food for thought

Food for thought: Working in a restaurant

If you haven’t guessed by now, I love eating – I love sitting down to try a new food, the anticipation you feel in your stomach as you see your food come out as a restaurant and you can’t wait to try it, the initial first bite of a great meal and appreciating all of the complexities that went into building those flavors. I know what it’s like to eat, but I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of the culinary industry. I’ve worked with my mom as a server, chef assistant and bartender when she owned her catering company. I’ve also been a waitress and hostess at a few restaurants. I know all the hard labor that goes into making sure the customer enjoys their eating experience – it’s polishing silverware and wiping down tables before opening hours, double checking your plates to make sure everything is perfect before bringing them to your table, getting on your hands and knees after standing for 12 hours so you can disinfect the sides of the cabinets, and going home after working a double and dreaming about making sure your tables are okay (yes, that has happened to me).

What I’m basically trying to tell you is working in a restaurant is a lot of work. Sure, you think you know that, but you can’t fully understand it until you actually experience it and become immersed in the world of it. I genuinely enjoy waitressing and always have fun working. However, there are some things I believe people aren’t necessarily aware of who aren’t in the business and it can make your server’s life difficult. I’m not writing this to complain about, but more as a way to enlighten, those who don’t know what it’s like to work in a restaurant and do things that their servers won’t appreciate.

  1. Please don’t ask me if we serve something we clearly don’t have. For example, if our meat section of the menu has veal, chicken and beef dishes, please don’t ask me if we also serve pork chop. If it’s not there, then no we don’t have it. Also, don’t point to the seafood section and ask if that’s all the fish we have. If it’s not there under seafood, I promise you it’s not hiding in the dessert section.
  2. Understand substituting vegetables for pasta will be an up-charge. Your server should tell you, but if they forget don’t be mad when you see the menu – broccoli is inherently more expensive than pasta.
  3. If you see your server carrying and precariously balancing a bunch of plates, don’t keep trying to pile more dishes on them and expect them to be able to take them all. Also, please don’t come up to them while they’re walking with a bunch of plates and ask them to bring you something. Most of the time they’re just focusing on making it back to the kitchen without dropping the plates.
  4. If your food doesn’t come out exactly how you ordered it, it may not be your server’s fault so don’t take it out on them. Sometimes chefs get in a habit of doing certain things and will sprinkle basil on top of your pasta even if you said “no greens.” Plus, sometimes food runners bring the food out before the server gets to them, and the server is the one who knows what you ordered and can check the plate best.
  5. If you’re unhappy with something, please don’t be mean about it. We’re people too, and we’re not your servants. We genuinely want you to enjoy your time at our restaurant and we feel bad when mistakes happen. But mistakes are bound to happen – nobody is perfect.
  6. If we’re setting up a table for a large party, please don’t tell us how to do it, start making a bunch of suggestions and moving things yourself. The managers have a certain way they want us to set things up. No, we can not bring certain tables from other sections over to make your table longer. The ones we are using are the ones we are told to use by our boss.
  7. We love talking to customers, but when you start holding a very long conversation with your server, it’s awkward for us because we have other tables we need to tend to but we don’t want to be rude to you. Feel free to talk to us, but please keep it short.
  8. Just be nice, there’s no reason to be mean and talk down to us. And don’t assume you’re better and smarter than your server – we’re not dumb people by any means.
  9. Lastly, please tip us 20%. Unless your server was extremely rude or did something egregious, I truly believe all servers deserve 20%. It really is the only way we make our money because our hourly pay is very low.

If you’re a fellow server, I hope you sympathize on me with these. And if you don’t work in a restaurant, I hope this article helps you to better understand what it’s like being a server. It’s a job I love but resent at times – although I genuinely enjoy myself while serving, it is damn hard at times.

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