Common Issues & Your Ideas

November 28, 2011

Written by: Rebecca Schoenkopf

Have you been so lucky as to work in the service industry? Have you had the utter joy of abasing yourself before those for whom every restaurant outing is an exciting opportunity for a power play just waiting to be fulfilled? Perhaps one day a hip-hop star will leave you a thousand-dollar tip, Nicolas Cage will leave you a winning lottery ticket, or someone will smile at you with kindness.

But probably not today.

Today, you will do your side work of filling empty ketchup bottles and rolling silverware into paper napkins. You will avoid the bony grasp of your insane boss. (All restaurant owners are certifiably batty. It is the law.) You will Windex the plastic-covered menus. You will dream of Aruba or an apartment big enough so you do not have to sleep on the couch.

Later, if you are being portrayed in a film by Helen Hunt, you will drink an entire fifth of vodka to wash away the stink of the day, and if you’re lucky, you will wake up looking like Charlize Theron in “Monster.” The life of a waitress is the one Hollywood most pities — probably because they remember exactly how they treated you that one time, with the finger snaps and the “doll.”

So go back to the glory years of waitressing and sample some of these all-too-familiar customer types:

The Yup Couple
Oh, nothing is good enough for the Yup Couple. This is because the she of the couple is tightly wound — like Caligula was tightly wound — and the he of the two is afraid of her. He will not say a word; he will just look away in shame as she does the berating for the both of them. She does all her scolding with a gentle smile and an amused tone. She is far too well-mannered to raise her voice.

But let’s say you are a hostess, and your batty owner has told you that you must save your fourtops for parties of four. The she of the couple does not want a twotop. She wants a fourtop. When you explain that you’re sorry, but you expect a large crowd and must save your fourtops for parties of four, she looks at you and smiles that witchy smile and says, ice cracking in her amused voice, “Well, we’ll just go somewhere else then.”

Okay, it’s not a war zone. Your children will be fed (reasonably) and clothed (reasonably) and may not even live in a garret. But you have just been faced with a woman who is only too glad to put you in your place … which is right beneath her heel.
The Lech
“Boy, you really know how to fill out that apron! What time do you get off, sweetie? What’s fun to do around here? You?”
The Family
Oh, a big family! Hooray! I mean it! Hooray! Sure, they will tie up your table forever and the mess will be unbelievable, but that’s what you have busboys for. The family are thrilled to get out for an evening, and even if they’re loud and awful, and the teenage daughter sends her entrée back not because it wasn’t right but because she didn’t like it, and the teenage boy sits silent and looks like a serial killer, and the baby shrieks, and the toddler stands on the banquette and stares at the customers at the next table, and most likely the parents will not curb their young because they’re too exhausted and sort of absent anyway, well, at least they will be grateful. And even if Papa’s a bit parsimonious, Mama knows what it’s like to take care of that family, so she’ll shame him into leaving at least a proper tip.
Sisters Christian
I mean “Christian” as an adjective, not a noun — the signifier for cultural virtues of charity, kindness and all those other ones I forgot. These are lovely ladies with a smile and a good word. Perhaps they are old. Maybe they’re nuns! Or it could be they’re just really nice. They’re no bother at all. They apologize for taking so much time with the menu. They may or may not tip properly, but they will sweep all the crumbs from the table themselves and arrange all their empty creamers in a tidy stack.
The Teens
Do you work in your town’s only all-night diner? Then maybe you have met the Teens. Maybe you have met them for four to six hours a night, every night, drinking 16 cups of coffee, ordering a plate of french fries (with ranch), fox-trotting in the aisles with the most dashing of your wait staff, and leaving a tip in dimes. Some nights, you are not in the mood for a tip left in dimes, or fox-trotting in the aisles, but most of the time you don’t mind so much. They’re good kids, despite the fact they keep saying the F-word. Maybe someday you’ll get off the graveyard shift. You know what, though? You’ll miss them, I swear.
The Whisperers
I know a perfectly lovely man, who’s thoughtful and caring and would be shocked to know he treats servers like dirt. When it’s his turn to order, he does not look at the waitress but looks straight ahead and sneers/mumbles one word, “Cheesecake.” She can’t hear him, of course, because he’s facing away from her. This is very embarrassing.
The Business Lunchers
The Business Lunchers want a quick, snappy, professional server while they talk about their boring thing. They are rarely rude, but sometimes condescending (and often with a touch of the Lech). Just turn over their table as quickly as you can, with as little muss and fuss. The tip should be in the realm of “kingly.”
The Gaggle
The Gaggle is the opposite of the Sisters Christian. They are ladies out to treat themselves well for an evening, even though every evening is an evening where they treat themselves well for the evening. They are on the lookout for slights to complain of, and are extraordinarily particular.

They will talk down to you like the she of the Yup Couple, and they will kvetch to your manager at the first opportunity (they are hoping he’ll reduce their bill). They will natter loudly about oral sex and shoes. If socioeconomically blessed, they will surprise you with a very good tip (they don’t want to be thought cheap), but if they’re not, you will be stiffed completely, even though you put the egg whites and the dressing on the side. But don’t worry: They’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes, in their very nice shoes.


Comments (1)

George Schaeffer
Apr 9, 2009 5:42 PM

Terrific article Rebecca. And as a frequent diner at a wide variety of restaurants; I have seen them all and try and leave the wait staff a real decent tip and a tip not to worry about them.


'Wait Til You Hear This One'

You haven't heard it all until you've worked a career in food service.

There's the daily drama that plays out.

One plot leading to the next, and every twist and turn leading to another tale of human interaction centered around our need to provide sustenance, sometimes at a profit!

We encourage all food service professionals from all sectors of the business to contribute their war stories from the front lines of food service. Through communication we can explore our common interests and seek solutions together.