I was waiting on a middle-aged gentleman at my bar the other day for lunch, when he asked me a question regarding my boss. Not knowing how to answer this particularly personal question, I simply responded, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m just a waiter.”
My response then prompted him- in some effort of great wisdom- to reply, “You don’t just do anything. Never say that you’re just a waiter-“ smiled and signaled for his bill as he took a sip of his iced tea.
I knew what this man was trying to say, and I couldn’t agree more- don’t sell yourself short. But this was clearly a comment made by a man whose sole affiliation with a restaurant has been as a patron, not a waiter. What resulted from this well-intended comment was serious inner thought. For had this man ever worked in a restaurant, he too would then know that yes, most of us are just waiting.
Being a waiter at any establishment enables certain luxuries: discount on food, fast cash and most of all flexible scheduling. The scheduling aspect of the job is ideal for many walks of life from starving artist to ambitious student; from vagabond to just plane party animal. Regardless of life outside the workplace, everyone inside workplace is just waiting.
One with two brain cells will have noticed the double entendre in the previous sentence: “just waiting.” Yes, we in the wait staff world are in fact, just waiting. Waiting not only on insatiable god-forsaken patrons- but worse, waiting on ourselves where time can be an infernal madhouse.
In my restaurant, what the staff is just waiting for can be divided into three simple categories:
1) GRE scores, acceptance letters from schools and graduation.
2) An interview for the dream job.
3) Closing time to hit the bars and hit up a dealer.
Motives in other restaurants of course, may vary. As I sit on a patio for lunch in Los Angeles, the wait staff is seemingly just waiting to get that audition, be discovered, get their follow-up appointment at the “doctor” (L.A-speak for a plastic surgeon), or pay the hostess to seat the “it” person in their section, so as to casually present both their bill and demo/script in their lap.
“I swear, if it gets picked up- I’ll cast you as hot barista #2.”
My observational findings in smaller towns is far more simple, but of equal magnitude. Waiters are just waiting to have their baby, get promoted or eagerly anticipating a siting of a rumored flying saucer- all life changing experiences.
What remains the same in the industry of waiting, no matter where you are in the world, are two thematic tendencies: the incessant declaration of confidence that one could run “this place” better than those who do; alongside the epic sexual conquering of fellow co-workers in a subtly comparable to that of the Spanish Inquisition.
Those who pursue the latter never seem to refer to the 1st and 2nd Restaurant Commandments:
“Thou Shall Not Shit Where Thy Sleeps” and
“Thou Mustn’t Mention That Thine Has Shat Where Thine Sleeps.”
Regardless of the demographic, what remains the same is that we are all just waiting for life to happen or happen again. My particular case is truly maddening as I waited all through college, graduated at the top of my class, got the dream internship and moved across the country, landed an office only to get laid off within a year…corporate protocol. Ain’t that a bitch?
Luckily, returning to where I had left from greeted me with familiar faces, love and warmth. I wouldn’t change it for the world. However, what remains is the fact that I waited, and am now just waiting again.
Time and again I’ll wait on Power Lunch tables where seated, are a few people who are my age. Those who slid right under the frigid closing gates of the new-hire freeze. I fill their waters with extra lemon while hearing their meek inputs in their meetings. I grasp a plate in efforts to not do so to their throat and have thier lunch meeting become a scene from This Is England.
“HOW DID YOU GET THIS JOB AND KEEP IT!?”
But then again, what’s worse? Waiting on tables or being an enslaved monkey in a cubical? Each I suppose has it’s drawbacks, for that couldn’t possibly be their last stop, could it?
However in the pursuit of waiting, one thing must be said about the difficulty waiting on tables versus waiting in a cubicle. Somewhere along the way in the arguable devolution of humankind, it was unofficially stated that waiters are your slave- not a working employee.
I clearly did not receive this memo.
When did the world of hospitality become a venue for purging life issues and complexities by assuming the role of Ramses II? When did people become so and entitled and so venomous? How does degrading and yelling at a person make them work faster or tend to you in a more friendly matter? And when, WHEN was it publicly stated that those who can’t do teach, and those who are complete and utter idiot-masochists, wait on you.
Both are fictitious.
As a waiter, you approach the table to meet your customers not your maker. Prepared to make your evening pleasant and memorable, it’s a seemingly growing trend that customers are insisting that the memory be a negative one, rather than a positive one. Heaven forbid one should spend an evening dining and enjoying company whilst waiting on dishes being prepared specially for you, as you’ve decided to be “creative” with the menu.
But no. Instead, whips are cracked in demand for faster service. Words aren’t spoken, but hissed as tongues split and eyes darken drawing thin as the shadow of a hood appears behind their necks, fangs lowering and just before striking they bellow, “WHERE IS OUR FOOD!?” All the while assuming that a waiter couldn’t possibly know up from down, right from wrong nor white from red when they were the ones who asked for a cabernet sauvignon…blanc?
Not to say that all tables are awful. On the contrary, I have tables I look forward to waiting on. Those who who make you laugh, who always have a story to tell, who compliment you, who want to know how you as a person are doing, how life beyond the confines of the bar-top is treating you, who are eager to see what you’ll become, who offer the stepping stone into a position to see you shine. You know, the tables who consider you a human.
I’ve met with many regulars outside of work and shared meals, attended parties and other occasions. I’ve enjoyed learning from my tables, conversing, suggesting must-sees around town and around the world. The gentleman who prompted this very entry was lovely, just a touch oblivious is all. When the day comes, when life happens and I am offered the next phase in my life, I’ll look back and miss them. I’ll miss those who made it worthwhile, who contributed to my confidence and solidarity.
But until then, for those of you non-waiters reading this; be patient and tip. We’re just trying to get by, just waiting. And for the record the rumors are true, we’re paid $2.13 and hour and rely on you to make ends meet. So look around and assess the atmosphere and situation before striking. You’d be surprised how a nice tone make our evening and yours a better one, and how easily a negative tone will make us walk right out the door.
For my fellow waiters, keep calm and drink it off. What we’re waiting for will soon be here.