The low point in my waitressing life happened several years ago at a high-end steakhouse.
A party of six sauntered in and crammed into one of the plush, leather booths. High-maintenance from the get-go, they demanded complicated revisions to the menu and asked for their steak well-done. Since 99.9% of all chefs prefer to serve steak bloody and pink, asking them to char the thing is a great way to push their buttons. In other words, the next thing you know, you’re hiding behind the espresso machine, so you can stifle your tears before heading back into the battleground that is dinner rush.
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We were already down one server, so after an hour of catering to this table’s every whim, I was elated to see that they’d licked their plates clean. “Can I get you anything else?” I asked, praying that the answer was “no.” Instead, one of the guys declared, “The food wasn’t very good. We want it taken off our bill.”
“Oh, well I wish that you would have told me sooner,” I said as calmly as possible, while eyeing their clean plates. “It seems like you really enjoyed it.” They were a little shifty. Were they high on coke?
“Get the manager,” one of them spat out. I mentally traced a path back to my hiding spot behind the espresso machine, but went to get the manager instead. When we returned, they had vanished—and left me without a tip. My manager comforted me by saying, “You’ll have to cover half of their bill.”
Why You Shouldn’t Look Down on Waitressing
I know. Most kids don’t sit at a restaurant with their parents and wistfully declare, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up,” while watching a server refill their water glasses. Waiting tables is usually thought of as a temporary gig that will help you earn some extra cash as a student or pay the bills when you’re trying to launch a singing career. At the very worst, it’s looked upon as an embarrassing last resort before unemployment.
A Rutgers study called “Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession” found that four in ten grads were working in fields that did not require a degree, which likely means that there are a lot of well-educated baristas and servers out there. So this doesn’t have to be the Doomsday scenario that the media sometimes makes it out to be.
So despite all of the negative stereotypes that surround waitstaff—and my own challenging moments as a server, as evidenced by the steakhouse eat-and-bolt drama—I can still say that it can be a positive—even a great—experience.