Thursday, April 22, 2010

What can I get for you?

As I was driving home from work just before 7pm tonight after a long day in the office of dealing with frustrating developers, fighting for prioritization of projects, and throwing together a presentation for the CEO . . . I started thinking about how much fun life was when my job was waiting tables. Beyond the obvious things - I wasn't married, I didn't have kids - the job itself was so much simpler. Whether it was waiting tables at a college hang-out in Virginia, a four-star restaurant and bar in Charlotte or a brewery in Colorado . . . I loved it (and, yes, that's why I am also a notoriously good tipper to this day).

I was a good waitress. A great waitress actually. My tips proved it. I miss it.

For those who have never been servers - or experienced an amazing waiter/waitress on the receiving end . . . waiting tables is much more than bringing food to a table and filling glasses.

To do it well is an art. You are master of your own fate. You can be anyone you want to be when you approach a table. You are, in effect, an actor. No one wants a grumpy server. No one cares that the kitchen is short-staffed or your car had a flight tire. People come for the food and the experience. And, you can create that special event for them when you are a server.

You anticipate their needs. You offer them things before they even know that's what they might want. You become an avid reader of people and interactions. Who is in charge, who should you address at the table, how long do you chit-chat, do they have a sense of humor, will they want suggestions, do they want to be left alone . . .

In college, my friend Beth, and I devised a list of things by which you could instantly judge the character of any man. And, those core traits have withstood the test of time. How does he talk about his mom? How does he feel about animals (this one is quite complex with multiple sub-bullets)? How patient is he with children that aren't his? Does he instantly give up his seat for someone who needs it more? And, how does he treat servers? That last one is pivotal.

I try to claim that I am not overly judgmental. But, eating out with people has sometimes changed my opinion and perception of them. Irreversibly.

I split from a boyfriend in North Carolina because he was so condescending to waitresses. Seriously. It repulsed me.

Long before I even left home or even had a job, on the few occasions where we would eat out as a family, I realized my dad was an excellent tipper. Not just your 20% kind of tipper when 10-15% was considered acceptable . . . the kind of tipper where servers would often approach us on the way out of the restaurant because they assumed we had accidentally left too much. My mom would sometimes shake her head. And, my sister and I suggested once or twice that perhaps he would like to give us some of that extra cash. But, we were all impressed by him.

I quickly developed a deep respect for my dad and his habit of over-tipping. I gained an awareness of how kind and considerate he is. I have always been so proud of him for the way he treats people. He is a great man.

Serving is much more than the basic task at hand - on both the giving and receiving side. I truly believe it.

How a person treats someone serving them is a true window into their soul.

Maybe I'm stretching this too much beyond a restaurant atmosphere. But, reminding yourself to treat people well is still a good tip (pun intended).

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