Christian Living Stories: Confessions of a Part-Time Waitress

I don’t have a lot of spare time between waiting on tables. But may I take just a moment to tell you about my job?

Waiting on tables is usually a quick way to earn immediate cash without the need for high skills.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

I served tables all through school. Then for the next decade, I traveled the world and worked for Mercy Ships. This year I returned home and moved in with my mom for a few months before getting married. I freelanced for magazines and a local newspaper, and volunteered for short-term projects with various non-profits. But there is not much money in that, so I survived by going back to my high school job—40 plus hours a week waiting tables in a local restaurant.

The job is so not glamorous. It takes patience, multitasking, dexterity and politeness.

I take orders, serve food and clear up the mess customers make. Most people leave a far dirtier mess in a restaurant than they would in their own home. After all, they don’t have to tidy it up. That’s my job.

Tipping point

But customers have a job, too. Their job is to leave a tip.

You probably didn’t realize that the “salary” for most waitresses is far below the minimum wage. Federal law requires that restaurants pay wait-staff a minimum of $2.13 an hour, assuming that their tips equal at least the current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.

A percentage of whatever I sell is taken out of my paycheck for taxes, which means for 40 hours of work, I may only receive a $20 check. While I also receive cash at the end of the night for credit-card tips, I’m also taxed on that money.

At least, where I work, I get to keep all of my cash tips. Some restaurants make wait-staff split tips with busboys, cooks, bartenders, or even amongst other wait-staff.

So the customers really pay our “salary”—that is, if the customers leave at least 15-20 percent for a tip. These days, 20 percent is considered the standard. (If customers cannot afford that, then they should have ordered a cheaper dish, or they shouldn’t be eating in a restaurant with table service.)

Sometimes I want to strangle them with my apron ties, because they don’t see what goes on behind the counter. Between serving food, I’m filling salad dressings, the ice bucket, changing the juice containers, pulling pies from the walk-in, slicing cake, and creating hot fudge sundaes. I may have between five to eight other tables that are demanding my attention at the same time, all for different things.

So… I may not be able to grab that glass for a refill just yet while I’m balancing seven plates on a large tray, with an eighth one burning my fingers in the other hand.

Wait-staff generally don’t cook the food; we simply serve it. So, it’s usually not our fault if the food is taking longer than usual. The grill in the kitchen is only so big, and the cooks can’t cook everyone’s eggs at the same time.

Most wait-staff return to the table soon after delivering the food. This may seem annoying to some customers, but it is actually the customers’ opportunity to politely inform us that their steak is rare, not medium, or that the soup is cold.

I am more than happy to give a customer another dish if they aren’t satisfied, or to reheat something for them. But I get annoyed when customers get angry at me, or they sulk at their plate and then complain later to the hostess that their food wasn’t up to par.

I do have feelings, and it actually hurts when people blame me for things that aren’t my fault.

Unfortunately, the “after-church” Sunday lunch customers are some of the rudest and most demanding people I wait on. This past Sunday, a Reverend showed up with an “amazing grace” tie, a wound-up wife, and his extended family. He promptly put me in my place after I politely informed him that we were fresh out of the salmon filet—the very entr…e he had his eye on.

At five-feet-four, I don’t tower above the tables, but as Reverend peered up at me over his glasses, he managed to look down at me, giving me a stern fatherly reproach. He stated that in the future, it would be helpful if I told my customers what we were out of before I took their order.

Sucking in restaurant air to gather my thoughts, I tried not to spit BBQ venom back at him.

I wanted to tell him that I had been working since six a.m., that I missed church because my manager asked me to work for another waitress, that we often run out of as many as six items during the course of the day, that most people don’t actually remember the waitress’s dialogue when she first comes up to a table with the specials and what they’re out of, and that at 1:50 p.m., I was simply taking this table because the 2 o’clock waitress hadn’t yet shown up. Besides, it was the hostess’ job to take that special out of the menu—she hadn’t gotten to it yet.

But I refrained. I simply apologized as politely as possible and said the problem was my fault. Wait-staff often accept blame.

I went home an hour after my shift was supposed to finish, and the Reverend was still sitting there. I asked another waitress to clear the table and save the tip for me. Despite the fact that I gave them excellent service, I’m hoping I actually got a tip.

But here’s a tip for you—free of charge: If you go out to eat, remember to leave your server a 20 percent tip. If they made you laugh, smile, or gave exceptional service (even if things didn’t go exactly as planned otherwise), leave them a little extra. Remember the things that are out of their control, and remember that they are still doing their best to serve you in spite of those things.

Jesus’ example of servanthood couldn’t be truer than in a restaurant. Yes, wait-staff are there to serve you. But by treating your wait-staff with dignity and empathy, you’re showing them the respect they deserve. They have feelings, and they are simply trying to earn a living—sometimes two.

Your generosity and politeness is a service to them. Somehow I think if Jesus were a customer at a restaurant, he’d be gracious, polite and generous.

Author: Brenda Plonis


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