Servers: On the front lines of restaurant hospitality
A number of years ago, I ran an article that received a record number of positive responses from industry people and restaurant customers alike. But events over the past year and a half appear to have generated even more entitled and rude behavior toward our hardworking restaurant employees. In fact, just last week I experienced it firsthand during one of our Eating Rehoboth restaurant tour visits. So maybe it’s time I print this again. Enjoy.
Hi! My name is Sherri (or William, or Sandra or Derek) and I’ll be your server this evening. I might also be your neighbor’s son or daughter, or a single parent working my way through UD. I might even be from Bulgaria or Russia or Romania where I’m in school for architecture, accounting or medicine. But tonight, here in Rehoboth Beach, USA, I’m your server.
Note that I said server. Not servant. In a resort town, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard things like, “How hard can it be to take an order?” Or, “You’d better have the wine I want. Your tip depends on it.” Well, it’s not hard to take your order. But that’s not all I do. See your silverware neatly wrapped in that napkin? I rolled up about 150 of those last night, probably after you went to bed. Depending on the restaurant, I might even have cleaned and set your table.
In some restaurants, I make your dessert (or at least get it onto the plate), and sometimes your salad. Often it’s my job to brew the coffee. (If you’re not nice to me around 10 p.m., you might – or might not – get the decaf you ordered.) If I like where I work, I’ll be just as disappointed as you are that we’re out of your favorite wine. But I don’t order the wine, and I don’t order the food. But because I’m your only direct contact with this business, chances are pretty good you’ll blame me anyway.
I don’t make close to the minimum wage you hear about in political speeches. Though you might feel you’re doing me a favor by tipping 20 percent, in larger restaurants I’m taxed on 20 percent of the total of my checks – whether or not you tip that amount. Again, if I like where I work, it’s to my benefit to treat you well. You’re more likely to tip generously, and maybe you’ll come back and ask for me. And I’ll make the equivalent of a good wage.
This is the second time I’ve said, “If I like where I work ... .” Some restaurants are not run well. Poor management and a careless kitchen can make me look bad, and frankly, give me an attitude. If the customer before you snapped her fingers to get my attention, that doesn’t help either. Certain types of people – especially in a resort – enjoy the sense of power they get by being rude to somebody whose job it is to be nice to them. Sadly, it might be the only power they have in their lives. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
So is that an excuse for me to be rude to you? Certainly not. But it could be a reason. And if I like where I work (there it is again), I’ll rise above it because I know that this business will suffer if you don’t come back. If I don’t understand that my employer and my job rely on my giving you a pleasant experience, then I should be in another line of work.
In some restaurants, I deliver food to your table whether or not I’m your server. You get your order faster, you’re happier, you’ll finish sooner, and maybe we can seat another party. Some places employ “runners” who fulfill that duty so I have time to wait on more guests. But in most cases, I also share my tips with the runners. If there’s a service bar making your drinks, often I’ll share with the bartender, too. This is called tipping out. It benefits everybody, but it’s not any less work for me.
If I like where I work, I’m aware that I stand squarely between you and the restaurant’s concept and reputation. Smart ownership will employ dedicated managers to ensure that I feel appreciated for that. On a slow night, I might not earn much, but as the only link between you and the business, I know I can make a difference in its success. If I like where I work, that is.