They are the most visible players in any restaurant you visit. In some ways, they are the face of the restaurant you are going to dine in tonight or any other night. When you bounce in to eat at So-and-So’s renowned kitchen, you won’t be speaking to the Chef, you won’t be speaking to the Hostess with the great legs all that much.
But you will be speaking to you Waiter or Waitress.
So maybe it’s time we learned to treat them better than we have been.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
You’ve gone out to eat. You’ve place your order. Your Waitress (and I’m going to use “her” or “Waitress” from here on out just so I don’t have to double up the pronouns) was bright, prompt and friendly. She came right over to your table. Got your Drink order, took your order for appetizers and took the order for your meal. She goes into the Kitchen..
…and you barely see her again.
This happened to me not so long ago. Hell, it happens to everyone.
The first instinct, and the instinct most people will have is to blame the Waitress. “She disorganized”, “She doesn’t know what she’s doing” all the way to the very hurtful and denigrating “She’s stupid”. Some will even take it personally: “She doesn’t give a @#$% about us” or even “She must hate us…”
Yes, I’ve heard people say this…out loud…in English in some of our finer establishments.
Now, no Waitress or Waiter is perfect. Some do screw up totally on their own, show massive indifference or just plain aren’t paying attention.
And sometimes, there are accidents, the Waitress writes the wrong thing down, or the Kitchen gets the orders confused and the wrong thing is run back to the wrong table.
But 90-95% of the time, that’s not what’s happening.
If there is a person, who wants you to get your Food on time…its your Waitress.
Believe when I say, even in your darkest, most hungry of times, when you are desperate to get your food, your Waitress or Waiter is right there with you.
It is almost universally a mistake to blame your Waitress or Waiter when your food is delayed. I figure it’s around 95% of the time that it’s not your waitress keeping you from your grub.
First things first, you’ve got to know how a restaurant works.
Your Waitress takes your order into the Kitchen, where the Chef starts assigning tasks to complete your meal. The Cooks work along something you’ll hear referred to as “The Line”, and the Cooks on those stations “Line Cooks”. Cooks working the line work on different, individual components of your meal, each focusing on one thing and doing it to perfection, or near perfect. There’s a Line Cook working on your Steak. One working on your soup. One on the veggies or sides. There’s even a guy working to prep the stuff the other Chefs will use. (The proper term is Mise-en-place, but I’ve also heard Tony Bourdain refer to them as “Kitchen Bitch”.)
Once all the Line Cooks are done, in a fantastic ballet of precision where everything hot hits your plate at hopefully the same time, your meal is assembled on the slide, where it is run out to you, the guest for your pleasure and consumption. This is called “Plating”.
Where in that semi-complicated chain of events did the Waitress mess up?
Where in that semi-complicated chain of events did the Waitress even have a CHANCE to mess up?
Usually…by which I mean just about always…if something’s gone wrong with your order, its usually the kitchen’s fault. Like I said, it’s a very complicated dance going on between the Chef and his Line Cooks. The object of the game is to get each part of your individual meal hitting your place, hot and fresh out of the oven, at just about the same time, where your Waitress will grab it, and run it out to you.
And believe it or not, for the most part, this happens perfectly, especially in your higher end restaurants, where the really high end, prepared Chefs are no joke and know just what the hell it is they’re doing.
But it’s also really easy to imagine how quickly that complicated ballet of events can fall apart. You can see how one mistake anywhere on the line can delay your meal, screw it up, or worse…screw things up for the meals waiting behind them.
Again, where is ANY of that, the Waitresses fault?
The problem is, who do the customers see, talk to and interact with? Who is it that’s going to take the heat for the Kitchen’s screw up?
You guessed it.
Worse still, you’ve probably done it.
Since I’ve been Food Blogging, I’ve changed my attitudes significantly on Waitresses and Waiters. They are, after all, among the lowest paid employees in the House. Most Minimum Wage laws allow for Waitresses and Waiters to be paid well below whatever that State’s minimum wage is, figuring they’ll make up the difference on Tips.
For the most part, they do.
But it’s a key thing to remember, as far as customers are concerned, Waitstaff are paid and the Tip is a bonus. That’s nice to think about, but it’s not how it works in real life. In real life, those Tips are their wages, the thing Waitresses and Waiters are expected to survive on.
Personally, I can’t bring myself to punish someone by making sure they have a harder time living in the world. If you have to complain, complain, but don’t take it out on their livelihood. Times are tough enough as it is. I know Waitstaff can screw up, and screw up royally, but the punishment shouldn’t be to make it harder to pay their electric bill.
But remember, just because one of the Line Cooks say…I don’t know…burned your Veggies, or scooped out a bowl of soup with nothing in it…that’s not your Waitresses fault. She does know what she’s doing and Lord knows she’s not stupid.
And even on some faint, bizarre twist of fate, your Waitress did somehow..”hate you” and want you out of there. Odds are she’ll work even faster to get you out of there faster.
So take a moment (and a deep breath), and consider how you, the average customer, looks right now. You are blaming someone for something they didn’t do, and have virtually no control over. Then are going to punish them by taking it out of the wrong person’s salary. If anything, because of how much of their salary is dependent on tips (and the size of the tip being dependent on your pleasure), the Waitresses is probably just as pissed as you.
Again, your Waitress or Waiter is on your side.
So let go of that breath, and let this be the worst thing ever your say to a Waitress or a Waiter:
“What do you think is going on back there?” Meaning the Kitchen, a sly nod letting your Waitress know that you know there is a problem…but that you also know it’s not their doing.
I guarantee you your Waitress or Waiter will leap to find out just what the @#$% is happening, probably come back with your food, or a damn good reason.
Oh, and Waitresses, Waiters? Do your part too. Keep in good communication with both the Kitchen and your Customers. Try to anticipate problems and let the customers in on what’s happening as diplomatically as you can. Most times, if you’re doing things right, your customers won’t even notice there’s a problem.
But what am I saying? Of course you’re doing things right. You’re professionals.
We all like dining out, and no one goes out with the intention into a fight with anybody. But I get it, going out to eat can be a pricey proposition, and once people start shelling out that kind of cash, they can feel a little…well…entitled.
And Waitstaff? After days and days of dealing with that kind of entitled behavior, well…their nerves can get a little short too. (Though, a Waiter or a Waitress actually losing it in the Dining room…supremely rare.)
Going out for Dinner is supposed to be a good time. We all want to have it. Your Waiter and your Waitress wants you to have it as well. If you remember how things work, and take that breath, it’ll happen.
Remember, they’re on your side.