Everything about life learned via waitressing

I spent eight years of college waitressing. And it’s a good thing, because my step-and-fetch-it server skills have never come in handier than now that I am no longer in restaurant work.

During job interviews, I have been asked about which former job taught me the most. Usually, I’ve chosen to lie (something I learned extremely well while waitressing!) because I can tell the interviewers want some profound insight garnered from a white-collar, so-called “professional” position. But in reality, my most useful skills were restaurant-honed. Here are the top five:

  1. Taking Orders is Part of Life – The world is full of wannabe leaders and that’s because it’s far easier to be the leader than to be the follower of someone else’s cockamamie (now there’s a word you never see in print and probably didn’t know how to spell!) plans. But the habit of pulling out a pad and pencil and taking dinner dictation and accepting dictatorship taught me how to do the subservient thing for as long as I need to put up with someone else’s self-important nonsense. The line of shallow types wanting to be in charge never shortens.
  2. Faking Patience is Virtuous – I used to pray for patience, but my prayers green-lighted God sending me wait-requiring obstacles in the form of indecisive people, which begat patience. Here’s a sample exchange, my thoughts in parentheses. Diner: “Hmmm, should I have steak or seafood? I just don’t know. (If you don’t know, how could I possibly know?) What do you think I should have? (How about the steak?) Well, I really don’t think so. (So don’t freakin’ order it!) Do you think I should order the orange roughy instead? (I don’t really care, but I’ve got other tables to wait on.) It doesn’t taste really fishy, does it? (Duh! They call it fish for a reason.)  What are other people having? (Who cares!) What did I order the last time I ate here? (Let me go get the chart I keep on these things!) Did I like it? (I hate YOU!) Why don’t I have a drink while I decide? (I’m the one who needs a drink!) What wines are sold by the glass? (Far too many to name. And I have other customers.) I was thinking maybe Chablis, but it depends on what I have for dinner. Maybe I should go with beer, instead . . . (I think you should go somewhere else instead!) What would you do if you were me? (May I suggest self-harm?)
  3. Pseudeo-Enthusisam Will Suffice – Remaining silent is one thing, but saying something totally opposite what you’re feeling is an advanced skill. Working for tips requires the ability to disengage mouth from brain. Unless you’re serving at rudeness-themed Ed Debevic’s, you’d better swallow the smart remarks that are simply begging to be uttered, lest you find yourself out begging on the streets. Fortunately, smarmy customer servicy, pseudo-sincerity comes more easily over time: “You are going to be sooooo happy with that entrée!” Make a game of sounding as enthusiastic as a 1950’s children’s TV show host. In the interim, best to keep it zipped.
  4. Accurate People Reading Reigns – Most of the above is successful only following the proper reading of people. While it’s possible to read some folks like a book, others are more like a warning label: Highly Combustible! Best always to err on the side of respect when you need to discern whether you should call someone Sir, Mr. Smith or Bob (assuming that is the person’s name). Some people are just as offended to not be treated familiarly as others are offended when they’re not referred to as “sir.” Get this one right.
  5. Assumptions are Presumptuous – I quickly learned some diners viewed being complimentary to me as a suitable enough tip. Not okay, as my sub-minimum wage job wouldn’t pay the bills. Conversely, some people who looked and seemed like they couldn’t afford a tip or who literally gave me a run for my money ended up leaving enough to make up for the deadbeats. Treat everyone well.

There it is: everything to be successful as a restaurant server and citizen of the world.

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