So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

Daily Archives: May 15, 2010


So, I was cutting my grass yesterday with the almost new lawn mower that I purchased from the pawn shop and was thinking about the fact that this is the 4th lawnmower that I’ve owned in 10 years. The other three were stolen. I’ve actually been without a lawnmower for around 4 years, so this tells you a bit about my neighborhood and the fact that I don’t have a lockable storage area. For the past 4 years I’ve had a guy in the neighborhood do it, precisely because of the theft factor, not because of laziness. However, he has turned sick and can’t do it this year. So I trudged out to the pawn shop to find another cheap lawnmower.

I found a really good one that the pawn shop apparently had mispriced and which I got it for around $100. It’s a pretty nice one – a Troy-Bilt with a Honda motor. Normally, $100 lawnmowers from the pawnshop are the cheapest possible generic  movers with rusting decks and sputtering motors. Not this one. It’s a mulcher with the bag and an actual choke that resets itself when the motor gets running. No pushing the little primer rubber nipple and no continual lanyard pulling over and over until it finally starts (or not). Starts up pretty much with a single pull. Yes, there are more expensive and fancier mowers out there, but I was glad to get a mower that wasn’t just a cheap stamped deck and a motor barely strong enough to cut a dandelion (yes, I’ve got them too).

Anyway, I was thinking about how some people treat a lawnmower as almost a disposable item these days.

Perhaps it’s a theft issue like me – you don’t want to spend anything but the bare minimum because you know that there’s a good chance that it will be stolen so you spend the least amount of money possible.

Perhaps it’s because the lifespan of many mowers isn’t all that great. Usually something goes wrong with the motor and it’s cheaper to get a new/used one than to get it fixed.

This last thing is the cause of the disposability of many items in our society, especially electronic ones. TV goes out? Better get a new one because it costs more to get it fixed. Dryer on the fritz? Same thing.

What does this have to do with us waiters?

Sadly, we are one of the most disposable workers on the planet. And part of it is our part.

When we treat it as a disposable job, we undercut our longevity. How do we do that, you might ask?

Many of us simply chase the dollar. When a hot new restaurant opens we migrate there, like Bedouins wandering the desert.

Some of us treat the responsibilities cavalierly by showing up whenever we want to, sleepwalking through shifts, not being team players.

Some of us don’t take our training seriously and just learn enough to be dangerous. Then, our only concern is where we’re going to meet after work to spend the money that we’ve made on booze and drugs.

Some of us look at the job as “something to do until I find real work”.

Management can be to blame as well, having been burned by waiters who have taken the above work attitudes.

Plus, there’s the whole “less than minimum wage” thing. It’s easy to get rid of a less productive or little-caring employee because they’ve got a stack of resumes “this high”. There’s a certain amount of culling that gets done in any staff over time. The weak sisters either get fired or get squeezed out of the prime shifts and sections. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to retrain someone else, although management would prefer to keep experienced waiters whenever they can because it takes a while for someone off of the street to “get it”. Once the training period for an experienced waiter ends, the real training begins, if you catch my drift. This last part is the saving grace for us waiters – this isn’t a job where you can hire a temp to come in to save some payroll and benefits dollars.

It’s also easy for a waiter to have a bad encounter with a guest. The law of averages dictates that this will happen eventually due to the extremely personal and varied encounters we have with a wide variety of guests that forms the core of our work experience.

If you’ve read this far, then you have the answers to the solutions to the problem of the disposable nature of your job.

Don’t be that guy. (guy used in a non-sexist way because that’s just the expression these days, just as I use waiter in a non-gender fashion).

Don’t do the things that I’ve outlined.

Don’t think of your job as disposable.

Don’t think of it as a placeholder until you get the job of your dreams. It’s your job now. Do it to the best of your abilities.

Don’t show up late just because you can (because you want to save those rare occasions for the times when you have a  legitimate reason to be late). 

Don’t slack on the training. Hit it head on.

Don’t come into work firing on only 3 cylinders. If you come in constantly hung over or tired, it’s time to take a good look at yourself, because you aren’t doing your body and mind any favors. I’m not saying that you have to abstain or that you won’t come in with the occasional hangover, but if it’s a constant state of affairs, you’ve got problems that you need to address before you kill yourself, either metaphorically or literally. You can’t stay in college mode forever.

Do be a team player. Often, it’s the opinions of your fellow workers that influence how disposable management sees you.

Do be productive. Be seen doing things like cleaning, not hanging out on the back dock smoking and joking. Don’t be constantly ducking running food for your co-workers.

Do be thankful that you have a job in this economy and remember that there are 10 people who want to take your place. And act like it.

If you do all of these things, you will make yourself seem indisposable when you have an unfortunate experience with a guest or you have a bad day/week. Don’t let something like that make it easy for management to get rid of you.

Managers are fond of saying that everyone is disposable, including themselves. This is true.

The key is in the degree that you can be tossed in the rubbish bin. Make yourself as hard as possible to be tossed away.

PS, I just cut my grass for the third time with this mower. Wish me luck.