filed in Essays on Jun.19, 2003
I’ve been reading Best American Essays 1998. Made me feel like writing.
I hate serving. It’s not at all what I expected. I had some image of an “easy” job: take the orders, bring the food, handle the check. I thought I’d make a hundred bucks in a four hour shift. All the stories I had heard from friends in the business supported my beliefs.
I was wrong. It’s not that serving is a hard job, but there is so much more to it than the customers see. That’s the point–good service is that which isn’t noticed. If your server gets your order right, times your courses right, fills your drinks, you don’t think about it because that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Keeping up with the guests’ expectations is hard enough; to go beyond them is sometimes impossible, and, more often than not, without reward. Most people tip a percentage of their total bill, and most always use the same percentage no matter how much attention they required, or how long they stayed at a table. There is just no payoff for going above and beyond.
Since my income is inexorably tied to the tightness of my guests’ wallets, it is extremely frustrating that I can’t control their spending. Sure, I can suggest things, point them towards premium liquor, upsell shrimp over chicken, but in the end what difference will a few dollars make? Every five dollars they spend is one dollar in my pocket–if they tip 20%.
Where I work is generally a 20% restaurant. My tip average is actually around 23%, but that’s skewed by two-for-one coupons (always tip on the undiscounted price). Some days I’m really good. Most days I’m average. It’s hard for my scatter-brain to remember everything that I need to do, especially when I have more than three tables that haven’t ordered. That doesn’t happen often, since it’s a miracle when we have more than three tables in the restaurant at once.
This restaurant must be bleeding corporate dry. It’s a corporation that has opened a few different restaurants in the area (and St. Loius and Denver, apparently). All the other restaurants change the menu a couple times a year. They all redecorate every five years or so. All their employees know what the owners look like. Not us. We’ve had the same menu for three years. I don’t think the restaurant has ever been redecorated since it opened in ’89. The shade of every color is “hot”. The walls are fake adobe. There are ugly carpets on the walls, and garish coyotes framed in neon lights at the front, and nouveau-plaid carpet on the floors. I have seen one of the owners (there are two), since they took an interest in us in March. He sent in the corporate trainer for a few weeks and made regular visits. They planned a menu and uniform change for April. They changed our desserts from frozen, to house made. Things were looking promising.
It’s now almost July, and the great “new menu” idea has been quietly hung in the closet, next to our new uniforms. The new desserts take ten to fifteen minutes to prepare, too long for most people to wait. I don’t know if they ever planned to redecorate, or advertise so people know we’re here, or fix the signs on the outside of the mall so people can find us. More likely they just gave us up for dead. A review was published this week in the free newspaper in which someone in the company mentioned the possibility of moving us to another location. This company has never done that. Once they close a restaurant, it doesn’t reopen.
Is this the end of my restaurant? Maybe. I don’t plan to stick around. I’ve learned that I need to feel like I’m accomplishing something in my job. I need to have goals that I can reach, then sit back and say, “See that goal there? I reached it, no problem.” Even if it’s as simple as moving books from one side of a room to another, or mopping a floor, I can be happy doing it if I’m seeing my progress, watching the chaos retreat from my imposing order. The problem now is finding a job like that on which I can live.