I spent many happy years as a waiter in various cities in the United States, and while most people I’ve waited on have treated me with dignity and respect, occasionally, I had a customer or two who were unpleasant, and even a few who were openly dismissive of me. Those who were unpleasant I chalked up to having a bad day, but those who were dismissive struck me as a special breed: people who were somewhat clueless as to the way the real world works. On behalf of my waiter colleagues and for the benefit of all who might want to take their bad day out on a wait person, I offer the following Top Ten Reasons to be Nice to Waiters.
10) Consider your lineage: Unless you’re a Hapsburg, chances are one of your relatives has been a waiter. Insulting a waiter, in effect, is tantamount to insulting your lineage. Whatever the provocation, resist the temptation to go off or you’ll needlessly have kinfolks rolling in their graves.
9) Consider the possibility that you’re not omniscient: What’s taking so long? How hard is it to walk back and forth with a Stella Artois? Doesn’t the waitron see me? How difficult is it to add up a check and deliver it in a timely manner? These and other questions often come to mind when you feel as though what should be a simple job is being mucked up by someone who hasn’t got a clue. But before you work yourself into an apoplectic fit, consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you don’t know all the facts. Yes, from a patron’s limited, self-centered point of view, none of dropping off an order to a kitchen and delivering it to a customer should take any longer than a few short minutes. But the truth is, the waiter has to balance the needs of any number of tables full of patrons. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not as simple as it seems or looks.
8) Think Karma We’ve all heard, “What goes around, comes around” and although not all of us believe it, why take chances? According to basic Karmic theory, treating people you don’t know and may never see again with dignity and respect increases your chances that people who don’t know you and may never see you again will also treat you with respect. It’s a nice way to look at things, and it might even be true.
7) Anger and frustration takes the joy out of the now: Most people go to restaurants for a pleasurable experience. Fighting with the person who is delivering your food takes away from the moment. What should be a relaxing event can become unnecessarily tense if you allow your annoyance with a waiter to get the better of you. Think of all of the best meals you’ve had in restaurants; more than likely, none of your favorite memories involve an argument with a waiter. If the food is taking longer than you expect, use the time to make pleasant conversation or work up a better appetite.
6) You never know who’s watching. The person you’re out to dinner with may be evaluating you on the way you treat the waiter. My mother told me she married my father, in part, because she liked the way he treated waiters. In her view, if he could be nice to people he didn’t know, he would probably treat those he did know at least as well, if not better. The marriage lasted 52 years and seemed grounded in mutual love and respect. Admittedly, this is mere anecdotal evidence, but the moral of the story is, the people you’re with in a restaurant may judge you by the way you treat the wait staff. Why not impress?
5) Come the peasant uprising, you’ll want to be known as someone who treated the commoner with dignity. All right. This one’s a stretch, but isn’t it comforting to know that should all heck break lose, you’ll have friends who are holding the torches and pitchforks?
4) You may wind up being a waiter yourself someday. Waiting tables is not something most people do for a lifetime, although I have known a number of excellent wait staff professionals. Most of us do it for a time. Even if you think you’ll never need to be a waiter yourself, don’t be so sure. The world’s economy has a way of humbling many of the financial mighty. You may need to take a turn at being on the other side of the restaurant experience. Refer back to #8.
3) Protect your drink: Remember, remember, remember… Annoying a waiter before you’ve gotten your drink invites a hostile reaction from the server. What could an annoyed waiter do to your drink? Besides serving it to you hotter or colder than you’d like, you don’t want to know.
2) Protect your food. (See # 3) Trust me when I tell you that no waiter likes to be insulted. If you absolutely feel you have to go off on the person delivering your food, make sure it is well past a time you’ll want anything else. When I worked in NYC as a waiter, I had a colleague who used to sweep the floor and take the finest dust in the dustbin, and put it into a salt shaker. When any customer was insufferably dismissive of him, he would bow, scrape and apologize, then go in the back room and add his “special sauce” to the person’s entrée.
1) It’s the right thing to do. Most of the waiters of the world don’t have much by way of pensions, health care, golden parachutes or stock options. They just get a meager salary and the tips that you and I give them. Why not do the right thing and tip well and be courteous. If nothing else, it’s the right thing to do.