I hate waiting tables during lunch. It brings out the worst in me, in the guests, in my co workers. It brings out the worst in all of us, really, as a species. And I’m not just talking about my restaurant, I’m talking about the lunch hour, as a practice. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a lunch break at all, it’s generally never more than an hour. Come spend eight hours a day working for us, and by the way, that doesn’t include a lunch break, that’s on you. And don’t take more than an hour.
As a waiter, dinner’s pretty easy. People start rolling in around five or six, and the dining room stays pretty full until closing. That’s plenty of time to make money, to let people eat, finish chewing their food, the whole restaurant experience. But lunchtime, nobody’s cutting anybody any slack. We’ve got to do the whole restaurant thing, but it’s got to be over in an hour. Everybody got it? Hostesses, you ready to seat all of these people? Cooks? You guys all set?
Because it’s noon and there’s already a line out the door. And parties of business people get sat and they want their Diet Cokes and unsweetened ice teas immediately. And you know what? We’ll just give you everything right now, we’re ready, burger, boom, salad, got it, let’s go, get it in, if we get our food quick enough, maybe we’ll have ten minutes or so to spend outside before filing back into the offices, another five or six or seven hours of sitting down, pouring whatever reserves of energy we have left out to our jobs, so even though, yeah, I guess we could technically go out for a walk at nine, or ten, we’ve got to eat, and we’re so tired, it’s been such a long day.
So yeah, that lunch hour, that’s a lot of pressure, sixty minutes to try and feel like a normal person sandwiched by two stretches of productivity. Why can’t we figure something else out? Wouldn’t two hours be cool? Or three? Sure, that might eat up into a company’s bottom line, and yeah, what would the shareholders say? But then again, might not a shorter workday lead to less stressed out employees? Shouldn’t that be a goal?
But that’s not the way we do business, and so we’re stuck with the lunch hour, way too little time for everybody, especially if you want to sit down at a restaurant and enjoy an actual meal. “Hi, we’re actually in a little bit of a hurry …” Of course you’re in a hurry. Everybody’s in a hurry. I’m actually in a hurry too. I only have about two hours or so to make money today, so I’d like to get you fed and out of here in as little time as possible. And look at that, everyone else is saying the same thing to their server, that they’re in a hurry. And the whole restaurant staff, we’re all racing to the computers, trying to get your lunch in before everyone else gets their lunch in, before the window gets immediately overrun by orders. The first few plates are out in eight to minutes, but after that, well, even if nobody on the line makes any mistakes, we’re talking sheer volume, OK, you can only cook a hamburger so fast, and you can only fit so many burgers on the grill.
Even worse though, every now and then I’ll approach a table just as the lunch rush really gets rocking, and the businessmen and women at my table dismiss me with a wave of the hand, “Actually, we haven’t even looked at the menu. Why don’t you come back in ten minutes?” And that’s when I have to get a little aggressive, which I don’t like, but I mean, I need to eat, OK, I need money in my pocket. I’m not going to waste my entire lunch shift waiting for you guys to get your act together.
It’s like seriously, OK, order, eat, pay, and leave. Do you see the line out the door? And I get it, OK, it’s not cool to feel rushed. But that’s because there’s nothing cool about the lunch hour. Everybody’s feeling rushed. Do you see that swarm of bodies jockeying for position around the hostess’s podium? Yeah, they’re all waiting for your table. And so when I come over and start bussing everything off, your empty coffee cups, your empty water glasses, yes, I can see you rolling your eyes at me as I wipe down the table for the third time, like I get it, that I know that you know that I’m trying to get you to leave, and it’s not just me, OK, my manager’s like, “Hey Rob, how’s table eleven? Did they leave yet?” and I’m like, “No, I just wiped down the table again and they still didn’t leave,” and she’s like, “OK well, go wipe it down again,” and I’m like, “For real? Again? I just did it.”
And so I have to go over, again, and I have to wipe the table down, again, and they’re all visibly annoyed by my presence, and maybe one of them starts to take out some business documents, like a bunch of printed out spreadsheets. And I just want to be like, come on everybody, I don’t barge into your office and start asking people if they want more Diet Coke, OK, wouldn’t that get in your way? Wouldn’t that disrupt the flow of you trying to do your job, to make money? Yeah, so don’t sit here and bring your business to my table. I need customers to sit here and buy food and tip me so I can go home and go out to eat and buy food and tip people.
What really gets me is that a lot of the most guilty offenders, the parties that just don’t care at all, it’s these businessmen working at banks and hedge funds, paying for their lunches on identical corporate credit cards, all of them with ridiculous names like, “Hyperion Capital,” or “Acceleron Associates.” You guys understand business, right? Don’t you get the whole supply and demand aspect of this restaurant? Your table is in demand. I’m trying to get you to leave so I can supply it to a new round of customers.
And now I’m in full rant mode, but this is the invisible hand of the market at work. OK, this is what you want in your job, right, you want the government to leave you alone so you can make your money and do whatever you want, right? And then you go out to lunch and you get annoyed that there’s a whole restaurant full of people trying to get by on gratuity. That’s how it works. More customers, more gratuity, more money. You need to leave. Just eat, pay, leave, and make room for somebody else. Because this is big city, OK, there are like seven billion people on this planet, all right? You’ve got to make room for everyone. There’s a whole lot of people trying to eat lunch.