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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

10 Ways That Being a Waiter Has Made Me a Better Person

Working in restaurants for the better part of two decades has done a lot for me. True, it has given me a life-long disdain of lemons in water but there are many positive aspects that have come out of slinging hash for this many years. As I get older, I realize that many of the things I have learned in restaurants have carried over to my regular life and made me a better person. Here are ten things that being a waiter has taught me:

  1. Save for a rainy day. When most of your income depends on fluctuating tips, you get pretty good at holding on to money once you have it. A really great Friday night shift where you walk home with $250 can be followed by a Saturday morning shift during a blizzard where no one comes in and you only make twenty bucks. Waiting tables has taught me how to count my pennies and save what I make because you never know when the financial rug will be pulled out from under you. Or when the only people who sit in your station are going to think a dollar is still a decent tip.
  2. How to make small talk. Going into any situation where you are surrounded by strangers can be difficult. Whether it's a party, a new job or a meeting, the first impression you make is a lasting one. Being a waiter has given me the skills to make conversation with anyone and everyone and I don't get nervous when I have to talk to strangers. It's as easy as asking them how they would like their burger cooked. When all else fails, compliment their outfit.
  3. Don't sweat the small stuff. There was a time when I was a newbie and I would run into the kitchen to stress out until the burger for table 12 was ready. One day, an older server told me something I will never forget: "It's just lunch. There will be another one tomorrow and there is no such thing as a lunch emergency." I have carried that calming thought outside of the restaurant. When I am stuck on the train or in traffic or in a long line at the store, all I have to remember is that in the scope of world events, this is probably not a very big deal.
  4. How to get along with others. A restaurant staff is ever-changing. People come and go and you never know who you will be working with each shift since it's very seldom that you have a set schedule. Because of that, some days you work with people you like and some days you don't. But working in a restaurant requires teamwork. Whether you like everyone or not, you still may need to ask someone to water your table and they will ask you to take some bread somewhere. You quickly figure out that it's easier to just get along than it is to not. Suck it up. You don't have to like everyone, but it's pretty easy to get along with everyone.
  5. Time management. Having a station full of people all needing things at the same time is a real lesson in making the best use of your time. If table 1 needs to have their cocktails rang in and table 2 needs more water and table 3 needs a spoon for their dessert that will be up any minute, you get real good at figuring out which one is the most important. (The spoon. Duh.)
  6. Multi-tasking. This goes right along with time management. If you ring in the drinks and then grab the water pitcher on your way to the side stand to get spoons, you can then drop the spoons at table 3, fill the waters at table 2 and then breeze by table 1 to tell them their drinks are on the way. This is handy in the real world at places like grocery stores, malls and while cleaning your apartment.
  7. A smile will get you far in life. When someone sits in my station and has a sour-puss look on their face and then tells me they want the happy hour price for their beer even though happy hour ended five minutes ago, I am not going to do it. In contrast, if someone is friendly and smiling and asks nicely, it is very possible that I will simply hit the happy hour beer price for them. A smile makes a huge difference.
  8. How to treat other people. Being in a position of subservience really teaches you how to treat others. When I am treated poorly, it's very obvious that the person doing the mistreating is used to having people to push around. I know what it's like to be told what to do and to never hear the words "please" or "thank you." When I am out in the real world, I make certain that I always make eye contact with anyone who is doing something for me and I make frequent use of "please and "thank you." We are all people and we all deserve to be treated kindly. Servers know that. Vice Presidents of big corporations? Not so much.
  9. Patience. It's not easy to have patience when a three year old at your table wants to order for herself. The mom is saying, "You can do it, honey. Tell the man what you want," but I can feel the stares of the four other tables who are needing my attention as well. Patience is learned and when your income is dependant on how patient and attentive you are, it's learned quickly. That's why when I am at the grocery store in the 10 Items or Less line stuck behind a senior citizen who has 15 items, I know to breathe deep and let it go. Patience is a virtue. Learn it.
  10. Good shoes. I am on my feet all day and the shoes I wear are very important to my health and well-being. Cheap shoes don't support your soles and they fall apart too soon. Waiting tables has taught me to spend the extra 25 bucks for the better shoes. They last longer, they look better, and they are more comfortable. Wear good shoes.

My point of writing this is to let everyone know that no matter what job you are in, there are things you can learn. These are just ten lessons from waiting tables. If you are a server, please share this and then share the lessons you have learned from your job. Every job can teach us something that can make us better people. We just have to open our eyes and recognize what it is we are being taught.

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Erin a.k.a. Ms. Morgan said...

I LOVE this! I'm a teacher and I can so relate! High five for encouraging others to be decent and take the high road.

Andrea said...

I think another good one would be that you can't please everybody. You can pour on the charm and bend over backwards for a customer, but they may still complain and treat you like shit, because they are a miserable person.

Don't take it personally and don't let it ruin your day!

It can be hard to shrug off, but once you get a few of these scenarios under your belt it gets easier. Alcohol after your shift helps as well....

Evan said...

Having been in this business 30+ years, I have realized the importance of "shrugging it off". One way to do it is to vent to other employees, but never within earshot of guests. This method helps keep your temper in check when approaching the next table, so you arrive without that chip on your shoulder. Sharing tales of work, both good and bad is a great stress reliever.

The Artist Formerly Known As Bagel Fairy said...

All good lessons. This is exactly what service professionals mean when they say that everyone should have to wait tables, bag groceries, work a register, etc. in their lives. It's easy to focus on the negative when one is talking about jobs like this, but when you look back, they really do give you thicker skin and make you a better human overall. I used to barely be able to greet customers and fell apart when people were unkind to me; now I can volley a conversation with just about anyone, and have some perspective when others are rude.

papa said...

I'm a Senior citizen.....I'm not saying thank you or please again......I'll just give my waitress a hug especially if it's Saint Agnes.....Whoa Nellie>>>>>.....Papadia

Jake said...

There are two things you never skimp on when it comes to the price of, because you often spend 12+ hours per day in them; and a matress, because you SHOULD be spending almost 8 hours in it.

So much time spent should have the proper investment.

Practical Parsimony said...

I disagree with #8. People don't push other people around because they are accustomed to pushing people around. Sometimes, the person is always treated poorly and needs someone to kick. However, it all boils down to plain rudeness or politeness. A CEO can be rude or sensitive to how to treat service people. Poor people skills know no boundaries.

When I was 18, I was working a cash register at TG&Y, and a man was rude to me. I cried.I did not cry because he was rude. I cried because he refused to sign the slip that said he changed his mind about a purchase. My register would be lacking a reason that money was not there.

Believe me, I was not sobbing, just tears and a cry face with downturned mouth and red eyes. After that, no one made me cry.

jnana said...

Great valuable lessons!

Maria said...

Terrific post!

Fleur said...

I love this post. Much of what you've written relates to my own job.

Little Miss Twenty Something said...

Great post. I really like, "It's just lunch" comment.

Lisa said...

I love that alot of people really look down on waiters/waitresses and bartenders, as if we're not judging them on their complete lack of manners and social skills.

I'm a chef these days, so I only get to hear about our customers through my waitress, who I think must be your female, UK alter ego :D

Tipping is awful over here, we did 47 covers for lunch and got zero tips...yep, not. a. penny. Not through bad service, my waitress rocks, but seriously we only ever get tips over here when the holiday crowds turn up in the summer. Still, they get the same awesome service as if they showered us in gold pieces everytime they walked in - because in our industry, it's all about being professional.

TheRealBarman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheRealBarman said...

Good post, BW. Just last night I replied to a comment from someone who had read my "Don't Look Now But Your Server Hates You" post and he was telling me that it goes both ways, that he can't stand rude, slow servers who don't do their job. I told him I agreed with him, and that I wasn't standing up for the lazy ones. We servers and bartenders are like protective cops with each other, but if you suck and you aren't doing your job, you're on your own.

Keep it rollin'.


Anonymous said...

To boil it all down, 2 rules:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.

2. It's all small stuff.