Servers Down

“Actually, I’d like that table over there. The booth. By the window.”
As a hostess and server at Eastern Market’s self-proclaimed “real American classic joint”, I hear this phrase about thirty times a week, typically in a snappy, entitled tone with little indication of remorse for the ensuing inconvenience.

That’s because most people fail to realize the inconvenience their seemingly harmless demands actually cause.

I blame this on lack of exposure and experience.

Spending the entirety of my college career working in the service industry as a bartender for extra cash and surrendering a summer to a position in Guest Relations in North Carolina, I serve for the personal interaction, the supplemental income, and the exercise it affords me. While I have generally enjoyed gaining exposure and proficiency in the restaurant and guest relations industries, the experience has not been consistent sunshine and rainbows and I certainly have other plans for my Ivy League degree.

Last May, I moved down to the District from Philadelphia to pursue my Ph.D. In order to survive in the city, I immediately applied for a bartending position at an Eastern Market restaurant. Having devoted over six years of my life to this arena,  I am more than familiar with the grievances of employment in the service industry.

I would now like to draw attention to just a few of the intricacies of the industry that most fail to realize, in the hopes that it will make at least one person more aware of the difficulties associated with service industry employment.

Exhibit A: Tipping is not just for cows.

Everyone in this industry goes through a sort of hazing period, if you will, during which they become completely disillusioned with humanity and the seeming indifference of mankind. Paying the bill is not the part where you let us know in a passive-aggressive manner that our service was mediocre, at best. It should be the part where you consider how much multi-tasking goes into our position and how much we have sincerely tried to make your experience a positive one. Considering a twenty percent tip on a $30 bill will pay for little over a gallon of gas these days, we could really use every dollar we can accumulate when we put in the effort to do our job well.

People should also realize that at many restaurants, servers make their living on tips exclusively. There is no eight-dollars-an-hour-plus-tips mantra at most restaurants and the money we walk with at the end of a grueling ten-hour shift is the full stop of that stint.

A less-than-twenty-percent tip is understandable  if the server was miserable and unaccommodating, but if we look like we’re genuinely trying, please don’t take it upon yourself to “teach us a lesson about life”. We just see it as a lack of appreciation on your part.

Exhibit B: Believe it or not, we’ve got a system.

No, we do not seat you in the back corner because we hate you. We do it because the server in this front section was just triple-sat and if we seat you here their head will literally explode. And that’s just more for us to clean up.

Nothing infuriates me more than people who walk into a restaurant and tell the hostess where they will be enjoying their meal for the next hour. See those seating charts? They tell us where you will sit. Not you.

Diners need to understand that we really do try to accommodate patrons’ requests; however, sometimes you just need to go with the flow and enjoy the experience, regardless of the “uncomfortable” back rests. If they were that uncomfortable, do you think we’d have incorporated them into the décor?

Exhibit C: People assume all servers are sub-human and have generally failed at “real life”.

Reality check: the majority of my fellow servers and bartenders have additional 9-to-5 jobs or they are pursuing Masters degrees or Ph.D.’s. I always marvel at the treatment we receive when patrons act on their instinctive assumptions.

Mind you, I’ll be the first to admit that even I find myself disparaging my own servers on occasion. But my experience in the service industry quickly puts my instincts in check and I make it a point to tip generously on good service, an act of commiseration for their oftentimes unrewarded labor.

My experience in the service industry has fostered not only an appreciation for the vexations of service employees, but also an awareness of the potential policy implications of such frustrations.

It is my very strong opinion that everyone should find employment in the service industry for at least a three-month period during their high school or college careers. Not only will this provide the work ethic we as Americans seem to have lost since the second World War, but it will instill in youngsters—and, subsequently, their adult counterparts—an appreciation for industriousness, as well as an enduring sympathy for others.

Servers’ complaints are admittedly miniscule when compared to the grander scheme of war and global crisis, but I firmly believe that every interpersonal disaster begins with a basic lack of compassion. Exposure to the service industry, in my opinion, has the potential to remedy that indifference.

In the meantime, throw in a few extra bucks the next time you dine out. Go ahead—make my day.


4 thoughts on “Servers Down

  1. I couldnt possibly agree more with everything in this post. My mom’s Life Advice to everyone is that everyone should work in a restaurant and in retail once in their lives, because it will generally make you a better and more aware human being. And to your point about work ethic– I know multiple people who have gone in for interviews at “real” jobs with restaurant experience on their resumes, and employers have commented on it saying that people who have worked in the restaurant industry tend to be much harder workers. We’re just used to busing our asses I guess.

  2. Pingback: Listen to yourself, man. | District RestauRANTS

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