Wanted to talk a little about waiting tables. First, a little pedigree: currently I am a Server/Banquet Server for a small-ish country club around Kansas City. I was a bartender for several months (about a year and 20 pounds ago) at a place called Ryan’s Bar and Grill (now a sushi restaurant) in Kirksville. I also spent a year at the El Kadir Shrine Club (also in Kirksville). I also spent two or three shifts at a chain restaurant not to be named and watched a number of training videos for fast food chains (for no particular reason).
If you’ve been out to eat in the last ten or twenty years at a chain restaurant, you may or may not have noticed some new trends. Restaurants are decreasing the difficulty of serving by dividing duties into smaller parts. Let’s start somewhere close to the beginning. Restaurants are places where people go to fulfill that basic hunger instinct, exchanging money to have someone else prepare food for them. Now somewhere along the way (I’d like to imagine sometime in the Old West, though the word itself seems to date somewhere in the 1600s) the cook decided it was a lot of work to walk back and forth from the kitchen and decided to add a person to run orders back and forth, thus creating that all important waiter position (and I imagine soon after it was decided women would be awesome food sellers). Now, fast forward a bit and the waiter, which was once a skilled position incorporating finesse into time management, people skills, and reliability is now broken down into several jobs each requiring even less skill, to the detriment of the profession as a whole.
Imagine if you will, a hot dog vendor, Mr. T. You walk up, pay for a hot dog that Mr. T has prepared on a streetside grill and he lets you take one to devour at your leisure. Now, the hot dog vendor hires a waiter and adds a couple of tables to his streetside grill to really drive the business (which for our purposes, we’re going to call Mr. T’s Great Wieners with the tagline “I Pity the Fool Who Doesn’t Put One in the Mouth”). Well the waiter’s responsibilities are these:
1) Greet the Customer and Seat Them
2) Take Order for Drinks and/or Food
3) Deliver Order to Kitchen
4) Deliver Food and/or Drinks to Customer
5) Add Up Bill
6) Deliver Bill
7) Collect and Make Change (if necessary) for Customer
8 ) Clear Table for the Next Customer
It is pretty simplified view of course and depending on the type of food or restaurant, it will change, but this is the gist. Western cultures generally don’t have a minimum wage for servers so what they strive for is tips. Now tipping is kind of a special subject for me and I’ll address that in a later, (likely longer), post. For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume waiters are striving for quality as to ensure tips.
Now as Mr. T’s Great Wieners gets larger and busier, the one waiter cannot handle all the business so another waiter is hired, soon another and another until there is a point of confusion. That is when the business of waiting tables begins to change. If you’re an astute observer you can see all the different steps that have been broken up into different, simplified positions.
4) Expediter/Food Runner
8 ) Busser
The restaurant makes it much easier for a server to do his/her position and adds unskilled jobs to the labor market. Three new positions are filled that should reduce the stress of each position during a rush and create a team atmosphere that is important for the personal and professional growth of employees as well as provides a limited social connectivity in the workplace. More importantly, the restaurant benefits because of the low training cost. The service industry is known for its high employee turnover rate, so simplifying tasks makes it much easier to put someone else into that position quickly and do what is essentially the same job. This also streamlines the process and should ensure that customers are receiving the highest level of service while being able achieve a high turnover (flip, clear, move any number of terms basically meaning how many people we can cram food into by closing time).
You’re thinking, “Hey, that really doesn’t matter right? I’m not really paying a higher price and I’m getting better/faster service!” Oh, but you’d be wrong. Think about the last few times you went out to eat. Were you satisfied with the service? If so, were you so much more impressed with the service than if there were one person coming to the table or no? Were you not the least bit concerned about the 20 or so staff (you assume) running all different directions and seeing three or four people stopping at your table? I’m not saying that the people are not doing a good job or all these positions don’t fill an important roll in further streamlining restaurant business, I’m saying that American society in general pisses all over people working service industries as a whole and part of the perception now is because you can train monkeys and 15 year olds to wait tables.
What I’m trying to ask is that servers/waiters/waitresses don’t fall into a lull. All jobs are not created equal and it takes something special to excel in our industry. I don’t care if you’re doing it to get through school, your parents/guardians made you get a job or you’re doing it for shopping money, I’m urging you to put in a good day’s work and prove that you are not an easily replaceable part in the machine. Make yourself hard to replace and that skill in itself will have positive uses throughout your life.
A Classic Scene from “Waiting”
Editing note: I’m not saying learn a computer system and don’t teach anyone else, making yourself irreplaceable or withholding money to make sure people never leave you. That’s awful and you are a terrible person for thinking that.