Facts That Might Change The Way You Look At Waiters And Waitresses

There are two kinds of people in this world. People who have waited tables, and people who haven't. Those of us who have waited tables, (like me!), are quick to make some basic observations about our servers when we go out to eat ourselves. We notice how large their section is, the way they get treated by management, how long the bartender makes them wait to pick up their drink orders.

Waiting tables is an incredibly rewarding job, but also insanely challenging, and more than a little bit frustrating. We deal with unreasonable customers, maniacal kitchen staff, and work crazy hours. The next time you go out to dine, keep in mind there is plenty going on behind the scenes that may contribute to the kind of shift your server is having.

We don't get a real paycheck

Unless you are dining in one of the states that have recently raised minimum wages for tipped employees, chances are good your server is making a whopping $2.13 per hour, and that's before taxes. At the end of our shift, we must declare our tips, so Uncle Sam can get his share. Some restaurants ask you what you earned that night, and some assume you made a certain percentage of your sales. The taxes are then taken out of our paycheck — meaning that check likely reads $0.00 every week.

While the percentage the restaurant figures you earned allows for both good and bad tippers, a server can be really screwed over in an instance where they waited on a large party that stiffs them or is even just cheap, yet they are still taxed on the standard percentage. So yes, in some scenarios, it is possible that it costs us money to wait on you.

We often skip meals

All restaurants have their own policies when it comes to feeding their staff. I have worked at places that let you order any meal you want from the menu, places that give you 50 percent off the food, and places that cook a large family style meal at the start of the shift for everyone to share.

I have also worked at places with temperamental kitchen staffs that would only feed workers when they felt like it. As in, you can be in the middle of a double shift, you haven't eaten since that energy bar you had at 9 a.m., and the cooks look at you like you're nuts if you inquire about a staff meal happening anytime soon, or even at all.

Add to that the fact that you aren't allowed to be seen eating by patrons. If your server is a little cranky, keep in mind they may be running on that dixie cup full of soup they may have just tried to scarf down in the bathroom.

It's not our fault when the kitchen screws up

Listen, we make errors sometimes. We forget you wanted that omelette with egg whites, or we don't ring into the computer that you wanted the sauce on the side. Usually we'll catch the error before it hits the table. But sometimes, more often than you would think, it's the kitchen that's screwing up your order — particularly with incorrectly cooked meat temperatures, or leaving a certain item out of a dish.

We hate when this happens, because it not only makes us look bad, but we also know you might be that kind of jerk who is convinced this error is because of some kind of mental incompetence on our part. If you see that a server is moving quickly, is on top of the situation, and is trying to fix the problem promptly, cut them some slack, and realize there are a lot of people behind the scenes who may be to blame.

We may be "in the weeds"

A typical server's section in a restaurant is anywhere from three to six tables, depending on the tables' sizes. Sometimes, the host or hostess will break the cardinal rule of restaurantdom, and "double seat" us, or even "triple seat" us, instead of the far more preferable method of filling our section up at a staggered pace.

This can affect the meal of every diner in our section, as each new table needs to order drinks, hear the specials, and place their order. Even a seasoned server can be a bit undone by this, but it's made even worse if on top of that, we get an error coming out of the kitchen, or have a difficult table. If your server doesn't seem to be completely on the ball, keep in mind what their other tables might be putting them through.

Customers sometimes ask too much of us

One of the reasons we might be in the weeds is because of customers who really don't know where the barriers are in expecting a server to take care of their needs. Some requests are innocuous enough. I have been expected to hang coats, fold up wheelchairs, hold babies, and read the menu line by line to people. Fair enough.

I have also been asked to answer a cell phone and pretend to be a secretary, lend people money who forgot their wallet, entertain people's children, and scoop the bread out of a woman's bagel. I once worked a party that was celebrating a bris, and the blessed event took place right there in the party room, with the "leftovers" left wrapped in a tissue on a chair. As I had decided that the removal of medical waste was where I drew the line, I asked the Mohel to please take care of it, who was aghast that I wasn't willing to do it myself.

We are likely working a double

Restaurant shifts can be long, and working doubles is a lot more common than you think. Servers can usually only take a day off if they find someone to cover for them. Some restaurants require newbies to work the slow lunch shift if they want the lucrative dinner shift. Many of us are just trying to maximize our earnings for the day. If it's a popular restaurant, your server is probably exhausted, their feet are killing them, and they've likely pulled or strained a neck or back muscle from carrying a beer keg up a flight of stairs.

Your table might be really far from the bar or kitchen

Take note of where you're seated the next time you dine at a sprawling theme restaurant or open-air venue. Can you see the bar? Can you see the kitchen? That stretch between your table and where the food and drinks come from is how far your server needs to traverse each and every time you ask for something. So please don't complain when your Captain Crunch-coated chicken fingers take a few minutes longer than usual, or when your over-sized margarita arrives at the same time as your appetizers. Be smart with your server's time. Order refills at the same time as the rest of your party. If you're sending us back to the kitchen for something, make sure to really ask for everything you need.

The chef or manager may treat us badly

I have worked for some of the nicest people in the restaurant industry, but I have also worked with some of the absolute worst. Chefs can be a tad eccentric, and some can be complete control freaks. Much the same way we wish patrons would not blame us for the mistakes the kitchen makes, we wish chefs would not scream and curse at us for the ridiculous requests customers sometimes make — and they do. I have lived in real fear of asking a chef to make a dish without butter, or sub side dishes. And God forbid a customer sends something back to the kitchen.

Managers can be rough as well, changing your schedule at a moment's notice, relentlessly giving you a hard time about your sales numbers, not pitching in when they can clearly see everyone is in the weeds. The owner of the Irish pub I worked at in Times Square once drove a steak knife into the bar in front of my face to make a point about me improperly pouring a black and tan.

And sexism and harassment is rampant in restaurants. I can't tell you how many times kitchen staff would pat my behind, or make inappropriate comments to me about my body, or about my co-workers. As a woman in the restaurant industry, it was par for the course.

We might be drunk

There's a lot of partying going on in restaurants, and it's not just by the patrons. Late night shifts in restaurants very often turn into even later nights at the nearest bar. When the owner isn't around, the party might even get started before the shift is over, with the bartender sneaking you shots of who-knows-what before you've delivered your last dessert.

For most of my early 20s, I would work until midnight, stay out till 4 a.m., sleep until noon, and start it all over again at my 4 p.m. dinner shift, sometimes very worse for wear. I have also witnessed restaurant staff relying upon all manner of illicit substances to get through a shift, something management would turn a blind eye to — or would join in. If your server seems like he just dragged himself out of bed and is still drunk from the night before, there's a good chance he is.

If you dine and dash, we may have to pay your bill

You're a special kind of a lowlife if you leave a restaurant without paying your bill. When you dine and dash, you may assume you're just sticking it to the big corporation, or the millionaire owner, but chances are, you're forcing your server to pay your bill.

Though it's technically illegal, every restaurant I've ever worked at has had some kind of policy in place that ultimately punishes the server for a dine and dash. They may make you pay 50 percent of the bill, or the entire thing. Some restaurants will fire you on the spot if it's happened to you too often.

I once had to pay the entire bill for two jerks who sat at my bar all night and drank their own body weights in Guinness. Working your butt off all day to have to hand over your hard-earned cash to pay the bill for someone that you just waited on is pretty much the worst scenario a server can go through. Sometimes the staff will band together though, and all pitch in ten or twenty bucks to pay the bill so the server doesn't bare the full brunt. That's when you know you have a good crew.

Our co-workers are like family

Despite the long hours, crude jokes, and co-workers too strung out to properly do their jobs, the people I've met throughout my many years in the restaurant industry have been some of my favorite people I have known in my life. I have worked alongside people from all over the world, and of every political affiliation. My co-workers have regaled me with their tales of fighting in the Israeli armed forces, or growing up on a farm in China, or were working double shifts every day to send money to their family in Pakistan. Fascinating people who I doubt I would have otherwise met or had anything in common with, but together we had each other's backs, covering for one another, and comforting each other when we were having a bad day. The staff of a restaurant are like family, so be wary of making a derogatory remark about the busboy, or complaining to us about our slow co-worker...at the end of the day, we are on each other's side.