I’ve been spilt on, sworn at, thrown-up on, degraded, manipulated, and harassed — and these experiences were not on a NYC subway. I’ve been Douggie-checked across the room with a toppling tray of drinks in hand and then been yelled at for taking too long with said drinks, had drunk fingers stabbed at my face in dispute of a laundry list of shots that said drunk people obviously didn’t drink, and had a bottle flung at my head for cutting off someone who really wanted just one more Jamo. I am a ten-year service industry survivor, and although I have isolated desires to throw a full tray of draught beers at a wall and crumple up my apron and walk out, I continue to muddle through the motions of forced smiles, fake flirting, and pride swallowing in the struggle to pay off my student loans. Servers and bartenders — I feel your pain. But since so many of us need these positions to supplement our less than lucrative career paths and/ or unemployment, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in making these jobs survivable.
1.) Assume that everyone is going to be a fabulous tipper. Sure, you were stiffed by your last table and this one might do the same, but if you approach them with a face full of resentment for the previous assholes, these new, potentially polite, 20% tippers are going to read your vibe and respond accordingly. If you give everyone the benefit of the doubt and approach them with enthusiasm and wide-eyed focus on ensuring their fabulous dining experience, you can usually get them on your side. Most people can’t bring themselves to screw a server who seems to mysteriously and desperately care about them.
2.) Make friends with the girlfriends/ boyfriends. Ladies, don’t forget the ladies, and gents, don’t forget the gents. Although innocent flirting is a proven tactic in upping tip percentages, the stink eye you’ll get from their significant other might counteract that. I find that if I focus on the girls at a table and win their approval first, they provide unspoken permission for the guys to enjoy my company as well. You need everyone to pool in on the bill and tip when it comes time, so don’t leave anyone feeling cold-shouldered, even if their boyfriend is attractive and obviously into you.
3.) Understand your paying customers. Times are tough right now and I know for me personally, going out to eat is a treat that I indulge myself in only after the completion of a long and painful work week. If people are collecting the change from their couch cushions to afford the twenty-dollar burger you’re serving them, then yes, they are going to demand a lot from the hands that serve them that patty o’gold. You’re a broke server — I know you get that. So treat their money with respect and do everything in your power to make it worth the groceries they now can’t afford.
4.) Make your money and run. The service industry is full of attractive twenty-somethings who never get out to meet people because they’re holed up at work, forced to watch potential romances blossoming for other people at the tables they’re serving. We get to be a part of more date nights than anyone else, yet these dates are never our own. You’re horny and lonely and your co-workers are too but DO NOT sh-t where you serve. As much as you hate it, you need this job or you wouldn’t be there. An ugly in-house fling or painful break-up is just going to lead to a torturous work environment. Not that I know.
5.) Smile! Sometimes you’ll mean it and sometimes you won’t, but for God’s sake, nobody wants to look at your pouty face. Your customers are there to have a good time, not feed off your negative energy. I know at times it can seem impossible, but even forcing a smile can make you feel a little better. And you’ll definitely feel better when your smiles are reciprocated with smiles from happy diners.
6.) Remember: This is not your career. This is a survival skill that will soon be nothing but a collection of once painful, now funny, service industry horror stories to share with your kids when they’re slinging shots to pay off the portion of tuition that you want them to pay for, just so that they can experience the valuable life lessons that the service industry taught you. (Or at least, that’s the line you’ll feed them when you can’t afford to pay their insane tuition costs after you FINALLY paid off your own, thanks, in part, to your serving position.) Hold onto the light at the end of the tunnel and know that someday, somehow, you will be on the intoxicated side of Sunday Funday and spilling drinks that someone else will have to clean up.