Two years ago I was having a conversation with two of my regulars at the family style restaurant I work at. They were making their third visit of the weekend (seriously, they’ve become like family) and I was on the verge of a major hissy fit. It had been an afternoon filled with bad tippers and parents who thought their kid mashing peas into the carpet was charming. Unable to hide my frustration that day, the couple asked me what was wrong. I vented and they listened, laughing at my overly dramatic recap of the day’s events. “Seriously, once I graduate, I’m done with all of this,” I told them. The husband looked at me over the cup of coffee I had just poured him and raised an eyebrow with a mischievous grin on his face. “Sarah, after you graduate you’ll still be here whining to us about the same old stuff.”
I was furious. How dare he tell me that? The idea of waiting tables after graduating at that point in my life was just not acceptable. I’d have a degree and be moving onto bigger and better things. I didn’t want to work my tail off in school to remain a waitress. Those words of my regular would spur me on to work harder in every area of my life in order to reap the rewards and prove him wrong. Yet, here I am, less than four months away from college graduation and planning on keeping my waiting job for another year. The thing is, I’ve come to really appreciate this part of my life and now realize the pivotal role it plays in doing what it is I actually want to do with my first year out of college. With the perks of great money and awesome flexibility in my schedule, I’m going to continue waitressing in order to fund traveling that I won’t be able to do once I’m on the career path.
When I started to plan out how I would approach this article, I asked my friends for help. “Send me your best and worst server stories!” I implored. To a certain level, all servers have experienced the same type of bad- rude customers, awkward situations involving customer’s bodily fluids, unwelcome flirtations, spills, etc. The list goes on. There were two problems that kept arising that I would like to bring attention to briefly.
The first, bad tipping. I know that there are hundreds of articles out there that preach why tipping is important, so I’m not going to weigh you down with another speech, but I will remind you the general points made by said articles. The average waiting salary is just over $3 dollars an hour, so there are many weeks where I get paychecks that actually say $0.00. Eating out is not a necessity; it’s a luxury. You are paying for me to act as your servant for the next hour or so. If you can afford to drop over 50 dollars on a meal, there’s a high chance you can afford to leave a decent tip. Bad service is definitely a real thing, but I beg that before you write your server off as just terrible at their job that you consider maybe they’re having an awful day. This leads me to problem number two- the idea that the person delivering you your food is not a person at all.
Sometimes, it truly feels like customers think that you’re a robot that doesn’t go home and have a life, but instead shuts off and doesn’t exist between shifts. A number of people wrote to me about how insulting it is when a customer starts making demands before you can even get a polite greeting out of your mouth. There have been multiple times where a member of a party I’m waiting on will catch my attention, look me directly in the face and ask me if I could send over their waitress.
Honestly, I expected that stories revolving around bad tips, mean customers and highly embarrassing moments would outweigh the good and that my inbox would explode with people venting their frustrations but I was caught off guard. Yes, everyone had a horror story to relate, but it seemed that more oft than not, people were more excited to share with me the good stuff. Because servers tend to have many bad experiences, a lot of people quit, but a lot don’t. And it’s the why these people don’t that needs to be looked at. There’s something there that makes a few brave souls keep putting on that apron and constantly trying to get grease stains out of their uniform. I could share with you all the bad, but I won’t. We all have our stuff to whine about, but it’s what puts a smile on our faces that counts.
Some people had superiorly generous customers, others learned great stories from random strangers who needed an ear to listen and then there’s always the flattery that comes with obtaining regulars. For many of the people I talked to, it was about the small but significant differences they were able to make in their customer’s lives. From growing to care so much for regulars that their waitress would send them grocery and gas cards to receiving receipts with notes expressing gratitude for so much patience and kindness towards a man dealing with a brain tumor, I’ve come to realize that waiters and waitresses go above and beyond for the strangers who sit at their table, and that there are many customers out there who are eagerly willing to reciprocate. The vast majority of customers are pleasant and make the job easy, but it’s the customers who transgress the customer/server line in a friendly way that bring something special to the table. When someone sees you as a person and not just as the person providing refills, it’s a really wonderful added bonus.
What makes the job worth it is the experiences you gain, both good and bad. Each experience- every story, every person that remembers you, every time you make a mistake or are insulted by someone who doesn’t know you- they help you to grow as a person. Through waiting tables you will come to learn how to handle the most obscene of situations and how to interact with every type of person out there. The people who sit at your table and recognize you as another person, engage in conversation with you and try to learn even the tiniest bit about you in a small amount of time are the people who make every bad tip or nasty remark worth it. There will be bad days and there will be good days and each one makes you a stronger and more knowledgeable person for it. A job that I took for granted two years ago, I appreciate more than I ever have before. It’s not always steady and it’s not always easy, but it’s a job that everyone should have. You’ll be surprised at what you come not only to learn about yourself but about others as well.
Like with any other job, we are not confined to a title. We are not just waiters and waitresses. What vague labels! We are students, parents, spouses, grandparents, teachers, coaches, dancers, writers, artists, inventors, travelers, horse enthusiasts, adventurers and overall interesting people who get to spend a part of our day getting to interact with other interesting people. My regular was right in that I won’t be bidding my waitressing days adieu immediately after graduation, and for that I am glad. I still have some learning to do.