Don’t mess with the wait staff
Everyone has been on one side of the table at a restaurant – but only an elite few can claim to be the ones schlepping food night after night. Campus Press staff writer Julia Yugel takes a close look at her day at Chili’s – demonstrating the food industry’s good, bad and emo side.
4:45 p.m. – I sneak in the back door of Chili’s and casually clock in, hoping that no one saw me. Mike, my manager, gives me a dirty look. Technically, I’m only five minutes late. Chili’s chooses to set its clocks 10 minutes fast, but I refuse to give in to the system and live my life by Chili’s time.
5 p.m. – Since there are about 10 servers on the clock and approximately five customers in the entire restaurant, a game of poker has been started at the back booths.
5:15 p.m. – The poker game is broken up when Mike catches us. One of the servers just won a big hand, and we made too much noise. Apparently, we disrupted one of the two tables still in the restaurant.
5:30 p.m. – We have convinced Mike to let someone run to Starbucks to get everyone coffee. However, I draw the short stick and am forced to go.
5:45 p.m. – I am fairly certain that the Starbucks barista has spit in one of the drinks. She didn’t look too happy when I ordered eight different, complicated drinks.
5:46 p.m. – I drop one of the cups and get coffee all over myself.
6 p.m. – I am finally back to work and cleaned up. Business has picked up, and most of the sections are full.
“Oh right, you were gone,” one of the hostesses says to me. “Well, we double-sat you.” This means that I got two tables at the same time.
Sure enough, I look over into my section to see a table of four teenagers wearing mascara and heavy bangs swept across their faces (keep in mind they were all boys). My other table consists of two parents and their three rowdy children.
6:03 p.m. – I decide to greet the emo table first.
“Hi guys, welcome to Chili’s,” I say brightly. They just stare. “Um, can I get you something to drink?”
“We’ll just get four waters. And chips and salsa. Actually, how much are the chips and salsa?”
At this point I know that I will not be receiving a tip. I just roll my eyes, tell them the price and go talk to my other table. Four teenagers who have a $2 tab will get the bare minimum in service. And I probably won’t bother to refill anything.
6:06 p.m. – I head over to my second table.
“Hi guys, welcome to Chili’s! How are you today?” Once again, I have a bright smile pasted on my face.
The parents don’t even bother reciprocating my greeting.
“We’re trying to make a movie at 6:30, so if we could get out fast, that would be great.”
I grit my teeth and tell them I will do my best, but the only thing that will be done that fast is saltine crackers. Their children proceed to throw anything they can get their hands on onto the floor.
6:07 p.m. – I take a minute to ponder how people can come into the restaurant with unreasonable demands. I am not magic. I just ring in the food and provide service. I cannot slow down time, or make food cook any faster. As I stare at the table, I wonder why anyone would think they could come into a sit-down restaurant 20 minutes before they are supposed to catch a movie and expect to eat a fully prepared meal. I also prepare to deal with their angry reaction and blame that will be placed on me.
6:15 p.m. – I get another table. They don’t appear to speak any English. This makes communication very difficult. There is a lot of pointing involved.
6:22 p.m. – I finally decide that I should probably take the chips and salsa out to the teenagers. I contemplate waiting a little longer, but realize that I am just shooting myself in the foot. The quicker they eat, the faster they leave and hopefully I will get a table of paying customers.
6:25 p.m. – the non-English speaking customers and I have communicated that they would like two steaks.
6:33 p.m. – Unfortunately, the steaks each come with two sides; they can’t locate them on the menu and don’t understand that they get to pick two.
6:34 p.m. – The table with children is frantically waving at me and yelling, “Miss, miss, over here.” They have not figured out that not only am I busy at the moment, but the universe doesn’t revolve around them.
6:36 p.m. – I go over to the table to pick up their payment. I look around — there is macaroni all over the floor. Somehow the children managed not only to rip up all of the napkins and spread them on the floor, but they also took all of the sugar packets, opened them, and made a mountain of white snow in the middle of the table.
“Sorry about the mess, but kids will be kids,” the parents say to me. I smile and pretend I don’t care.
“It’s fine,” I reply. “I don’t have to clean it up. The hostesses do.”
6:37 p.m. – I consider this my revenge toward the hostesses for double seating me bad tables.
6:44 p.m. – Halfway through this unfulfilling shift, I stand at the computer by the back entrance, ringing in an order. A couple walks in the back and stares at the sign that reads “Please Proceed to the Front to Be Seated.”
6:46 p.m. – The couple is still standing and staring. Sometimes, I just like to wait and watch how long it takes people to figure out the meaning of the sign.
6:47 p.m. – I can’t take it anymore.
“You need to go to the front to be seated.” I tell them. They eagerly smile and walk away.
7 p.m. – The dinner rush is in full swing. I barely have time to breathe. Between taking care of five tables with drinks, orders and whatever else they need, I also try to get to the back to help run food to other tables.
7:01 p.m. – I contemplate how many things I can do at once. The trick to doing well in the restaurant industry is the ability to multitask. With 20 different things to do, I save a lot of time by doing several things at once.
7:42 p.m. – I go over to one of my tables to pick up the cash for their bill.
“Thanks so much, folks. I’ll be right back with change.”
They shake their heads at me, and reply, “No, it’s fine. The rest is yours. You were an amazing server.” I thank them, wish them a good night and walk off.
7:43 p.m. – I guess I was so good as a server that they decided to leave me $2 on a $42 ticket. It might be unrealistic, but 20 percent is the expectation. If the service is good, that is what should be left. I don’t know if people realize that tips are my income. I only make $3.83 an hour, which basically covers my taxes. The service I give people should directly affect how much I earn. If I did a good job, I expect to be compensated.
7:45 p.m. – Of course this also has an opposing side. If people are mean to me or don’t treat me like a person, they aren’t going to get good service. I once had a table tell me that I didn’t deserve a tip. Since they had started their “dining experience” out by being rude and demanding, I didn’t give them my full attention. I wish people would realize that yes, I am there to serve them, but that doesn’t give them the right to treat me like a slave.
8 p.m. – The dinner rush is over, and the restaurant has started to clear out. Several of the servers order food, and we all go to one of the back tables to eat.
8:16 p.m. – I wonder if I have any tables. It seems like an incredibly long walk up to the front. I don’t feel like getting up for anything.
8:17 p.m. – I decide that the most logical thing to do would be call Chili’s from my cell phone and ask the hostess if I have any tables.
8:18 p.m. – I watch as the hostess goes to answer the phone, but the manager darts in front of her. I quickly hang up. I don’t think he would appreciate my laziness. I pretend to eat my spinach dip as the manager glowers at me.
8:19 p.m. – He’s still looking. I decide to get up.
9:52 p.m. – Since the restaurant closes at 10, the other server and I who are the only ones left have almost gotten everything put away. We will be ready to go soon after we close our doors.
9:53 p.m. – A couple walks in the back door.
“Are you closed?” they ask.
“No. However, we will be in 7 minutes.” I reply.
“Great! I thought we’d be too late!”
9:54 p.m. – I pay the hostess a few bucks to not seat the table in my section so that I can finish up the closing duties and leave.
10:30 p.m. – The last table has finally left after we dropped some hints — like stacking all of the chairs around them. The manager does a final walkthrough of the restaurant, tells us that it looks great, and the other closer and I get to leave.
10:31 p.m. – I count my money. I actually didn’t do too badly. One thing I love about serving is that the money is instant. I get paid at the end of every shift.
10:32 p.m. – I head to meet a few other servers from Chili’s at another restaurant to hang out and experience the other side of the spectrum.