So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Nice post at Waiternotes

Our good friend at Waiternotes wrote some very commonsense things about some common quirks in the language and some hoary sayings as well.

I admit that I struggle with the “guys” thing. Once I discovered that it’s not considered a nice informal way to refer to a group, I have tried to wean myself off of it. I’m mostly successful.

But the main purpose of discussing this fine post is to make, not a counter per se (which is the same thing that he said about his own post, which was a reaction to another blog’s post, the blog being “Sorry, Not My Table”, a blog that I have been intending to add to the blogroll for a little while now).

It’s more of a slight amplification of this:

‘The Customer Is King’

The goal of word choice in the restaurant should be to make the guest feel comfortable. A large part of this process is establishing a pecking order, where the guest, frankly, gets to peck on your head if he feels like it. Sure, we keep our self-respect; we don’t put up with bullies; we demand some decorum in return. All of that. But we are ’serving.’

This is why all these ‘waiter rant’-type blogs are so ridiculous in their righteousness that the ‘guest is no better than we are.’ That’s just not the point. The guest is dining out to enjoy the experience of having servants. What, not to eat? Of course, but (we’re assuming finer-ish establishments here) the desire to eat can be satisfied quite easily any number of ways. Why spend double, triple, or ten times the money to eat? Because you can be served like the wealthy person you are, or wish you were. This is the service we provide. If you don’t believe that, then you must believe there’s no difference between your restaurant/job vs. the hot dog counter at Target.

Because people are basically decent, most guests don’t abuse the fact that you place yourself below them. The nicest ones resist this hierarchy, instead working with us as equals as much as possible.

If all this is causing your skin to prickle maybe you should stop reading. You obviously have control and self-esteem issues. We’re just doing our jobs. It so happens this is the arrangement between worker and customer in our industry. But it’s like that in every job everywhere. Bob Dylan has a great song that says it all, Gotta Serve Somebody.

I mostly agree with this. I’d add though that, when you boil it down, this is a commercial transaction between two people. The social statuses might be the same, or they might be unequal. For instance, I wait on many people who occupy a rarified social and financial status. I have also waited on many who have a lower financial and social status than I do. and i wait on people who occupy the same general social status that I do.

However, I go into the commercial transaction as a relative equal. They are there to be fed and I’m there to provide the service. The success of this transaction is dependent on both of us fulfilling certain social and financial obligations. Sure, I’m serving them. But this doesn’t make me their “servant”, i.e. “below them”. It’s a slight distinction, I admit. But a servant can only serve one master, whether it be a family or the head of said family. I serve many people, often times simultaneously. This is one thing that sets me apart from a servant. The other is that I am not totally beholden to this one “master” for my financial well-being as a traditional servant is. There are no chains or constraints to my autonomy.

So yes, I’m a server. I serve. But I am not a slave. I am an independent contractor providing a service, just like anyone else in the service industry is, and nobody argues that people who work in the service industry are servants. When you add in that I’m a salesperson as well, it adds icing to the cake. 

Just wanted to throw my 2 cents in.

PS, nice touch with the Dylan!


One response to “Nice post at Waiternotes

  1. waiternotes December 19, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the shout out. Yes, you’re right. My point was definitely reductionist. Being set ‘below’ the guest is certainly not the core of the relationship. There’s more to it than that. I was just trying to set the table (no pun intended) in general for the discussion that followed. And truth be told, I, myself, tend to approach a table as an equal – and it usually stays that way. However, when push comes to shove, and someone orders me around … well, yeah, I do as told. Mostly, we all do. No matter the job.

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