When I say I’ve waitressed all over the world, I mean I’ve served at three different establishments all specializing in authentic ethnic cuisine: an Italian restaurant, Indian buffet, and Irish pub. You’d think serving chicken masala with that signature, totally inconspicuous I-love-tips smile no different from bringing out burgers or carrying salads overhead, but from what I’ve seen, places rich in culture have a style of their own.
Four years of experience, a million stories and crazy customers, and an embarrassing amount of Spanglish later, here are 11 amazing discoveries, from your friendly neighborhood waitress. *winning smile*
1. People order super bizarre foods and combos for a reason. Maybe it reminds them of home. Once at Indian Pavilion, I had a toothless guy order one of everything on the menu, because cancer was killing his taste buds and he could only savor really spicy first bites.
2. Restaurants hold special places in our hearts. Whether it’s where you met for your first date twenty-five years ago or about to become a tradition, a meal can mean a lifelong memory.
3. Food brings friends and families together. Ethnic food especially, like Italian, is made to be shared. Pass the pasta, pop!
4. The managers of these places run a tight ship. Every one of my bosses moved to America with little money and big dreams. To them it’s more than a restaurant; it’s a place where both their people and new folk can come to dine in another country for a night. They’ve dedicated so much, and are full of pride. Ain’t got no time for “Millennial shit.”
5. You can never, ever, do everything right. I’ve spent hours realigning silverware, sweeping under chairs, and Windexing, because apparently the first time just wasn’t good enough. You’re barked at, critiqued, watched constantly. It’s tough love – which makes the elusive “nice work” that more rewarding.
6. The kitchen staff are a fam of their own, and a hilarious one at that. Working at My Place, the Italian restaurant that employed both Spanish and Italians, I learned more language than three semesters of college SPAN and a Rosetta Stone combined. If you’ve seen Orange is the New Black, you get it.
7. The regulars rule. An older couple hits up Local Whiskey every single Sunday afternoon, wearing matching vacation T-shirts from decades of journeys. Their favorite destination? Ireland. Regulars have their order to a science, make themselves comfortable right away, and ask you what’s new. They’re awesome.
8. You can’t judge the table that isn’t talking or the customer sitting alone. Table-for-ones tell me cooking dinner just isn’t the same since their spouse passed. Another familiar sight is the couple texting for their entire meal, clearly unhappy. An all-knowing pasta sauce maker once said, “At least they’re not fighting about who’s making supper, too.”
9. Serving, especially as a female, can be very belittling. To some, a server is obedient, nameless, and nearly invisible. To others, you’re as tempting as the sizzling steaks. You just take the high road and remind them that you’re not on the specials list tonight. Or ever.
10. Your work isn’t reflected in your tips. Kids don’t have cash to throw around, but they’ll surprise you. The blatantly wealthy party in pearls and leather loafers that leaves you only dimes? Fuck ‘em.
11. Waitressing isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. It’s monkey work, treat for trick, and it takes strategy and a unique personality. Servers are patient, compassionate, friendly, and genuinely enjoy talking to and learning from human beings. You add a culture into the mix, and it’s the coolest staycation imaginable. It’s a tough job, and I’m really, actually sorry when your bread isn’t ready, but hey, somebody’s gotta do it.