that is our responsibility—he had been under the impression for 20 years that restaurants get premade roll-ups delivered). We are allowed to clock out after we complete our checkout, give support staff their tips, and check in with the manager. I consider myself lucky if I am out of the restaurant 30 minutes after my last table leaves because usually it is an hour. You can imagine how much employees learn about each other as they roll silverware.
“15 percent is standard for tipping.” Um, no. If I receive a 15 percent tip, then I assume I provided poor service to the table. We make just over $4 an hour in Colorado and we tip our support staff about one-third of our tips from the shift. For most of us in the business, we live month-to-month and every dollar is important for us to eat more than our restaurant’s delicious yet unhealthy food and pay our rent in this beautiful but overpriced city. We strive for more than 20 percent tips, especially with tables we feel we made a connection with. There is nothing that will brighten a server’s day more than an unexpectedly high tip, but I doubt I need to tell anyone that.
“Are you always this happy?” There is a stage performance quality to serving and I’ve become aware that my public speaking skills have improved from needing to speak to tables where all eyes are on me. Positive attitudes are a key ingredient for any business, yet our attitudes influence our co-workers, the customers’ experiences, and the restaurant’s reputation. Wearing a smile is the most effective approach to receive better tips—and yes, there are certainly those days where smiling is the last thing we want to do. We will tell customers we are good when we are not because it is our duty to provide the customers with the experiences they pay for. However, remember that we are people, too, and if your server is not glowing with happiness, there may be an external issue in his or her life outside the walls of the restaurant. For the most part though, we are that happy—and it is our goal to make our customers even happier.