Waiting Tables Is Hard

(NOTE: I know, it’s been two weeks since I posted a new entry.  Sorry.  Here’s one that I hope makes up for it.)

Today I was at the local Barnes & Noble to pick up a couple of books. (For the record, I bought David Cross’ new book, I Drink For A Reason, and I also finally purchased the legendary On The Road by Jack Kerouac.) As I was looking at other books, I came across a book entitled Waiter Rant, by a gentleman named Steve Dublanica.  Dublanica’s book is based off a popular blog by the same name, which details his many experiences, both good and bad (though mostly bad), of working as a waiter in various fine dining establishments in New York.  He writes about shitty tippers, horrible customers, and perhaps a scant psychopath or two.

I never read the original blog.  In fact, I hadn’t heard of Dublanica until fairly recently.  But I flipped through his book while at the bookstore, and although I didn’t buy it, I certainly see it as a worthwhile future purchase.  Partially in fact because I can relate to some of his experiences.

Like so many before me and so many after, my first two jobs were in the restaurant industry.  The first of the two was not as intense as it could have been, because I technically didn’t wait tables there.  I was too young to wait tables at that time, so the restaurant relegated me to other duties such as food runner (running food out to tables), prep (preparing soups/salads), and working the host stand (seating customers).  The second of the two was full-fledged waiting tables.

Both were hell manifest in physical form.  So reading sections of that book was especially gratifying for me, because I know what he’s been through.

Waiting tables is one of the hardest jobs in the entire American workforce.  I don’t give a fuck how difficult quantum physics is—waiting tables is a hard goddamn job.  There are all kinds of reasons why: long hours, unstable income, the harsh emotional abuse at the hands of ridiculous customers who think a little cup of mayonnaise is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.  Oh sure, go ahead—get mad at me for bringing a burger with tomato on it.  It’s not my fault you didn’t tell me you had a fucking food allergy, dipshit.

I think everyone should have to spend a year waiting tables so that they get a full understanding of the psychological toll that job can take on a person.  It’s bad enough that the money is shit.  You know how much a waiter at a restaurant in Tennessee makes per hour?

$2.13

Two dollars and thirteen goddamn cents an hour.  You know how much minimum wage is in Tennessee?

$7.25

Waiters make five bucks less per hour than minimum wage.  Now, obviously, some of you might wonder, “How can waiters only make that much if the state minimum wage is so much higher?  How is that allowed?” Well, I don’t know the technical mumbo-jumbo behind it, but the basic layman’s explanation is: the rest of the hourly wage is expected to be compensated for by the waiter’s tips from customers.  Think about that.  If you eat out at a restaurant with a waitstaff, your tips go DIRECTLY into the waiter’s pockets.  When you stiff on the tip, you’re basically saying, “fuck you” directly to the waiter’s face.  So not only is waiting tables one of the hardest jobs in the American workforce, it’s easily one of the most exploitative jobs too.

That’s not to say that it can’t be enriching, though.  There are a handful of genuinely compassionate people out there who know the game.  I remember one specific occasion in which one guy came into the restaurant where I waited tables.  He was by himself, and reading a book.  He didn’t order much, and knowing that he didn’t want to be disturbed, I hung back for the most part and made my moves when necessary.  His ticket came out to be less than $10, but he left five dollars on the table when he left.  It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but in the aspect of ratios, the guy tipped me over 50%.  Another night, we were understaffed, and fucking SWAMPED.  It was the weekend dinner shift—the holy grail for waiter moneymaking, and also the deathly hallows of pure misanthropy.  I must have had somewhere between five and seven tables going on at once, in various sections of the restaurant: I had already lost a table to a walkout earlier that evening, and I was about four seconds away from a nervous breakdown at all times.  I had a table with a single mother and four young kids.  She seemed to have about as much trouble keeping them under control as I was with my numerous tables on the floor.  At one point as I was at their table, she and I locked eyes in a brief moment in which we saw the exasperation we were both trying so desperately to hide under the surface (if for nothing else than just our own well-being).  As they rose from their table to leave, the kids ran outside and the woman approached me.

“I just wanted to say thank you tonight, and this is for you.”

With that, she handed me a very generous tip—roughly half of her total ticket, if not more—and smiled at me.  I smiled my first genuine smile of the night back at her, and she turned and left.  That moment pushed me to roughly TWO seconds away from a nervous breakdown at any moment, but it was a good push so I didn’t mind it.

Working in the restaurant industry, although painful and touching, can also at times be entertaining.  Of course, that’s pretty obvious.  One night, a couple walked into the bar area.  The woman was quite the busty lass, shall we say?  Ah, fuck it: she had big boobs.  There.

A few minutes later, two other women went into the bar area.  I was working the host stand, and behind the host stand was a window that allowed you to see into the bar area.  Towards the end of the night, I was standing alone at the host stand, when the latter two women walked out.  Before leaving, however, they turned to me.  One of them spoke:

“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”
“Look behind you.  You see that chick in there?”

I looked through the window at the busty woman who’d walked in before.

“Yeah.”
“You think her boobs are fake?”

 Wow.  Did not expect that question.  Caught my ass off-guard completely.  I said the only thing that I could think to say:

“Uhhhhh…I dunno.”
“Well, I think they’re fake.  Anyway, have a great night!”
“Alright, you too.”

And with that, they were gone.  Another night at the restaurant down, and another weird customer interaction to add to the mental index.

Oh, and by the way: the busty bitch?  Fake. (Porn: 1 / Society: 0)

Until next time,

–Riley

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5 responses to “Waiting Tables Is Hard

  1. Having never been subjected to such a task, I can’t be sure how well I’d perform in the service industry. My dad’s been a waiter for about twenty years and my mom was one for about twenty minutes.

  2. I’m pretty sure I’d suck at waiting— I’m clumsy and I have an awful memory.

    And yet I kind of want to own/work in my own bar. I’ve been watching a lot of Cheers.

    On The Road is really fucking overrated. I hated it, I got halfway through before Kerouac’s awful, pretentious, self-obsessed, indulgent lumps of prose finally made me snap. And you know, I don’t recall giving up on that many books. I gave up on… there are a few that I’ve given up on and come back later… I really don’t like it. Then again I’m the 20 year old kid who watches Cheers all fucking afternoon in the middle of 2009, so what do I know?

    Awesome post.

  3. And oh, I forgot:

    MOAR

  4. I agree with Kylie.

    MOAR, because MOAR.

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