I’ve been seeing a lot of posts around the internet lately that talk about what it’s like to be a server. Most of them have titles like “17 Things All Servers Know to Be True” and are illustrated with fun little GIFs of people showing how much it sucks to sweep a stock room, which it does. They get a point across – we work hard and long and don’t make a lot of money, but hey, there’s some camaraderie and we get to eat whatever food you don’t like or gets messed up, so it can’t be all bad. What they fail to express is that serving is one of the most grueling, thankless jobs on this earth, and no amount of lukewarm, unwanted sea scallops is going to change that. Here are a few things servers really want you to know.
If you come in every week and know exactly what you want, feel free to wave me over and tell me exactly that. Most likely, I’ll recognize that I saw you two nights ago, and drop a line like “Back for that half rack?” and you’ll say “Hell yes I am.” If you have a question like “What does andouille mean?” or even worse “What is quinoa?” I’ll answer it, because part of my job as a server is to pick up where your public school system’s home economics class left off. If you don’t know what you want, don’t wave me down and tell me you’re ready. While I’m standing over your table as you lazily go over every single item and ask “Is this good?” and make a serious of harmonious grunts, I’m getting sat with two more tables, another’s food is ready to be run, and someone else needs their check. You are keeping me from doing my job. If I kept you from anything – making it through a yellow light, taking an extra second in the checkout lane to ask the elderly man bagging my groceries how his day is, you would strangle me with the strap on your hideous Vera Bradley diaper bag. I know this is your night out, maybe away from your kids and your husband who doesn’t look at you anymore, but I work here. Be polite.
When altering our menu, be reasonable. Please don’t request to omit four things from a dish that only consists of six. I recently had a lady order a chicken quesadilla with no chicken and no tortilla. What she got was a mound of oily, melted cheese, mushrooms, and onions that looked like an infected blister. If you have crazy allergies, don’t go out to eat. A kitchen can only guarantee a certain amount of safety from cross contamination. If you can’t eat eggs, gluten, soy, wheat, dairy, nuts, or shellfish, stay home and cook yourself something gross.
2. Your Kids
I’ve seen a few restaurants recently enact a “Well-Behaved Child” discount policy, and it’s absolutely brilliant. If Americans had an incentive to keep their kids quiet and seated throughout the course of a 45 minute meal, can you imagine what we could accomplish? Think of all the future boring weddings no longer accompanied by the chorus of a screaming, insolent child? I understand that kids can’t sit for long periods of time, and if their food takes longer than 10 minutes, you might as well have told them they can’t watch “Frozen” ever again. But you, as their parent, probably have a little sway in how they behave. It isn’t funny when your kid spills their second orange soda under the table, so don’t laugh as you tell me. Apologize like an actual human being, like you’re at someone’s office and you spill a cup of coffee on their carpet. It’s the same thing with smaller paychecks.
Also, don’t let your child order. It’s cute at home when the food is plastic and the waiter is you, but not here. I’m busy. I don’t have time to decipher the audible hieroglyphics coming from their mouth. You can order for them. If your kid is a teenager and you’re ordering for them, however, you have failed.
3. My Job
Some people think a server’s job is to come to the table, take your order, and wait with my palm outstretched for your money. I wish my job was that easy because then I would be drinking some wine and relaxing right now instead of drinking some wine and writing this article. Sure, I come over and say “Hey, my name is Alexa! What can I get for you?” But then, I sprint behind the bar, make some drinks, drop off those drinks, run some food, bus a table, take dishes back to the dishwasher, refill bread baskets, restock takeout containers, refill ice bins, greet a new table, and hand someone their bill. Even if you can’t see me, I’m still working. I wish I was in the back taking tequila shots with the guy on sauté, but I’m not. I’m scraping your leftovers into the trash while grabbing some silverware to roll. All of this on my feet for sometimes 12 hours a day, carrying plates that scald my hands, and touching food you deemed too unfit to enter your flapping gob.
A lot of people don’t understand tipping. My 67-year-old next-door neighbor is pretty hip, and I dropped a serious grenade on her when I explained modern proper tipping etiquette. 20 percent is standard. That means you were treated politely and your food arrived timely and as ordered. If your waitress was a total doll who made stellar recommendations and kept your glass of Diet Coke filled to the brim, tip more. It doesn’t have to be a lot more, but a few extra dollars will get the message across. And trust me, we remember good tippers. There isn’t a “Good Tipper Hall Of Fame” in the back next to where we keep our purses, but we definitely remember good tippers, and your service will be even better the next time you come in. We remember bad tippers too. The second you walk in, the unlucky server whose section you land in is instantly warned, and a dark grey cloud of misery hangs over your table. We aren’t going to pretend to be happy to see you. Your drinks are going to take an extra minute and your food might be a few degrees colder than usual because, you know what, I know what’s coming at the end of all this.
If your order is ultra particular or your six disgusting kids smash french fries into the cracks of the booth, tip more. Someone has to clean it up, and that someone is me.
At the end of our shift, we add up all of our tips. Then we give a certain percentage of that to the bartender, kitchen staff, and busser, if our restaurant is lucky enough to be equipped with one. So that 20 percent you so generously gave, at the end of the night, is more like 12 percent. In some states, serving wage is $2.13 an hour, almost all of which is sucked up by the government in taxes. In states that have serving minimum wage regulations, servers get a base pay along with tips, but it’s called minimum wage for a reason.
If your server was rude and spilled hot coffee on your baby and there’s a bite missing from your cheeseburger, then yes, you can tip less than 20 percent.
This is not to suggest that every single table I’ve ever waited on has treated me poorly. Some customers are friendly and patient and tip well. But for every one pleasant table, I have nine others speaking to me like I dropped out of third grade.
I understand that the title “server” sounds a lot like “servant,” and those kinds of semantics can be confusing for most people. Some of us are students, parents, writers between gigs looking for a way to pay the bills. We’re not all deep into crack cocaine with biker boyfriends who take our tips to play the ponies. Although, that does sound like fun.