February 3, 2005
Oh my god, the service industry is sooo hard!
The Times profiles a disturbing trend in confessional-style web forums: bitching waiters. Another recent article in Time Out about all the horrible tortures that restaurant patrons inflict on the waitstaff also suggests that waiters are reaching a breaking point. I certainly agree that any job in the service industry involves special challenges and a lot of frustration with rude, impatient, and ungrateful customers, and I think that good waiters should be very well-paid.
However. The tone of the Time Out piece was basically this: You people who come into our restaurants are so thoughtless and uncivilized that you should be thankful that we even deign to bring you your goddamned herb-crusted tilapia, so here are some things you should do to make our lives as waiters easier and less stressful. Then they include some suggestions like "Don't ask for substitutions on menu items" and my personal favorite, "Don't make a reservation and then not show up." Yeah, maybe if the time of one's reservation bore any relation to the time at which one actually gets seated at many Manhattan restaurants, patrons might take them more seriously.
A chef who likes to complain about his job on one of these complaining waiter sites says, "I don't think civilians really have any idea how the staff really feels: namely, that they just can't wait to turn the table, get their tip and see the back of you. Let's be honest."
OK look, bitching waitstaff: first of all, the only reason that waiter jobs and the restaurant industry exist in the first place is that people are willing to pay $15 for a plate of penne with pesto, as long as somebody else makes it and brings it to them and does the dishes afterwards. When people are paying you to serve them, then you more or less have to do what they want--it's the nature of the industry. Some customers are rude and surly, but if you're a waiter, you still have to serve them. Sorry. It's your job. (Though customers should think carefully about being rude to people who have access to their food. As one waiter says, customers generally forget how vulnerable they are to the good will of servers. "I can never understand why anyone would be even the slightest bit rude to someone who is about to touch your food.")
One of the bitchy waiter sites that I do admire, however, is bitterwaitress.com, which features a list exposing really bad tippers. The waiter-patron social contract centers on waiters serving patrons, and patrons paying for service. Waiters don't have much of an excuse to complain about the nature of their jobs, but if you want to be a stingy jerk, make your own dinner.
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