April 12, 2013 by serverscorned
For those of you who missed it somehow there was this major explosion on CNN’s blog called “Eatocracy”. It all started with a guest post from none other than the Bitchy Waiter; a popular blogger who tackles the pitfalls of everyday restaurant life. In the article he simply states some things customers do to slow down the process and therefore work against their own interests. I could have written it myself! Hell, I think I kinda did in my “List This” post. The responses from both sides were nothing short of rabid. The customers said we were all lazy, unskilled laborers, looking for handouts. The servers shot back about customer entitlement, the fact that we aren’t slaves, and general customer douchebaggery. It got ugly. Quick. But it got me thinking about a long pondered question I’ve had. One I revisit every now and again but have never truly answered in my own mind. What exactly constitutes service?
To an outsider my job may seem simple enough. Smile and be courteous. Take orders. Check back to ensure all is well. Bring checks. Accept payment. Say thanks and move on. It is so much more. I am balancing many duties that are unseen by the average guest. Sometimes I feel like a circus clown riding a unicycle on a tightrope over a starving shark infested pool with an unreasonably high stack of dishes balanced in one hand, and a tray full of “decorative waters” (those waters you order but never drink) in the other, as I try to speed across the room with extra fucking napkins for table 41 who in the meantime have now spilled a drink that will require much much more than this measly handful of napkins I come bearing.
The customer only sees what they want to see. They see me at their table and ignore the fact that on the way there I stopped by 7 others for a myriad of reasons. They think I’m personally responsible if the food takes longer than they expected/wanted, or their beer takes a minute to get to them. They don’t see me making tea, or running food to other tables. They are blissfully unaware that I’m at the computer splitting checks for a 20 top or ringing in 10 salads with 10 different modifications, and only wonder where I could’ve gotten off to? Clearly I’m being slack. They don’t see me in the corner rolling silverware because the dishwasher just brought it out and perhaps they might need that for their meals. And they sure as hell don’t see me making “decorative waters” for a table (maybe even theirs) when only a fraction of the people wanted water but some jackass ordered “water for the table”. They only see me. At their table.
Some of them want me to get in, get out, and leave them the fuck alone. But some of them… Some of them expect to be entertained. I call these people the “dinner and a show” diners. These people want all the stuff that all my tables want: fast, friendly service. But they want more too. They want me to interact with them on a more personal level. They want jokes! They want personality! They want a fucking show! I can do this. Not to toot my own horn but I can be a pretty funny motherfucker at times. I make me laugh anyway. But is it my job? Is this what they tip me for? THAT my friends is the real question I struggle with.
In the age of smartphones and instant gratification have we come to expect more than we should? Is the merit of my service defined by my ability to make you laugh? I can tell you anything you need to know about the food or the drink menu including all ingredients to make sure if you have an allergy, or a dislike, that you will not be accidentally subjected to the offending item. I can balance the needs of all my tables and manage to keep up with running food, rolling silverware, separate checks, do comps and add gratuities for my coworkers, put out fires between the servers, hostess, busser, kitchen, bar, manager, as they arise, make coffee, make tea, and somtimes even manage to work in a smoke OR a bathroom break (never both, I have to choose. Usually a cigarette wins out). I dodge children (aka speed bumps/aka your demon spawn) with arms full of food, or booze, or both. I think my work here is done.
So I pose the question to you: What exactly constitutes service?