As, let’s see, where were we?
Oh yeah, I jhad just gotten rid of annoying gym rat Doctor bitch.
Anyway, it was a very quiet night. I only had another two tables for the first seating. One was a regular who only tips 15% but usually spends over a couple of hundred bucks for his wife and himself and he’s also a very pleasant character who’s getting ready to do a major project here in town and he and his wife are very easy to wait on. So, I knew that I’d end up with about $40 with not many more rezzies on the books. Even though I was next to closers, this wasn’t going to be a barn burner of a night.
As it turned out, my third table was three businesspeople who were fun to wait on, liked to joke around, bought a $100 bottle of wine and spend about $400. So, at least I got another $80. Now my night was at least salvageable instead of a total flop. I’m going to walk with a bill regardless of what happens. I was looking at a possible $50 or $60 dollar night.
Now we get to the mini-epiphany.
It’s about 8:15. All reservations are in and everyone is closed but closers and myself. Each closer has 2 tables open (out of 4). Each of them has one of their existing tables winding down. Normally, this would signal pretty much going to closers. Normally, this would mean that as I wrapped up the businesspeople, I’d be finishing my closing sidework and I’d be ready to walk out the door about 15 minutes after they left.
Every waiter knows that feeling of sweet release. You’ve had a slow night, you’re winding up your 1st table and the stars are aligning to allow you to walk out the door early (whether or not you’ve had a good night or not, although it’s sweeter when you are cutting your losses).
The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you get seated as your last table is finishing their desserts, especially if you’ve basically waited on one table at a time the whole night. Heck, it’s almost 8:30 and this means that you will there until close of business (in busier churn and burn restaurants, change the time until 9;30 or 10pm). It especially hurts when you perceive that it’s not really necessary and you suspect that the manger just wants to keep you hanging on as insurance.
Well, this is exactly what happened to me. They sat a walk-in deuce in my section. And to make matters worse, they said that they were having 2 joiners who “would probably only be having cocktails”. This is sometimes code for, “We want to hang out and talk for a long time because we haven’t seen each other for a while”.
Anyway, I noticed that I didn’t get that vindictive impulse to throttle my manager with a piano wire after luring him into the walk-in. I didn’t think, “Damn! Screwed AGAIN!” I didn’t get that nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was going to be stuck there for another two to three hours for a $20 tip. There was a strange calm and acceptance that seemed alien to me. What is this unnatural waiter’s response to such a chain of events? Have I indeed been neutered?
I didn’t really have a lot of time to focus on this unsettling sense of well-being as I waited on this table. They were pretty savvy and hip younger folks – the two first guests ordered full meals and the “cocktail only” people ordered over $30 worth of appetizers (a dozen oysters at $24 and another $10 appetizer). Most of the “visiting” was done during the meal proper. They didn’t get dessert, but ordered another round of drinks, so I figured that I was going to be around for a while anyway, which strangely enough didn’t bother me. But when they gpt their drinks, they asked for the check. Told you they were savvy. And they only stuck around long enough to finish their round of drinks. Time out? 9:50. Not bad at all. And the bill was $275, which meant a $55 tip for yours truly.
And that’s when I had the mini-epiphany.
It started with the idea that my financial struggles dictated my reaction to the new table. In more flush times, I would have found a way to convince the manager to let me give the table away, and they probably would have let me. But that thought never even crossed my mind. I often put aside the fact that any table in this restaurant can pop at any time and I “cut my losses”. I’ve probably given away thousand of dollars “cutting my losses”.
So I’m going to try to “think poor” more often, even if I’m flush. I’m going to try to pretend that I need to stay as long as possible, especially if I’ve had a weak night. What’s another 2 or 3 hours if it turns a bad night into at least an acceptable one? I’m sure there will be times when it only means another $20. But I’ll bet that the odds are in favor of it paying off more often than not.
One positive side effect of this that might even be more important than the financial aspect is the reduction of stress and negative feelings that can occur. There’s a certain peace in accepting that last table after everything is done. Sometimes you might ascribe evil intent to the manager and you might very well be right. they might be using you to make their job easier. But they might also be trying to make up for the lack of business that you’ve had in the earlier part of the night. Once you make this part of your strategy instead of theirs, this consideration goes out the window.
This new outlook works particularly well for those of us who toil in higher-end restaurants, especially those where any guest could drop serious money at any time. It’s less useful if you’re working at Applebee’s or TGIFridays. But it still could be useful to squeeze out as much money as possible and actually reduce those natural feelings of exploitation that many churn ‘ n burn waiters feel at times.
I’m under no delusions that I am going to stay til the bitter end every night. A lot of it is going to depend on the station that I’m in. If I’m in a station that normally is one of the first closed, I’m not going labor under the impression that I’m going to be stretched out until the end. There will be times when I’m still going to “cut my losses”. There are times when I’m going to feel like a sacrificial pawn in management’s chess match with the night.
But I’m going to turn the old say “think rich, be rich” axiom on its head. I’m going to “think poor, get rich”.