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How is it that people expect to be treated like their so important above all others when they go out to eat? My time is equally spent patroning bars and restaurants as it is working in a bar/restaurant/blues club.
When I go out all I ask is that the server/bar tender doesn’t ignore me. Sounds simple enough, right? I think it’s an especially lax standard of expectation, with plenty of leeway. Waiting tables isn’t the hardest job in the world but it is easy to suck at, so every server still has to try.
When I’m at work I like to make myself present to my tables. I don’t hide in the back unless I know that I’m not wanted. Looming servers are almost as obnoxious as vacant ones. I’m aware of timing, taking responsibility for food and drinks so that customers get them asap, even though I’m not the one preparing them. And when I’m busy, I mentally organize my duties into a routine of efficiency. It’s a three step system that should provide me and my customers the sense of being looked after and timeliness. It goes menu, drinks, food.
The most important thing to do when a customer sits down is drop menus. It let’s them know you see them and also gives you the chance to walk away and get back to the other five other tables already in dinner service motion.
Drinks allows you to say hi, get them started, and talk a little. Ask them if they have questions and they’ll feel you’re at their service. The bar tender will make your drinks and that will, again, give you time to do the next thing for someone else.
Food may take up the most of your time. Sometimes you’ll bring the drinks and your table will say they’re ready but end up taking ten minutes going back and forth between the crab cakes or grilled salmon. Just don’t let it show that you want scream at them to choose already.
Now, there is plenty of room for error in this system, and it is most likely to occur when someone at one of your tables believes he is given the rite to be demanding. There have been times when I’m listening to a table tell me what they’d like and someone at the table next to me will start tapping my shoulder, as if I had a conjoined twin who could take on talking to them while I write orders down. No you moron, you’re making my job more difficult by distracting me. Not to mention, it’s fucking rude!
Or there’s the customer who sees me with a tray full of drinks, yet still want’s to order the entirety of their meal while I’m straining to keep the martinis from sploshing. Clearly I can’t write your order down when I’m preforming this circus trick, and no I won’t remember it. Some servers are good at remembering things. I’m ok, but my mind has like a four note capacity mental clipboard. I’d rather write it down.
Another is the table of serial requests. Every time you bring them something, another person asks for something else. Still you’ve got to bring it to them.
What these demanding people don’t understand is that from the point at which they reveal to me their lack of consideration and expectancy of audacious priority I will only begin to avoid them. It may not make sense. Why abandon needy customers only to make them feel unattended? Because now, I don’t care about twenty percent from them. The ten other tables will hopefully make up for it. And also, I don’t like being ordered around. I’m a server, not a servant. There’s a big difference. If someone doesn’t respect how I do my job that’s their thing. I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that my way is damn good. Since I can’t stop and say, “hey, I know you’re ready to order, but I’ve got ten other tables here too,” avoiding them seems to be the only way to send a message.
I’m back folks. I know, it’s been too long. Summer happened. Some serious sleeping and HBO Go watching had to occur for me to get back writing again. Really though, I’m glad it’s over with because I’ve had some serious gripes about working in the service industry lately. Last Saturday night was one of the most bipolar nights ever.
It truly felt as if my night was flip-flopping like a series of coin tosses. I went into work on a high note. It was Saturday and I was first cut. I didn’t have any plans for after my shift yet but the possibility of some Saturday night life had me enthusiastic to get in there and get it over with.
Upon arrival I learned that the new girl was running late. She didn’t get there till almost eight o’clock which meant what was normally a three waitress night started off with only two during our first rush. Our dining area seats thirty three tables, with four chairs at each one. That means between two people, each waitress is potentially responsible for sixty six people at once. Every last seat was filled by seven. I don’t even want think about the number of orders I had to take, waters to fill, trays of drinks to carry, leftovers to box, and so on. I was flying around like a maniac until about ten when the lights went down and the band started. I didn’t mind it too much. I got a huge boost in my turnover and the first few hours of the night went like feeding broom sticks to a wood chipper. It was just unexpected.
Of course, there were more surprises to come. I got to wait on the Heineken rep and his family. I knew there’d most likely be a nice tip at the end, since most beer reps like to come in and buy pints of their product for just about everyone in the place, and all of its added to their bill. All I had to do was keep them coming. At the end of the night I was baffled to see a one-zero-zero in the tip space. That far exceeded twenty percent! Definite heads!
Unfortunately, my elation didn’t make it to the end of the shift. I got swindled. Fucking traveler’s checks! I had a table of two gentlemen. One American, one European. They sat down together, both ordering the same beer at the same time. Hours later, USA asks for the bill. I print it and set it at the table. Moments later, I see a credit card. I run it, return it, and thank them. End of transaction. Maybe five minutes later, Euro dude comes up to me as I’m running off another bill. He tells me he wanted to pay for his tab. I told him his friend already covered it. He insisted I reopen the tab and let him pay for his beers.
Note: If you know you want me to make two separate bills, say something at the start of the night! I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know if you’re on a date, out on business, or if it’s friend’s birthday, in which case it may be awkward for me to ask you. I keep it old school. In fact, most servers do. If you sit down with another person to enjoy a meal and a drink in their company the two of you can work out who pays what yourselves. If you need me to do it for you, speak up!
So I go grab a manager to reopen the check. As the manager and I are doing this Euro dude tells us he wants to pay with a traveler’s check. I honestly didn’t think we accepted them, but then and there I am told by management I am wrong. The guy hands me a hundred dollar traveler’s check. I am told to treat it like a hundred dollar bill. My manger looks at it and points out it’s authorized in the wrong place. Euro dude says he has another one. A couple minutes later he returns, signs the check correctly, and I make change on a hundred. About twenty minutes later, I look at the check again and see it’s for $50. I pretty much gave the guy a free night out and an extra fifty bucks. At least my manager felt bad for not catching it himself and split it in half. I went from thinking the night was a win to a draw. It’s funny how the universe has a way to balance itself out like that. I can only hope it did the same for Euro dude.
Time for another outlandish story about working in the service industry. This was a few years back when I was still working at Italian restaurant number two. It was my boss’ birthday. He decided to host another open bar party with some friends and coworkers. It started towards the end of the dining evening. Then when the last paying customer was gone, we locked the door, set the ashtrays on the bar, and proceeded to smoke and drink, late into the night. My boss was so cool about this kind of stuff as long as you were respectful, never expected it, and helped clean at the end of the night. I have some good memories from working for him for the five years that I did. I’d probably have more if I wasn’t getting so blitzed all the time. We all were.
So on this night, my boss’ birthday, two guys show up banging on the door after we’ve turned off the front lights and bolted the door. Somebody went around from the back and talked to them. Apparently it was some guy my boss used to know years back. Someone he’d kind of come up with when he first started working as a chef. He was a little guy with blond hair and glasses. With him was this other dude. He was taller with greasy black hair and side burns, and he looked like he’d slip Rohypnol in your drink if you weren’t careful. You could tell, from the energy they brought to the party, they were tweaking on some shit.
I really wasn’t paying them any mind. That is until… I notice my boss who’d been standing behind the bar, lean forward on his palms, right up into the face of Rufie guy and say, “Get the fuck out of my restaurant,” in a calm and quiet manner. The guy must have thought he’s kidding so he said it again, “Get the fuck out.” His blond friend wasn’t around to back him up. My boss, who is Goliath compared to this guy just kept staring him down until he finally got up from his seat and walked to the back and out the door.
Now the fun had been sucked out of the party and I could tell it was time to go. Myself, my coworker KP and our buddy Gov all decided to leave together, out the back into the small parking lot. Gov troted off toward the dumpsters to take a piss, and KP and I continued to walk towards the street. That’s when we ran into Rufie guy. He was drunk and soar about getting kicked out.
“That guy is a fucking asshole and his food sucks,” he yelled at us. He was totally looking for a fight.
“Just ignore him,” I said to KP, looking him hard in the eyes.
Of all the dudes I know who crack off at the slightest drunken challenge, KP was the quickest. Thankfully, he just told the guy to fuck off. Still the tension was high. KP and I kept walking in our direction away from him, but the back and forth continued. Then Gov comes out around from the parking lot, walking right past Rufie guy, totally unaware of the spat that was taking place. The guy grabbed him across the chest from behind and whipped out a box cutter, putting it to his neck. We charged towards the guy. This time I’m yelling the loudest, “What the fuck are you doing? You need to go to bed.”
KP joined me, “Go the fuck home!”
Poor Gov didn’t move. The guy had this look of clarity come over his face, as if just realizing his own actions. He let Gov go and gave us one last, “Fuck you,” as he headed off toward the opposite direction. Not one minute later, a cop car drove by on patrol.
Friday night, I gave my shift away so I could go to a rap show. A week earlier, my good friend Nancy brought it to my attention that one of our favorite rappers was coming through, Andre Nickatina. He’s an underground rapper from San Francisco. His beats are a culmination of true Bay Area sound and experimental shit like somber notes of a cello. He is the only rapper I’ve listened to that rhymes the word “calico”. We used to bang his tunes in our cars, while ditching high school to smoke weed and get Wendy’s drive-through. I’d never seen him perform but he was definitely on my bucket list of musicians to see before I (or more likely, they) die.
So Friday we had plans to make a date out of it. Around 3 in the afternoon I received an email from the website where I’d bought the ticket telling me to get there promptly at 9pm because the opener would start at 9:15 and Andre Nickatina would go on at 10. “Don’t be late” was the last line of the email. Strange, I thought. Probably a ploy to trap us in there and make us pay ungodly prices for weak drinks the whole night. No show, especially a rap show, actually starts on time. But, Nancy and I had finished dinner with plenty of time to foot it to the train and be there by 9, so we did.
I hadn’t been to the club in a long time—and when I say the club, I mean da cluuub. It was the kind of place white kids normally wouldn’t go to, and I’d heard that about this place in particular. I was a little relieved I’d worn a skirt. My usual black jeans woulda looked too scruffy for a venue like this. But then again there were only 30 people in there when the show started.
I couldn’t believe this stage. When we walked into the main room we saw I huge half circle bar on one side, a wide space in the middle, and various little VIP areas roped off against the wall on the other side. We both had the same thought, where is the stage? Maybe some other doors would open to another room? Maybe this was where they’d planned on holding us till the show started?
I went up to the bar and ordered a beer and a shot for myself and a vodka tonic for Nancy. I decided to put it on my card but not keep it open. They added 20% gratuity automatically. Nice for the bartenders! Especially since the 3 drinks cost over $20. I still tipped an extra buck, cuz that’s just how I roll. I asked the chick serving us where the stage was. She pointed up behind her.
It was fairly strange standing and waiting for the show to start and just staring at the four bartenders doing nothing. You weren’t quite sure what the pretenses were for designing a club like this. I suppose it provided a layer of security. But what happens if the place is really packed and you want a drink but no one lets you to the front? Stage diving is totally out of the question. What would Method Man do if he ever had to play a show here? Even the first artist, Prof, was bugged out by the arrangement. That is until someone bought him a shot and the bartender waved till she got his attention to give it to him. I would’ve liked to ask the bartenders how they liked working this way but they seemed to be in cranky bartender mode so I did not.
The show started and you sort of forgot about the four bored looking people in black shirts several feet in front of you. The stage was at least 10 feet off the ground so you didn’t really have to look at them. The email wasn’t lying either. They blew through the first performance to leave enough time for Andre Nickatina. I guess some company had bought out the club for a birthday party so the show had to be over by 11. The crowd who’d came to see Andre Nickatina was definitely not this club’s usual clientele—a lot of barely drinking age white boys, probably Prof fans. As it got closer to 11 the VIP sections began filling up with black women in their mid to late twenties, looking all fly.
Every time a group sat in their respective VIP area, a waitress would come out with a bottle of Grey Goose that had a fucking roman candle strapped to it. What a stupid gimmick. I’d truly hate walking through a dark and crowded night club with a firework tapped to the neck of the bottle I was carrying. And then it happened. I didn’t see it, I was in the bathroom, but I did see the poor girl come in crying. Her hair had caught fire. The poor thing was wetting paper towels and blotting them on the ends of her long black hair. I couldn’t tell if she worked there or not. Either way, that’s really fucked up. You can’t open flaming bottles of booze and be expected to look your sexiest. Hair products are flammable too. And if you’d actually paid to get into the club that night and an employee was being that careless, you’d better get compensated somehow. That girl was devastated. If that were me I’d expect free cover charge for life or something like that, or I’d find a way to get even. I wonder what the health department would say?
Back in the main room, the whole place reeked of the girl’s burnt hair. It was so bad they propped the emergency exits open.
The show ended, and despite the strangeness of the venue and the rushed performances we had a pretty good time. I was just bummed Nicky didn’t play “Daiquiri Factory”.
Not the best photo, I know, but it gives you an idea of the stage with the bar in front of it.
Attention morons! Some of you, not all of you, but some of you seem to have a very distorted understanding of what is an acceptable way to tip the cocktail waitress. So here I have come up with the worst ways I have ever personally been “handed” a tip. If you find that you’re guilty of any of these scenarios you can thank me for providing you with the knowledge of bettering yourself. And if you disagree with me, you can walk your ass to the bar and get your damn drinks yourself.
Number Five: The One-time-fiver. Cocktail waitressing operates on a basic psychological principle: command and reward. You order the drink and I bring it to you for a tip. Some of you out there seem to think that if you order your first drink and tip me five dollars you don’t have to tip me for the rest of the evening. Not so. You should tip any time I bring you a drink, unless it’s water. Not to mention, you’re tipping big with false pretenses. You’re right, that big five dollar tip is going to give me something to remember you buy. But if I’m there for you the moment you slurp the last of your vodka soda with a fresh one ready, you better show some appreciation with at least a buck. Otherwise, I’ll feel like I’ve been had. I’d rather have you ask for singles and tip in singles throughout the course of the evening than run drinks to you for no reward.
Number Four: Large order, small tip. Most people don’t tip the cocktail waitress 20%. Usually, I have to qualms with this fact. A dollar a drink is standard. But if you’re standing with a group of fifteen people and you decide to pay for the round yourself to look like a hotshot in front of your buddies or coworkers, you should tip 20%. Five bucks on a $60 total aint cool with me, man. I’m fast at simple math. I damn well know if I’d collected from people individually I’d have made three times that much. Now I fucking hate you.
Number Three: Change. No server ever wants coin change. Ever! OK, maybe for laundry, but DO NOT assume that. I know that some of the prices are obnoxious, $6.50 for a pint of Guinness, but that doesn’t mean you can hand me $7, take the 2 quarters I give you, then hand them back. Back to what I said earlier, the standard is a dollar. I guess I wouldn’t mind 4 quarters since you may not want them either. Just make sure you’re tipping a whole buck.
Number Two: No tip. Fuck you. Where I work we get a lot of foreigners who don’t tip. Well guess what, your in America. See if I come back around and take your order again. I don’t care how blatant you’re being. I’ll look you in the eye, but I’m not coming back to take you’re drink order.
Number One: The stripper tip. Thank God this has only happened once. As I’ve often talked about on this blog, some people don’t know how to drink. I may be a young female working a job you think is not honorable, or what ever chauvinistic spin you want to put on cocktail waitressing, but you have no right to touch me. Especially with money. Don’t shove it in my back pocket or in my apron. I don’t care if my hands are full, you can give it to me in a minute. And don’t EVER put that shit down my shirt. You’re ass will be gone faster than taking that first sip of the drink I just brought you.
I’m going to let you in on something I do when I’m at work and when I’m out at the bar. When my shift is almost over and the club is closing, the lights go up and impatient door guys begin to herd lingering patrons towards the door. This is when I’ll do it. I’ll walk up and down the rows of tables inspecting the ground in search of any forgotten item. Sometimes it’s a dollar, sometimes $20! And sorry to break it to ya, but it ain’t goin in the lost and found.
Bar floors are like a sprawling Where’s Waldo page for cash. People are dropping money more often than you might think. And unless I see the person drop it I’m not going to feel morally obligated to find out who’s it is and give it back. Mine now. Although one time, James (one of the door guys I work with) found a bank envelope with around $500 in it. He kept it safe at the front where the merch booth is and a woman came up and claimed it. As dumb as she was to drop or forget her rent money (which she said it was) I’m glad James gave it to her. But that’s James. If that were me, I don’t know if I’d do it. I’m sure plenty of people would say this is wrong or bad karma. Oh well, their loss.
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