A Day In The Life of a Waiter

 A couple of weeks after I started working at the restaurant, a fellow server asked me if I’d change sections with him.  I was new and didn’t know any better so I said yes.  Well to be honest with you, the reason I said yes was because it was in the main dining room and I wouldn’t have to go up and down stairs.  We were very busy that night and I made (I’m so tired as I write this that I just spelled “made” m-a-i-d.  Perhaps I should go to bed?) a small fortune.

The particular section that I was in, is considered the “cocktail” section.  What this means is that the people I’m waiting on sit at high top, cocktail tables.  They are offered the same menu and the same service as the rest of the restaurant.  This section is not, however, part of the host’s rotation.  The customers either seat themselves, or I go into the lobby and tell a group of people that they can skip the wait list (sometimes over two hours long) and come sit down immediately.  Most people agree to do this, although occasionally people don’t want to sit at the high tables.

This system works okay, especially when we are busy.  The tables are constantly filled and often people sit down to be waited on before the leaving patrons have put their coats on.  What this means is that the tables tend to turn a lot faster and you can get people in and out the door pretty quickly.  When we are on a wait, only people who are eating can sit at these tables.  If you are in just to drink, then you should sit at the counter (also part of the section) or at the bar.  This insane pace means that you work a lot harder and faster than most of the other servers but you also make more money than they do.

After that first night, I went to the server manager and told her that she could schedule me in cocktails anytime she wanted.  I loved the pace and more than anything I loved the money.  She took this to heart and now I’m only scheduled in the cocktail section.  This makes me very happy because I make more money, and it make the managers happy because I do a good job.  You would think that everyone would want to work in these sections based on the sales numbers and the tips you make.  But it’s far from the truth.  There really are only about 10 servers who will work there.  For most, the pace is just to fast and you have to work way to hard.  And this is what I love.  At any given moment I have 7 to 10 checks open, getting people what they want.  I also discovered that if I tip the bartenders well at the end of the night, they’ll make my drinks first.  So if you order a drink from me, it will be on your table in three to four minutes.  So I work hard and make a lot of money.

And so why am I telling you all of this.  Well as I mentioned, if no one sits down immediately at one of my tables I go into the lobby and find people to fill the chairs.  A couple of nights ago, I pulled four women out of the group and gave them a table.  They were a hoot.  One of them was from New Orleans and the rest of them were from Nashville.  They gave me a hard time, and I gave them one right back.  We spent the hour they were with me doing a lot of laughing.  At one point I walked up to the table and they said, “Can we ask you a question?” I said, “Sure”.  ” Why did you pick us, out of all the people in the lobby, to come sit at your table?”  I took a deep breath and said, “I can’t tell you.”  The laughed but were persistent.  Finally I said, “It’s because as I walked by you, you were speaking English without an accent.”

What followed was a lot of questions about my answer.  I explained to them that we get a lot of foreign tourists, and although most know to tip, a lot either just don’t do it, or aren’t aware they are supposed to.  Either way, I’ll take my chances with an American table any day.  The question I have is:  “Is it wrong to think this way.”  I was talking to a couple of waiters the other night at a bar, and the discussion turned to people who tip.  And the consensus of the group was that the minute you start waiting tables it makes you think in ways that you don’t always approve of.

There are certain groups of people who tend to not tip well.  I realize it’s a generalization but when you work in a restaurant long enough you see the consistency enough to realize that the stereotypes don’t create themselves.  People who order their steaks well done don’t tip as well as people who order them medium rare.  Smokers tip better than non-smokers.  Anyone who uses 1000 island dressing isn’t going to tip well.  If they order Long Island Teas they don’t tip as well as if they order Dewars on the rocks.  Anyone who orders a Strawberry Daiquiris isn’t going to tip well.  If they use their AAA discount they are going to leave 10% or less.  If they get something for free they won’t tip as well as if they didn’t.  Lesbians don’t tip as well as gay men.  Black people don’t tip as well as white people.  Foreigners don’t tip as well as Americans.   People from the south don’t tip as well as northerners.  Baptists don’t tip as well as Jews.  The Irish don’t tip as well as the Londoners.

I could go on.  I have been in the restaurant business off and on since 1987 and all of these generalizations still hold true.  And what that means, is that I walk into the lobby and I make decisions about who I want to sit in my section based on what people look like.  How they speak.  What they are wearing.  How they are behaving.  All because at the end of the hour they spend with me, I want them to leave the most amount of money possible.  And I hate that I do this.  I hate that I’m reduced to this.  But then again I need to pay my rent.

So what are your thoughts on this.  I’d love to hear what you guys think.


5 thoughts on “A Day In The Life of a Waiter

  1. Kelly Stern January 6, 2008 / 08:43

    After years in the service industry and dealing with folks, you generalizations are dead on. I hate to have to say that. I hate that people stereotype, but it happens. Are you wrong to think that way, not really. But do you have do have to make a living. But isn’t it nice on those occassions when you have a table and you think you will work your ass off for nothing, that you get surprised and they leave you the best tip of the night… stranger things have happened

  2. Lemuel January 6, 2008 / 09:37

    I do not fault you on this approach at all. As you stated, you work harder in this section. Your hard work should be rewarded. You are “in business”, it is a fact of “business” life, whether we like it or not, that the customer who spends the bucks get the attention – whether it is office supplies or food.

    I am also guessing from a customer perspective (especially tourists in NYC) that many of them want a regular table so that they can rest and chat. I’m not sure that they prefer a high cocktail table and quick in and out. I’m not sure that non-Americans go for such.

    If you have developed the knack to spot the folks who are happy to have a cocktail table and your friendly and speedy service – AND are grateful enough to reward you for your efforts – go for it!

    (Now my only question is… how do I get a cut of the night’s take? 😉 )

  3. urspo January 6, 2008 / 19:05

    i have never waited tables so i am no expert – yet i have heard your generalizations from other people, so there is probably some truth to it all.
    ever stop to literally write down the data to see if your emotional impression = objective data?

    a cocktail waitress usually has a frilly frock by the way….

  4. Kai March 19, 2010 / 00:41

    I certainly see your point. Stereotypes do exist for a reason, after all. And I would see where there is reason to use your tactic at times, but personally I would not be so quick to make the generalizations…not because it’s immoral or anything. It just seems like too much of a hassle to differentiate between so many people, by observance of appearance, language, personality, etc. After all, as you implied, you’re being overworked enough as it is, with so many people coming and going. Maybe at times it would just be easier and better to not contemplate personalities of customers and simply take their orders. But I’m not in the business, and I’m sure you know it better than I do. Your method may be more efficient, and I see nothing morally wrong with it; it’s merely a calculated deduction, my dear Watson….

  5. ish May 5, 2010 / 14:00

    im a wedding server and banquet server and i get tipped once a month if im lucky lol

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