The Waiting Game

There I was, a 19-year old college student, in stained overalls and a red flannel shirt, holding an oversized platter of all-you-can-eat fried catfish over my right shoulder. My hungry customer, to whom I was serving this heart attack on a plate, looked at me, then my chest, and I immediately knew what was coming next. "Son, why are you number two?" he asked, as a satellite of cornbread shot from his mouth. At this point, it was clear he was mocking my yellow "I'm Number Two" button strategically placed on my dingy dungarees. I slowly summoned the energy to recite what I was trained to say by my seafood bosses when my "flare" was noticed: "Because, sir, you are number one here at Uncle Bud's."

During my six years in the food-service industry, I've been forced to perform just about any task you can imagine. I've disinfected toilets, danced the Macarena, cleaned dirty ashtrays, memorized precise ingredients for below-average fare, worn ridiculous and uncomfortable uniforms, and learned more versions of birthday songs than I care to remember.

For those who have never strapped on an apron, balanced a tray over your head, or patiently waited for an indecisive customer to make up his mind, I must tell you: waiting tables is difficult. Servers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the restaurant industry. The job is stressful, tiring, and requires an infinite amount of patience. It's a field study in the varying degrees of human interaction. If everything goes right for our guests, we're tipped, on average, 15 percent (18 to 20 percent if one is feeling generous) and praise is heaped upon the chef, the bartender, and the guy who cleans the floor at the end of the night. But if your stuffed mushrooms are late, steak is overcooked, fries are bland, or Jack and Coke on the rocks has too many rocks, the server is on the front lines taking the hits -- and hell hath no fury like a customer scorned.

I put myself through college and graduate school waiting tables, and there were times when I really enjoyed the work. In fact, through these experiences, I was able to take away a number of life's lessons: Humility and patience immediately come to mind, as well as time- and money-management.

But dealing with the public, the hungry public, is demanding, and it's time that servers get the credit they deserve. So much, in fact, that I've taken the liberty of compiling a brief list of requests on behalf of servers across the globe. I must add that the vast majority of dining guests, because of their kindness and generosity towards the wait staff, need not read any further. A select few, however, might learn a thing or two from these requests.


• Be cordial. The nicer you are to your server, the more attentive he'll be to your table. It's funny how that works.

• If you need extra dressing, we can handle it. Ketchup? Sure. Refill on your water? No problem. Cigarettes from the corner gas station? Uh, no.

• Snapping your fingers at a server is rude. Asking him to change your order after it's been prepared is unacceptable. But stiffing a server? Well, that's just plain wrong.

• If you say you're ready to order, be ready to order.

• If there's something wrong with your meal, don't finish three quarters of it before letting us know you'd like it replaced.

•And finally, if something doesn't go right, calm down and take a deep breath. Servers are human and should not be subjected to public humiliation. Unless, of course, they're wearing overalls and a ridiculous yellow button -- then, they're just asking for it. 

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