By Katie McDonough
The first interaction is crucial. If you approach a table and begin with, “How are you folks doing tonight, my name...” and immediately get cut off by a “What do you have on draft?”, the rest of the night with that table isn’t going to be great. In this job, you have to hover and wait for the perfect moment to interrupt the table conversation. When a table has been looking over the menu so long that they should be able to recite it alphabetically, you still smile and say, “take your time.” They’ll be ready at the most inconvenient time for you with more substitutions than actual menu items.
For this job, you need to be able to talk to people;, after all, that is the only way to make money in this industry. Just know that some diners will consume your time with pictures of their newly adopted iguana named Stacy and only tip you 10%... what? I thought we were friends, that we had something here. Frustration sets in when you are running four hot plates of food to a table. Not only are your arms rapidly burning, but the customers are not paying attention. With the second “excuse me” and you still don’t have movement from them, you briefly think of just dropping them on the floor to relieve what feel like ninth degree burns.
The thing about this job is that you are either overwhelmingly buried or overwhelmingly bored. When your restaurant is dead and you finally get a table, it is like a gift from above. When all the side work is done and your only responsibility is to take care of that one table, you find yourself asking questions like, “How’s the water?”
Then out of nowhere three tables pop up in your sections and a miniature panic attack kicks in. Trying to please everyone is the only thing managers ask of their servers. So the internal pep talk begins and you start prioritizing:
1. The first table are eating and are happy, great.
2. “You need extra tartar sauce? Of course, I’ll be right back with that.”
3. One of my other tables stopped me and is ready to order; the tartar has no other choice
but to wait.
4. I now need to get myself to a computer and put these meals in, because they’ve already
been waiting a decent amount of time.
5. Another table grabs me ready to order, but they have a gluten allergy. Of course, I have
time to run to the kitchen and ask them what is or can be modified into a gluten free dish. They
will love that, seeing as now we are somehow at full capacity all of a sudden.
6. Tartar tartar tartar, don’t forget the tartar sauce.
7. Put orders in. Gluten question in the kitchen. Run food to table. Don’t stop moving.
It is only when you are “in the weeds”, as servers like to call it, when you are so busy and overwhelmed that you don’t know what to do next. During this time, you’ll always find the one person who is not in the weeds who wants to tell you all about some random irrelevant activity they have planned for this weekend. I don’t have time to hear about your cover band, Ted, because table 14’s appetizers are up. At any other moment, getting along with coworkers is extremely important, but when you have a stack of dirty dishes in your hand and you still need to bring tartar sauce to that table, cover bands are last on the list of priorities.
Waiting tables is the one job where a table can come in ten minutes before closing and crush your hopes of actually getting out early for once. Who eats dinner at 9:50 pm? Isn’t it strange that just an hour ago, you were running around barely aware of your own name, and now you’re re-polishing clean dishes and trying to remember every word to the Wonder Years theme song. Is it time to clock out yet?