How many of you have ever waited tables in a restaurant?I have, and let me tell you, it’s a pretty humbling, but very rewarding job. However, unlike many who wait/serve as a means of last resort, I chose to wait tables for the experience – an exercise of “self-betterment.” I don’t say this to garner praise or admiration. To the contrary, I say this to draw attention to what I perceived to be a very noble means of making money, when one must and has few alternatives.
I’m sure that to many, the thought of serving customers (some, very nasty ones) hand-and-feet (sometimes literally), is utterly repulsive – especially when the customers are otherwise capable and competant individuals who can serve themselves. I’m sure many of you have encountered at a restaurant table near you, those obnoxious diners who, when paying for their food and service, become wholly incapacitated jerks who suddenly need every minutia of their meal provided to exacting degrees and become incapacitated to do anything. I mean this is something completely different from the medical or nursing industry where service is provided for those who are actually in need of aid.
Have you ever been that person? You don’t have to answer.
Now, this is not to say that paid service doesn’t deserve service, but there are limits – general boundaries to human respect. Servers are not slaves. Slaves work for free, servers are employed. Even domestic serving staffs of the olden days were accorded some respect. (see: Gosford Park for a wonderfully insightful, if not amusing and scandalous look into 19th century domestics).
So, have you ever thought about those who don’t wait tables out of a “choice?” Those countless annonymous Mike’s and Debbie’s who bring you pancakes and burgers, who call you “hon” and sometimes forget the cream and sugar? Who are they? What kinds of lives do they lead? How do they make a living off the nickels and dimes you leave behind? How many children do they support? When’s their next rent due? How many more auditions until their “big break?”
I’ll bet that if you were to ask many of your waitstaff, they have very interesting stories to tell. The restaurant service field is perhaps one of the most colorful labor fields in American society. It takes a certain type to wait tables for a career, or even as a day-job. Why do you think they are such compelling subjects and characters for stories and movies? (see: article in the NY Times about waitresses and the Academy Awards). They make good stories because they have good stories.I’ve thought about it enough to ask my servers about themselves (when, of course, I feel it’s appropriate – and this may be a subjective thing) and not once have I regretted the subsequent interaction. I’ve met people from all over the world and from all different walks of life. I’ve met ex-doctors/engineers/lawyers, actors, writers, struggling parents, wealthy retired persons, and just about everything in-between.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have had suffered at the hand of pure incompetence at restaurants – I dare say even outright discriminatory behavior. But, for everyone of those bad experiences, I have truck-loads full of great stories to tell – of delightfully quarky, charming, faithful, sweet, humble, sympathetic, sexy and witty servers who have brought more delight to a meal than just good food.
So, for what it’s worth, the next time you sit down to a meal at a restaurant, give some thought before you dismiss your server as being incompetant. Eating is a communal experience, and I believe that experience includes from the farmer who produced the food, to the chef who cooks it, to the server who serves it down to the diner who eats it.