UnderCover Waitress: August 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'll Have the Fish

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If you order the fish, then I will bring you the fish.

One of our most pompous regulars decided to put on a presentation over brunch to some Very Important People. I was the lucky waitress who got to serve them that day. They were a group of about twenty-four people, and nothing I can't handle.

Mr. Monarchy and his attitude aside, I do my job and I do it well. I make sure everyone has water and a menu, then I get their attention because I want to tell them "all about our specials before you make your decision." I always say that with a smile, and even with this group I got the expected "ooh, ahh."

One of the specials is an egg dish with crab in it. It's quite popular when its available; it's rich and it's good. Of course, everything on the menu is good. The brunch menu at that time included a baked halibut covered in olive tapenade with vegetables and potatoes. Also extremely yummy.

I take the drink order which consists of a few coffees. Returning, I deliver them and prepare to take the order.

Now, let me tell you a little secret about waitressing: it's not rocket science. Really! Every table has a number. And every chair diners sit in has a number, as well. And those numbers correspond to the numbers I write on my pad while I take a large party's order. Incidentally, that is why we hate people in large parties who switch seats, but that is another story.

Most people order the same thing, the egg dish with crab. I pride myself in my ability to entice diners into ordering specials. (And whatever else I feel like selling them, but that, too, is another story.)

Manager helps me walk the twenty-four plates that all come up at about the same time, and my blood runs cold as customer Harpy starts screaming that I gave her the wrong dish. I can't make a mistake on this table; I may despise Mr. Monarchy, but Owner likes him and his business. Harpy is screaming that she ordered the egg and crab dish just like many of her companions.

Everyone else has what they ordered and is happy; Manager and I check the tickets. I had put in an order for the halibut on behalf of Harpy. Manager goes to speak with her while I break out in a sweat under the searing eye of Owner. Manager returns and informs Owner that it was not my mistake.

It seems that Harpy kept telling Manager, "I ordered the fish. I ordered the fish!" and pointing to the plates of disappearing eggs with crabmeat in front of the other diners. I had, of course, brought her the fish. As a matter of fact, my hand-written pad had the word "fish" next to her seat number. That is why I brought her the fish, and not a plate of eggs with shellfish. I was able to breathe again.

None of this mattered in Mr. Monarchy's eyes, but I couldn't care less about him. Unfortunately, his followers are more likely to sympathize with him than with me, the stupid waitress who got Harpy's order wrong. I know I am not going to make good money on this now unreasonably angry table.

Mr. Monarchy is rolling in dough, but too cheap to foot the bill for his audience. True to form with cheapskates, they all want separate checks. Except for those who wish to share a check with another diner across the table, or anywhere other than sitting next to them. Twenty-four people, I had over twelve separate checks and most of them were for the same amount of money.

If the guy working with Mr. Monarchy hadn't handed me $70, I probably couldn't afford Starbuck's on what I made on that table. But the icing on the cake was the woman who "was with" the woman sitting next to her. They ordered identical meals. She admonished me for doing a poor job because I was supposed to bring the two of them individual checks, and I had put both of their meals on one check. I asked her if she needed me to bring her a calculator so she could divide by two. It was worth it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Things We Don't Want to Hear

Found this Top 10 Things You Never Want To Hear At Work and found some of them rather amusing  when applied to the restaurant industry.

"We've got a crisis on our hands."

"Crisis" is an interesting concept in the restaurant industry. In most businesses, bankruptcy is considered a "crisis." In the restaurant industry, some diner grimacing is a "crisis." And said diner would like to alleviate said "crisis" with free dessert.

"There's no easy way to say this."

It's not fun to deliver bad news, for example, "The kitchen ran out of the special I just spent fifteen minutes talking you into. They ran out while I was convincing you to order it." However, we find grovelling sometimes appeases.

"Why don't you take some time off?"

Most waitresses would love to hear this one, except for the fact that we don't have paid vacations. I know someone who stuck her foot in it. She was trying to manipulate the manager into giving her her way, and suggested that if she couldn't get what she wanted she would have to take time off. The manager called her bluff and said, "Okay. I'll take you off the schedule." And that was that.

"All your meetings have been cancelled."

I guess the equivalent of this is "you don't have any tables." Worked at a place a long time ago in which the manager gave the best sections and the big parties to a select few waitresses. When I saw I couldn't make money in this place, I quit.

"Do you really think your presentation went well?"

This is what you say to the waitress who never sells specials. Salesmanship is in the presentation.

"How long did it take you to do that?"

That is a death knell in the restaurant industry. Speed and multi-tasking will take you far; others noticing you taking your good, sweet time will take you through the one-way exit door. I worked with a waiter who would call slow waitresses "Pocahontas" because they poked around instead of moving quickly.

"Can I have a word with you in private?"

This comes right after asking about how long something took. And it doesn't matter where you work, this last one signals the guillotine. 

Monday, August 29, 2011


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Of course, the parking lot was flooded. Nobody did business on Sunday, August 28, 2011 in this little town (or if they tried to, they're nuts.) Earlier on Sunday, I was reading reports online and somebody had written in one site's comments section, "Some of us have to go to work in this." I would hope they were kidding, but I doubt it.

At least 21 dead, of blessed memory.

Millions of people could be without power for weeks.

And yet, for all Irene took from us, she left us a few chuckles and humorous moments.

This video records a very frustrated reporter wondering why so many people are out and about in this dangerous storm. I'll bet he is unaware of the streaker behind him. (There is brief, difficult to see nudity in this.)

"It's just setting a bad example!"

Fox News let reporter Tucker Barnes wallow in what may be raw sewage and looks like toxic waste. It is painful listening to them talk about how he should get out of there and leaving him there at the same time.

"It doesn't smell great." 

Spider Man decides to surf in the storm.

"I'm not being smart today."  That is correct, you are not.

Spider Man may have gotten away with some hijinks, but in Philadelphia you can be arrested for:

 "lack of common sense." 

Those of you who elected to stay inside, I salute you. See you tomorrow.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Reservation

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When schools have events we get busy. We are a "destination" restaurant. Families who are going to be in town call to make their reservations.

Now, I'm not complaining. Baby, we're in business! But we can only seat so many people at so many tables and in so much time. To attempt otherwise would defy the laws of physics.

Yes, we are creative. The reservation "book" turns into a series of papers with various penciled in names, erased names, penciled in again names as the managers jockey the future guests around the restaurant as more and more people call. We are constantly moving the tables around to accommodate parties, and some of the busiest evenings are choreographed ahead of time. Certain people know that when the clock strikes 7:15 table #2 gets moved next to table #6 and set for a party of six people who are expected at 7:30 p.m. For all of the things that go wrong, we still make it look seamless.

You see, the party of two people on table #2 are having a long, long, looooooong romantic dinner and don't end up leaving until 9:00 p.m. Good service dictates that we not remove the table from underneath them (You can stay, we just need the table.) But table #17 is leaving; lets put that next to table #6, okay? Great. It's only 7:15 now, we have time... who just walked in? The 7:30 reservation? Oh, sh**.

Leading up to these busiest of evenings, the sound of the phone ringing strikes fear in my heart. I look at the sheets of unattached papers that have become the "reservation book" and panic. They really are confusing to look at, even with the notes in the margins about what times we can still accept reservations. The ones that aren't crossed out, that is. I find it much easier to be completely indisposed studying the underside of the bar or examining the contents of the walk-in when the phone rings.

So when the manager had to break it to a grandmother of a proud graduate that we really could not accommodate her family that evening, the manager meant it. There was truly no way, unless they wanted to sit on the laps of another party. The manager is a nice person; she had an extended conversation with the lady about other restaurants in the vicinity and her various options. She made clear she could not, and she did not take a reservation.

On the evening in question, I was in great form. (I may be afraid of the reservation book, but I am an excellent waitress.) At one point in the middle of the dinner shift the manager asked me if I remembered the lady for whom she could not take a reservation. Of course I did; the manager never hangs on the phone like that. She said, "Well, they just came in! They claimed the grandma called and made a reservation."

Me: "That's nuts!"

Manager: "I know! Do you remember how much time I spent on the phone telling her about all of the other restaurants in the area?"

Me: "Of course, I remember that!"

Manager: "Why would I do that if we could accommodate her here?"

Me: "You wouldn't. So, when they came in, what did you do?" I was wide-eyed in my own innocence.

Manager: "Sat them in your section; they are on table #9."

Man, was I busy that night.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Please Bring Water

Funny how such seemingly tiny things grow to massive importance.

It used to be that water was simply brought to customers when they were sat in a restaurant. Bringing water is a mark of good service. I remember living through drought in California. Area restaurants changed their policies to only bring water when requested, which made sense given the situation.

But it does not make sense everywhere and all of the time. I think restaurants that don't train servers to bring patrons a glass of water are cheap. It's penny-pinching and lazy.

But this is too funny: a waitress has gotten so upset about people having the audacity to ask for water and not finish it that she has written to an advice columnist about this source of infernal injustice. Her letter is published right under the letter from a woman whose husband of 35 years is having an affair. And to read the waitress' letter, these problems seem to be of equal importance.

"Do you have any idea of how much water we have to throw away a day? People: If you don’t drink it, don’t order it! Someday we may need all the water we can get. -- Frustrated Waitress"

Of course, with Armageddon right around the corner she may have a point. Or, maybe the Mayans were right and we all have less than 2 years before -- no water!

I do enjoy Ask Amy's answer:

"... this does not obligate people who order water to drink it, any more than someone ordering the cheesecake is required to finish it."

And in closing, I offer two pieces of advice to our frustrated friend:

1) Water the plants with the leftover water.

2) Get out more. You need a hobby or maybe some new friends.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Give Waiters a Tax Break

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So, you work in a restaurant as a waitress. You need specific clothing, for example, maybe a white button-down shirt and black pants. Or black shirt and black pants. Or a shirt with the company logo on it and khaki pants.

What about aprons? Some employers loan aprons to wait staff, others make you buy our own. With your own money.

And don't forget the Dansko shoes. Really, I can't imagine waiting in anything else.

You'd think it would be advisable to hang onto all those receipts for things you bought so you could work. After all, if you don't buy the black pants then you won't be allowed on the floor and you will lose your job. Never mind the fact that you have never worn black pants before in your life. And that fact that they make your butt look big.

But if you'd think that about the receipts, you'd be wrong.

The tax rules about employee uniforms are strict. The clothing must be not suitable for wear outside of work to be eligible for tax deduction. You may despise wearing black pants, but you can't deduct them.

If you purchase the little aprons with pockets that don't really protect your clothes from spills, you could make the argument that the $15 purchase is not suitable for anything outside of work. You are stuck, however, with the cost of the $120 pair of Dansko shoes.

Meanwhile, corporate jets still fall through tax loopholes, and bankers who were saved with middle-class taxpayer monies are now laying off middle-class bank employees.

I hate to have to break it to people, but if we don't start taxing the rich we are going to have to start eating them. I hope they are not too tough and stringy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mugs 'n' Jugs 'n' Poetic Justice

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Perhaps I should feel guilty for thinking this is funny... or perhaps not.

A waitress at Mugs 'N' Jugs breastaurant skimmed customer credit cards and ran up a bunch of illegal charges. Part of me thinks it serves everybody involved right (no pun intended.)

Customers and victims of the credit card fraud who agreed to be interviewed told tales of the waitress's horrible service. She seems to possess neither people skills nor waitress skills. This is not a surprise.

Waitress job requirements at Mugs 'n' Jugs are similar to those at any other breastaurant. The women must be willing to wear hot pants, a tight fitting tank top that is too small and have large breasts that will partly fall out of said tightly fitting tank top. A flat tummy helps, as does willingness to be viewed as a sex object and toy. A big smile and the ability to keep your boobies bouncing as you walk are desirable qualities in this "job."

Where do these people get off expecting that their waitress at a joint like this cares about refilling their coffee? They saw her cleavage, now tip and leave.

Even funnier, the "waitress" targeted customers who had the audacity to make her work at waitressing. Meaning, if you stared at her ass but didn't need a side of ranch dressing, you were not victimized. Expect her to know the answer to a question about the menu? Ask for a drink refill? Expect to be offered dessert? Prepare to have you credit card skimmed.

Home, sweet home. 
I do not condone stealing. I do not condone adding extra tip amounts to what the customer tipped, and I certainly do not condone using a credit card skimmer to commit fraud. I am glad the brat got caught.

But the personal dynamics are funny. People want restaurant service so they go to an establishment that hires based upon bust size, weight and age. Go figure. And the spoiled rotten but busty brat targeted customers who expected her to perform waitressing job duties. Maybe she knew better than anybody that that was not what she was hired for...? The vacant stare in her mug shot belies an ability to think anything, however.

Some writers would end this blog post "Pay cash." Not I. Eat in a real restaurant that stays in business offering good food and professional service. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tales of Woe

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There is a theme here:

From Slightly Cranky Waitress:
I was so stressed out from the whole night's ridiculous idiocy that after he walked away I started to crack. Someone asked if I was okay and I burst into tears and a tirade about how much people piss me off. 

From Do You Do That At Home:
Friendships have dissolved.  Alliances have formed.  Nefarious schemes are afoot.  Just as one spat is over, another one begins ... There are tears in the restroom, tears outside at the picnic table, and tears in the wait station.

If the source can be believed, then Bruce Willis Made A Waitress Cry.

From a FaceBook Group post:
I made a HuHo waitress cry at 3:30 in the morning the other night and I feel really bad.

Somebody's roommate is an idiot: 
My roommate bawls out "It's bout ****ing time WTF is wrong with you" and everybody just goes quiet, awkward silence ensues and the waitress just walks away obviously on the verge of tears.    

I used to think it was just me who got furious and angry at all of the baloney that goes on in a restaurant. I used to think I was the only one ever driven to tears. Actually, waitresses breaking down and crying is rather common.
   The moral of the story, I am afraid, is that waitressing sucks.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Women With Children in the Workforce

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Stories like this make me wonder if there really are people out there who don't have mothers. Maybe they were spontaneously generated in primordial soup. Maybe they should go back to the black lagoon where they belong.

A young woman was promoted by her employer, a hotel that includes a restaurant. She had a full-time and well-paid management position.

A couple of months after her promotion, she learned she was pregnant. She was thrilled because she had the resources to support her child. When she told her employer about the pregnancy, the response was, "What do you plan to do?" Translation: "Are you going to keep it?"

Not sure why she would bother telling them if she didn't plan on bringing the pregnancy to term and raising her child.

Shortly after this meeting, she was demoted from manager to waitress. She was told her work was sub-par. The demotion, of course, put her in a position of little security and much less money. Depressed by the situation and scared for her future and the future of her child, she made the decision to abort.

Demotion of Pregnant Manager

The only good thing to come out of this is that the hotel is being held responsible for its discriminatory behavior. They must pay 29,000 pounds in compensation to the wronged employee. Nothing, of course, will bring back the child that she was, at one point, looking forward to raising.

The double-bind that women find ourselves in permeates all societies. If we breed, we cannot find work to support our children. And don't expect any social services to be available in these self-centered times of greed and financial uncertainty.

If our viable option is to simply not breed, the species will end. And if this is how we treat mothers, we deserve to go extinct.

The Price of Motherhood is one of my favorite books. Anne Crittenden gives a hard look at the statistics of motherhood, money, and options:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't Get Your Hopes Up

One of our regulars comes in alone for a meal now and then. I waited on her one brunch shift and was pleasantly surprised when she left me $10 on a bill that was around $20. Very nice tip and I appreciated it.

Waited on her again, same shift, a week or two later. After I approached her table, she made a point of telling me that while she was generous last time, she does not usually over-tip and not to expect it today.


Word to diners: Don't tell your waitress what you are in the mood to tip today. Really, don't.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


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Busy weekend brunch shift with the place full of tables, inside and out. In addition to diners, we also get people who are walking around, enjoying the weather, and just want a pastry or cappuccino to go. The hostess can only be so many places at once, so we waitresses help out as much as we can.

My tables tip me. A little extra from somebody who wanders in and asks me to bag up a pastry is nice, but not as expected and I certainly can't live on spare change. I need to wait on my tables. Funny how those quick customers can manage to make themselves the most difficult.

One guy came in and asked if he could have a mocha to go. I stopped in my tracks and lied, "I'd be happy to make you one."

As I am turning around to get an espresso pod, he calls out to me, "How are you going to make it?" The same way I make every other mocha: with espresso and hot chocolate. "Wait, what kind of chocolate are you going to use? Not that Hershey's syrup are you?" For you, dude, I'd love to, but I showed him the Ghirardelli cocoa powder that we use in our mochas. By this time, I could have made the thing already and been on my merry way.

A colleague and friend sidled up to me -- I think she noticed the consternation in my eyes. I asked her if she would like to show this gentleman how we make our mochas. She smiled, lied and said she'd love to.

Mocha man was nice, just needy at a busy time. Still, it makes for a funny story.

Not all noteworthy customers are nice and funny.

The guy who really stuck in my craw came in when we were so busy we let people form an extra line just for to go coffees and pastries. I could help this guy with his order, but I could not get to the register so I used my own bank. He handed me cash and I quickly punched the numbers into a calculator to make correct change. The son of a gun had the audacity to make a snarky comment about my inability to perform simple math calculations.

How is this wrong? Let me count the ways on my calculator:

1-- Anyone can see how busy we are. I have enough on my mind with a full section and people at the counter; I don't want to worry about your change.

2-- I could just as easily let you wait forever in a very long line instead of serving you. Technically, in our restaurant helping you is not my job. We staff members tend to help each other; you benefit from this.

3-- If you had any class, you would not have required change.

4-- If you had any class, you would have said, "Thank you." Instead, you find it necessary to insult me.

5-- If I ever see you again, I will deliberately give you incorrect change. Even if it's only off by a penny.

Of course, it takes a big man to come in and insult people who cannot give a real response or risk losing our jobs. And that is fodder for many, many, many restaurant stories.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


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Was contacted a few weeks ago by a woman who wanted to include some of my perceptions in research she is doing about sexism in the restaurant industry. I would have been happy to help her, had she bothered to leave me her email address or some other way to contact her.

But her words got me thinking. Grown women walk into a restaurant, strap on an apron and are suddenly "girls." I remember standing in the dish room speaking to a new kid washing the dishes. He said something about "one of the girls" told him to do a chore. This high school kid was referring to my colleague who is in her fifties and has been waiting tables for about thirty years.

I bristled. I informed the kid -- and yes, he really was a kid -- that she was a grown woman and old enough to be his mother; she was not a girl. He kept his eyes on his work and was suddenly quite busy scrubbing something to sparkling shine. I stared into the side of his head for a moment then exited the dish room.

To this day, I don't know whether he felt above me and was just ignoring me, or whether I freaked him out and he was afraid to look at me. But he didn't last long at the restaurant, and I don't think I ever worked with him again.

Some waitresses do it to ourselves. The very colleague I was referring to will call herself a girl, or ask how many girls are on the floor. Makes it even more awkward when one of the "girls" is a waiter.

But my favorite is when she calls out, "working girl coming through." That's restaurant-speak for "get out of my way." It is the only time that I have heard the term "working girl" mean anything other than prostitute. I quipped one night that is not how we earn tips; not sure if she got the joke.

Language is powerful. The words we choose to express ourselves connote many shades of meaning. Referring to a grown person as a child diminishes her. Referring to grown, black men as "boys" before the Civil Rights Movement diminished them, which was the intention. It may be subtle or glaringly obvious, but it does have an effect.

The office girls of yesterday are the administrative assistants of today. Kelly Girls are now temporary employees. Waitresses and waiters may be servers, but we are not girls.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Don't Need to Write Down Your Order

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Some journalist got paid to write an entire column about why she thinks I should write down her order. At least she admits she has anxiety issues, but please, don't take them out on me.

She gives five reasons why she thinks we don't write down her order. And I, of course, have five responses.

One: It's not cool to write things down.
Are you kidding me? The last thing on my mind while getting through a shift is looking cool for some diner. You know what is not cool? Wasting time writing things down to accommodate a diner's need for Xanax.

Two: There is a desire to bond.
No, there isn't. There is a desire to separate you from your money. I attempt to do this by giving efficient service. In some establishments, waiters and waitresses are encouraged to do this by touching you on the shoulder, squatting at the table and turning the dining room table into a writing desk. I am waiting for the day a waiter squats at my table and farts.

Three: There is no desire to bond.
Make up your mind.

Four: Control.
No, really, take a Xanax. I am not playing power games with you. I am taking your order so that I can offer you efficient service because that is how I make money. Competing with you over some "who is the bigger control freak" only angers you and causes you to leave me less money. In short, winning some contest that exists only in your brain doesn't pay my bills.

Five: Trying to seem more professional.
I'm not trying to seem professional; I am a professional. It is true that some high-end restaurants require wait staff to not write down orders, but that is not my game.

Not always necessary.
I don't write down orders because I don't need to. When I was a new hire, I wrote everything down. As the years go by, waitresses simply do not need to take the time to write everything down. We can even remember Ms. Leve's special needs order because we are reasonably intelligent people who pay attention to detail and are good at multi-tasking.

I remember a table of three. They each had a different glass of wine at the beginning of the evening. Later, during the meal, I offered them more. As the gentlemen accepted the offer, he started to state the types of wine. I gave him a look that stopped him. He said, "You know what we are drinking, don't you?" Of course I did. Got a great tip on that table, too.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dunkin Donuts Coffee Is Not Sexpresso Coffee

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What works for one establishment does not necessarily work for every establishment. For example, the sexpresso trade was quite successful at pulling in money. Near-naked baristas were very busy making coffees, bending over and attempting to charm customers into leaving them bigger tips. Until they got caught selling more than coffee.

Of course, nobody can cross the line into prostitution and get away with it forever. But I wonder if the barest of the baristas got away with it longer than their counterpart working for a more conservative organization.

The woman at the center of Operation Extra Sugar worked a night shift at a Dunkin Donuts drive thru window in New Jersey. She spent her breaks moonlighting in customers' cars. But when she offered her additional menu to a plain clothes cop, she was arrested.

Funny thing, at the bottom of the article in The Register, the subject suddenly changes to Dunkin Donuts expanding to the West Coast in an attempt to compete with Starbuck's. Well, I guess Dunkin Donuts is competing with everybody and in all ways.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Business Lunch Etiquette

This is an old, relatively preachy article of mine about business lunch etiquette. It's kind of stiff, but still gives the business lunch crowd some pretty decent advice. Of course, my favorite is the "Waiter Rule."


Business people socialize, network, and discuss work after hours on a regular basis. It is important for colleagues to be welcomed by each other into non-work environments in order to keep up with the latest news at work. People brainstorm ideas over lunch, make deals over drinks after work, and accept business associates into their social and after-hours lives.

People who break rules of etiquette will not be included in future networking events. Bad manners and rude behavior indirectly damage a person's ability to network, get ahead, and make more money. Some people never understand why others always get chosen for promotion instead. Sometimes the reason is as elusive as a rude tone used to berate a waiter or waitress.

The Waiter Rule

The Waiter Rule is simple. It says that how a person treats the waiter or waitress shows his true colors, his value system and who he really is inside.

During a friendly lunch with a manager, an employee is going to be on best behavior. The way he treats the manager is no indication of who he really is. When he is rude to the waiter, it shows that he is quite willing to be rude and condescending to people with less status or who are in service positions.

An employee who is polite to the waiter or waitress shows that he values common courtesy and will treat those working under him well. He is more likely to get a promotion than his rude colleague. Better to treat restaurant servers with respect.

Business Lunch Etiquette

  • When dining with co-workers and business associates, basic table manners and rules of restaurant etiquette apply. In addition, there are other considerations to remember when networking.
  • Even though it is lunchtime, recognize that it is still a work environment. Do not say things at lunch that would not be said in the office, because they may be repeated in the office.
  • Do not gossip about absent colleagues.
  • Do not berate the boss or the business. Have some respect, and if there is nothing nice to say, say nothing. 
  • Continue to take work seriously.
  • Sometimes there is a fine line between appearing so stiff-necked you can't have any fun, and getting drunk and being a fool. Giving others either impression will result in being un-included in the future.
  • Never be the only person drinking. If everybody is drinking at lunch, have one and nurse it slowly, or order something non-alcoholic. At lunch, it is easy to say with a laugh and a smile, "I can't, I have to go back to work!" 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't Forget to Bribe the Waitress

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This goes in annals of the great tip debate: should waiters and waitresses work for tips, or should they be paid like any other worker?

We all know that a tip is a bribe. And if I know you are a bad tipper, I will give you less service than the good tippers. Not so much that you'll complain because I don't want to lose my job. I'm subtle.

For example, Sandals and Botox are a regular couple in the summertime. I think they flee our winter up here in the north. He always wears sandals and she can't make facial expressions. They tip ten percent.

Botox knows that we graciously accept special requests. She likes a certain salad dressing that is not on the regular menu, and she likes it on a certain specialty salad. No problem, so far. But remember, they tip ten percent. I make her ask for it. Every time. She tries to smile but can't as she explains to me what she would like for her appetizer. She must feel sorry for me, I am so stupid I can't remember what she ordered just last week. If they tipped twenty percent, I would have the kitchen making that special salad while Sandals and Botox were being seated.

So this article written by a resident of Iceland was interesting. In Iceland, customers do not tip waitresses. Everything is included in the bill; the price you see is the price you pay. Very different from the American experience; diners must calculate two different tax rates plus tip if they want to know what they are paying ahead of time.

Unfortunately, in Iceland the service is horrendous. And there is not much the hapless diner can do about it, because the waitress gets the same amount of pay whether she remembers you asked for extra cheese or not. There is no bribe being dangled in front of the wait staff's nose encouraging good service.

This is one of the arguments for keeping the system of tipping in restaurants in America.

What if workers in every job stopped caring about the quality of their work based upon whether or not they expected to receive a big enough bribe? I know I'm no angel, which is why I enjoy giving Sandals and Botox a hard time without their even knowing it. But the vision of what life would be like if everything required a bribe does give me pause.

Don't tip in Iceland

Monday, August 8, 2011

Waitress Refuses to Speak English

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Many thanks to those of you who voted in the Cameron v. Ariani poll. Out of 23 people so far, almost a full third felt Cameron was being cheap.

I must admit, I was unaware when I first heard about Cameron's foibles in Italy that it would be unusual for a customer to order cappuccinos at a certain time of day. Here, we just give diners what they want, no matter how odd it may seem to us. But cultures are different. I remember walking into a breakfast cafe in London shortly after arriving from the states. I was exhausted and so jet-lagged my body didn't know what time it was. While the businessmen were ordering eggs and coffee, I noticed a vegetable pie in the display case. It was exactly what I wanted. The kid behind the counter was able to keep a straight face, but the old man in a suit in front of me looked down like I was the creature from the black lagoon. I simply cooly stared him right back in the eyes until he looked away -- obviously disgusted by me.

Cameron has since returned to the establishment and made up with Ariani.

We have a new story about culture clash with a waitress.

It seems an English speaking diner in Montreal was miffed because the French speaking waitress refused to converse with him in English. She prefers to speak French.

Now, she understood the diner perfectly and took his order correctly. She did not use language as an excuse to bring out the wrong thing. Other than the language issue, she gave him great service. She took the order correctly, and brought them their food in a timely manner. Because of her refusal to use English any more than absolutely necessary, however, this diner did not tip.

There are so many issues at play here that go far beyond the concept of good service. I understand the diner being insulted, but this was Montreal. Must have been his first visit; the Quebecois feel threatened that their language and culture may die out. Nobody up there wants to speak English even though so many of them can. They wonder, "why don't the Angliphones want to learn French?" Yeah, why not?

The diner could have requested a different waitress, and in most contexts that would be a solution. In this situation, however, it is probably for the best that he didn't. I imagine all of the restaurant personnel suddenly not understanding a word of English if he had.

Kim Fraser

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Help

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Just finished reading "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. It was an amazingly good read and I couldn't put it down until I was finished.

"The Help" explores the feelings and experiences of "colored" maids in the deep South leading up the Civil Rights Movement. This book lays out the injuries and insults to human dignity of the Jim Crow laws, as well as the innocence of young children who must be taught to see people that they love as inferior.

I am neither so insensitive nor so stupid as to try to equate Jim Crowe with modern-day waitressing, but I will say that class lines are class lines in any and every culture. For example, in many restaurants servers are expected to use a different bathroom than guests. Waitresses are the inferior class, the servant class, who are held to different rules.

We had the roof of our house replaced a few years back. I was shocked to walk out to my car and realize that a worker was emptying his bladder at the side of our barn. I mentioned this to the people in charge; they always do that because homeowners don't usually want to share the bathroom. I insisted. From then on, the workers would make a quick trip inside to the downstairs half-bath. They are people, too.

"The Help" is well-written, sensitive, and accurate. I highly recommend this book. You can order your copy right here:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cameron and Ariani

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Some are buzzing about David Cameron's trip to Italy. At a cafe, he ordered three cappuccinos. The waitress made the coffees for him but, before doing so, she told him he would have to walk them outside himself. She was too busy.

So, Mr. Cameron stood and waited while she made the coffees. Then, he walked them to his party at their outside table without any help.

Accordingly, he did not tip her. Nor should he.

She didn't do her job. As a waitress, I groan inside when people order espresso drinks. It takes much more time than pouring some coffees. But, espresso drinks are on the menu, so unless I am lucky enough that the machine is broken again, I smile and make their drinks. And I walk the drinks to the table. Even if the table is outside.

What do you think?

Two ways of looking at it:

Siding with the waitress.

Just the facts, ma'am. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nut Allergy Death

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Chen Efrat is dead at 26 years of age. After alerting her waitress that she had a nut allergy, she was served Nutella instead of nut-free Shahar. The paramedics at Magen David Adom hosptial valiantly attempted to resuscitate, but were unable to stabilize her and keep her alive.

The restaurant has "lost" their surveillance tapes. This restaurant has security cameras that monitor everywhere in the restaurant. The tapes are stored. Except for the tapes from the day that Chen Efrat was killed due to the actions of restaurant workers.

To make matters worse, Efrat had recently moved back to the area to care for her ailing parents. Her mother has cancer and her father has heart problems. They are suing the restaurant, as well they should.

Dead Woman's Parents Sue Coffee-Shop Over Nut-Related Death

I say this with compassion for the allergic, not derision: it may actually be safer not to eat in restaurants.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tilted Kilt is in the News Again

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Tiltled Kilt locations in Illinois just can't stay out of trouble. The Elgin location hosted "martial arts" fights which was against their license, which pales in comparison to people leaving the Tilted Kilt and going to the emergency room for stabbing wounds. Not exactly the same as running an errand on the way home...

Evanston rebelled against the Tilted Kilt and won. Kudos for Evanston!

The latest bruhaha is in Schaumberg. Residents are annoyed enough about waitress attire, or lack thereof. Now Tilted Kilt wants outdoor patio space so the young women can flash at passersby. Residents are fighting back and citing the Evanston victory.

“The men that come in there want more than just hot wings,” said one man, 66, who has reportedly lived in the community for more than three decades.

Of course, he is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said. The Tilted Kilt has never denied that it is pulling in male customers with the promise of sexual flirtation. However, it gets more disturbing:

However, (Tilted Kilt is) also aware that in order to keep customers coming through the door, there are many other things we have to 'show.'" (The Tilted Kilt website) then boosts its attractive "cast members," who strive to "'connect' with [their] guests."

When I first read that line, I thought they must be saying they know they need to offer good food and good service. But that didn't sound right. They talk about things they have to "show" and go strait into talking about waitresses -- so, what are we showing? More than just a midriff?

Waitresses are "cast members" who wear "costumes." Does making them sound like they are playing a role make it easier to treat them like sex toys?

And I don't want to share the image I get when I read "connect with their guests." Brothels have been known to sell drinks, but this is getting ridiculous.

When a restaurant is no longer a restaurant...

If you look at the picture of the waitresses in the article at Huffington Post, I think they look uncomfortable. They are sticking out their boobs and holding in their stomachs. Do they pose this way all night, or just for picture?
Huffington Post