A few weeks ago I had a takeout customer with a fairly large and complicated order look at the receipt and say, “Well you’re not really doing anything so…” and draw a big fat line through the tip write-in area.
Maybe it seems like all I do is stand there and bring people to tables, but that’s only in my dreams.
Yes, I do whack a *super-sincere* smile on my face and bring you to your table, after greeting you with a warm “Hi, how’s your evening going?” and getting a “There’s two of us,” in return.
But there’s a bit more to hostessing than you might imagine. (A small note, I believe every human being should be forced to work in a restaurant at some point in their lives, if only to walk a mile in customer service’s shoes.)
When it’s slow, I struggle to evenly seat all the server’s sections as they bellyache to me about needing tables.
When it’s busy (which, let’s face it, is almost 100% of the time where I work), I turn tables over as quickly as possible in order to keep your wait as short as possible. I lead you to a clean and set table (god willing there are enough roll ups to get us through the night so I don’t get yelled at for not giving a table silverware), and you ask me if you can have a booth instead and I struggle to keep that smile on my face as I calmly try to explain to you that that booth fits six adults and you are a party of two so would you just please sit at this two-top and make everyone’s lives easier so the next big group that comes in here doesn’t complain to me about having to wait an hour for a table that will fit their party? No? Okay fantastic, here’s your booth, enjoy camping out there for three hours and not noticing my death glares.)
So there’s a wait and you’d like to put your name in? Cool. I tell you it’ll be about 20 minutes so you say you’re going to wait outside. When your table comes up, I search the entire interior and exterior of the establishment for you and call your name and you seem to have disappeared completely, so after waiting for a bit I move on to the next table. Then you come back 45 minutes later asking where your table is, and when I say you’ll get the next table that frees up, you complain. Added b-b-b-bonus: You glare at me when you’re getting impatient, as though I can just push a button and create more space in the restaurant. Or would you like me to walk over to our already-dining customers and ask them to speed it the fuck up so you can get that spinach and artichoke dip you’re so impatient to mow down on? I get it, you’re hungry. Hungry makes people cranky. But please don’t take it out on me, I’m doing my very best to keep everyone on both sides satisfied.
What’s that? Oh, the phone is ringing in the middle of a rush? I’ll just walk-run over to the hostess stand and put on my most professional, delightful voice, answering your call as quickly as is humanly possible. I then proceed to attempt to give directions in a town I don’t know my way around without a GPS. I get to spend my precious time answering questions like, “Do you think we’ll have to wait for a table for ten people on a Friday night at 6:30?” Or, I get a break from questions I can’t answer, and I take and input takeout orders from people who don’t know how to speak at full volume on the phone when it’s a busy night in our acoustically-not-safe-for-life restaurant and I can’t hear a thing they’re saying so I have to repeatedly (and oh-so-politely) ask them to please speak up.
I bus tables when the servers don’t have time, (read: 100% of the time because customers are determined to leave the tables as messy as possible when they do finally get up, and the servers are just as busy as I am, with the added pressure of depending entirely on tips for their income). I have to touch people’s used forks, knives, spoons, glasses, plates and walk them back to the kitchen for the dishwasher without dropping anything while attempting to get as little leftover-food-nastiness on my nice sweater. I pick up your dirty napkins from the floor. When there’s disgusting food that you animals leave on the table itself, I’m the one who has to pick/wipe it up.
I get the blame when people walk in and seat themselves at a clearly dirty table. Because clearly when we’re in the middle of a dinner rush, it’s my fault that people say they’re just going to go to the bar and instead just go ahead and pick out a table, so then I get to clean the table (pretending not to resent their cheating the system and hopping themselves to the front of the wait while I get more death glares from the people who are actually waiting their turn) while the offenders stand there staring at me like I’ve wronged them.
When you walk in with three kids under the age of four, instead of punting them all out the door like I want to do because children are horrible, I smile even wider and offer crayons and coloring pages. You complain about not being allowed to bring your stroller in and even after I explain that it’s a fire code violation so we aren’t allowed to have them in the restaurant, you act like it’s my fault and that I’m really putting you out by asking you to leave it right outside or offering to store it for you. I make the tables bigger to accommodate your party, and carry two heavy oak high chairs all the way across the restaurant. I pray for no spills which either I or the servers will have to clean up in the middle of a rush, depending on who’s unluckiest and least slammed with work at that particular moment.
When your kid starts wailing at the top of their lungs and spitting out food because apparently you’re raising them in a barn, I give you a sympathetic look and (internally) curse you at the same time, because I know parenting is fucking HARD if not impossible, but I also know you’re not going to do anything to attempt to leave the table anything less than a disgusting crime scene of smushed up mac and cheese which I’ll have the pleasure of scrubbing off the table. I also curse our kids menu for having a brownie sundae on it because giving children anything with that potential for mess is straight up irresponsible.
I also get the pleasure of maintaining the bathrooms during my shift. Keep toilet paper and paper towels stocked, then sweep them up when you can’t manage to get them in the trash (Honestly, is this your first time peeing in an actual toilet? The used paper goes in the toilet, not on the floor beside it.) (Same goes for your urine.) When the toilet sticks fifteen times a night and customers don’t have the sense to just push a little harder on the handle, you just let me know and I go right in and flush whatever lovely thing you’ve left in there for me. I also do all this in the men’s room, while holding my breath because it somehow always reeks of urine no matter how clean it is.
A few weeks after my run-in with the most thoughtless takeout guest ever, I had another takeout customer come in during a rush, and though I did my best to take care of her as quickly as possible, that night was just not cutting me any slack–we were slammed. The woman, seeing my exasperated face (it sometimes peeks through, try as I might to always appear delighted to be there), gave me the payment for her order, and when I told her I’d be right back with her change, she made my night, saying “Just keep the rest.”
Stunned at the generosity (it was a fifteen percent tip on a fairly large order, and this never happens to me), I put on my first genuine smile of the night and thanked her.
That smile didn’t leave my face for the rest of the night.
The moral of the story, dear readers:
Try to be fucking considerate to the people who serve you. We work a lot harder than you might imagine, and we really are doing our very best to give you the best possible dining experience, because we want you to leave with a smile on your face, and hopefully even come back at some point.
Tip your hostess. You just might make her entire night.
Note: I know I don’t have the hardest job in the world. I’m not on the front lines or cutting into people’s’ brains. I have no illusions about the importance of my position; a monkey could probably do it. ** I’m just trying to get us all to try to be more mindful of the fact that the Verizon employee you’re yelling at because your WiFi bill is wrong or the server who brought you a Coke instead of a Diet Coke might actually be a human being with actual problems and feelings that matter. Let’s just try to apply the whole do-unto-others thing to customer service.
If you’ve ever worked in food service in any capacity, I hope you feel me on this.