We asked servers the following questions:
1. Describe the best/worst parts of food service.
2. Describe your worst experience.
3. What is the worst customer faux pas?
4. Have you ever added anything, um, special
to a customer’s dish?
5. Any tricks for getting good tips?
6. Any celebrity sightings?
7. What’s something the average customer
might not know?
TREVOR HALE, 24
BUSSER, RUTH’S DINER
IDEAL JOB: MUSICIAN/COMIC BOOK AUTHOR/SCREENWRITER
1. The money is the best part of the job. I worked at Express [clothing store] in the mall during the winter when the diner was slow and the money wasn’t nearly as good. Plus, instead of people yelling at me because the patio was closed, I had girls yelling at me because the extra-small shirts didn’t fit over their fake boobs. It took me a while to figure out how to respond to that. The very worst part is trying to pretend customers’ jokes are funny. “Wow, those really are mile-high biscuits, aren’t they?” I can’t even pretend to laugh at that one anymore.
3. The most annoying thing is when someone walks from the parking lot through the front door, then asks what the weather is like on the patio. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to say, “It’s exactly the same as it is in the parking lot.”
4. I’ve never added “something special” to anyone’s dish, but there was a guy that came in who I didn’t like, and he knew I didn’t like him and when he asked for another biscuit I got the best-looking one I could find, set it on a plate and handed it to him with a giant fake smile on my face. I hadn’t done anything to it, but he still didn’t touch it.
6. Karl Malone used to come in a lot. Rocky Anderson is about as regular as a celebrity as we get, and he’s not in there much. Tyra Banks and Chris Webber came in once and the girl that served them said they were a'holes and terrible tippers. Which, for some reason, doesn’t surprise me.
7. More than half the time, we’re making fun of you behind your back. It’s OK though, because while we’re doing that, you’re complaining about us to the rest of your table.
Telling me that you’re good friends with Ruth isn’t going to get you a table any quicker.
ROB TENNANT, 27
SERVER, DESERT EDGE BREWERY
IDEAL JOB: AUTHOR/SCREENWRITER/WARRIOR POET
1. The best part of my job is more money for minimal time investment. Also the people, which is to say, my co-workers, not the clientele. The free beer doesn’t hurt, either.
The worst parts are everything else, especially the customers. I’ve been trying to work out a scenario where they can be eliminated from the equation, but I’m stumped.
2. When I was 19 bussing tables at a fancy ski resort in Park City, Jason Alexander asked me where the bathroom was. It was only my second day and I did not know, so I apologized for my ignorance and admitted that it was my second day and referred him to his server. He gave me a condescending double thumbs-up and said, “Welcome to the team.” When George Costanza is scoring points off you, you suck.
3. It’s annoying when customers ask for things while my hands are full of dirty dishes or food for somebody else, wave their arms in the air to get my attention from across the restaurant, treat me like an idiot'which I am not or think they are very funny when they make a joke I’ve heard three times that day and countless times historically. Also, saying that you’re ready to order and then making me wait while you look at the menu for the first time is not “ready.”
7. Remember, your server is most likely smarter than you. She probably knows more about food than you do, she probably knows more about wine and beer than you do, and if she is having a bad day it is most likely because she has been up for days working on her thesis documenting the impact of imperialist practices of the First World on the economies of the Third. Cut her some slack.
RUBY JOHNSON, 23
SERVER, BLUE PLATE DINER
IDEAL JOB: PHOTOGRAPHER/ROCK STAR DRUMMER
1. The worst is dealing with unhappy, unfair people. There are more than you would like to think. I am a really sensitive person when it comes to being treated poorly by my customers. I tend to carry it with me well after work is over for the day. That’s when people ask me why I wait tables in the first place. I admire my fellow thick-skinned co-workers. It is better not to care when someone is verbally abusing you.
2. I had a regular once make me stand there while he verbally abused me over some eggs and some whipped cream on a waffle. It was single-handedly the worst, most humiliating customer-service experience I had ever encountered. I was bombarded with swear words and yelling in front of my other tables. It still makes me so mad to this day. I think he had a hard night before and was going to take it out on whomever. I cried. No grown man should ever speak to a young lady like that. Mind you, this was over some whipped cream.
3. Some of the worst offenses are coming in to the restaurant 15 minutes before closing, not making eye contact, snapping when you need something and not tipping.
5. There are few depending on my mood. Some nights I am overly nice and make small talk. Or I will go out of my way to be a good servant'not much talk, just efficient and reliable. You really have to read the table. I like to give refills on drinks before they ask me to do so.
6. The best celebrity sighting was Ricky Schroeder. He was so nice and a great tipper. Joan Osborne came in once but I never liked “What If God Was One Of Us.”
Rocky Anderson comes in now and again. He is sure nice.
7. We have a great staff at the Blue Plate. Most everyone has been very loyal for some years. We have no problem splitting the check. Not every establishment will do that for you. We also do not add gratuity to large groups, so always make sure you tip your server well. And remember, we make $2.14 an hour, so your tip does make a big difference in our income. Tipping 10 percent for really good service is a bummer. In a perfect world, I would love if everyone would have to work in a restaurant at least once. A lot of valuable life lessons would be learned.
JOE DENHALTER, 27
IDEAL JOB: MUSICIAN/FILMMAKER/ACTOR
1. A flexible schedule and on-the-spot money.
The worst aspects are dealing with people who don’t treat you like a human being, people who are dishonest just to get what they want and bad tippers.
2. Customers who seat themselves, poor tippers and anyone who is rude, self-entitled and/or unfriendly.
4. I once added a little saliva to a former roommate’s drink for screwing me out of a $500 deposit. It was obvious because it floated on top, so I dumped it out. I think I’m too nice to do so, but I know for a fact that other servers aren’t. This includes food dropped on the ground and touched directly with their hands. If you’re not a dick, this won’t happen to you.
5. I don’t think I should have to “trick” anyone for tips. The general public should know how to tip, despite what Rachel Ray and other celebrities say on their television shows. I just give the best service I can, which might include going above and beyond what’s normal, but I think good service should be recognized by a good tip. It’s 15 percent to 20 percent, people!
6. John Heard (O, The Client): His dinnermate wouldn’t shut up about how he was famous and Mr. Heard thought he could circumvent Utah’s liquor laws because of who he is. Fred Willard (Waiting for Guffman, Anchorman): Very pleasant and nice. Luke Goss (musical group Bros; Blade 2 and Charlie): Very cool, easy to talk to and a good tipper. I once waited on a former Jazz player who just got drafted and signed a contract worth at least a couple million, and he left me less than 10 percent.
The worst are friends of the owners who act like celebrities. They think they’re doing their friend a favor by complaining about anything and everything. You’re not special, you’re only costing someone their job. And when the owner buys your dinner or $100 in cocktails, as happened to me once, you should tip extra.
7. Utah restaurants are not required to pay their servers more than $2.13 an hour (and most don’t). They do this because tipping is expected. Servers never see paychecks because their whole wage goes to taxes. Servers usually owe money to state and federal governments of upwards to $1,500, which is difficult to come by when you’re a struggling college student. Tips are our only source of income and many servers have families to feed. Then, at the end of it all, we’re usually tipping out 20 percent to 30 percent of our tips to other staff such as bussers, bartenders and food-runners.
Utah has three separate, distinct liquor licenses. There’s the “restaurant” license, the “tavern” license, and the “private club” license. Where I work, we possess the first two. If you happen to be sitting in the area that falls under the “restaurant” license, you can drink whatever you’d like'beer, liquor or wine'but you must order food. If you’re sitting in the area that’s designated as the “tavern,” you don’t have to eat but you can only drink beer, no wine or spirits. Your server did not make these rules up, nor did the restaurant. They are state laws. If you don’t like it, write your representative.
JORDAN SCRIVNER, 22
SERVER, THE PIE PIZZERIA
IDEAL JOB: FILMMAKER/GRAVEYARD-SHIFT SECURITY GUARD
1. I worked at The Pie for nine months. The best parts were the food, certain co-workers and the feeling you get at the end of a hard day’s work. I would describe it, as ridiculous as this sounds, as the closest I’ve ever come to serving in the military. I’ve also described it as like being in a John Hughes flick. A lot of clichés happen: the snotty older woman, the tough-as-nails but ultimately likable boss. All it lacked was the Molly Ringwald love interest.
The worst are the customers. If you ever want to lose your faith in humanity, get a job in food service.
2. Once, an insane frat family came in. You know, party people out for a party time. When I saw one of them put their sandaled feet on the plush booth, laying down on the booth with his feet up in the air, I told him he had to put his feet down. Then one of them said: “Well, now that you told one of my friends what to do, I’m going to tell you what to do: Clean off this table, it’s really cramping our style, and get away from our table.”
It was the closest I ever came to just sucker-punching someone, but I did what I was told because, hey, customer service is No. 1. Then there was the time a guy who reached across the counter and tried to grab me when I asked to see his ID. That was fun.
4. We joked that there should be a “spit in food” button under special requests in the register. But I could definitely see that privilege being abused.
6. Rob Miller, the vice chair of the Utah Democratic Party would occasionally stop by. He would always put the order name under “Democrat.”
7. We’re supposed to do spot cleaning, but most people go on cigarette breaks when we’re not busy. It was hard to quit smoking when I worked there. It was hard losing weight at that job, too.
JON JENSEN, 31
SERVER, SQUATTERS PUB BREWERY
IDEAL JOB: THINK TANK MEMBER
1. The best thing is the cash at the end of the night. The worst thing is, no, there’s really nothing I mind too much about it.
2. My worst experience was New Year’s Eve. There was a party of 10 people, all cool except for one jackass. He got too drunk and started being verbally abusive to his girlfriend. Everyone else at the table ignored him until we finally got sick of him and tossed him out. It was a real buzz-kill.
3. The worst offense that can be committed is tipping poorly, though you can probably see my obvious bias. Lots of “onesy” requests are annoying'asking for some little thing or another every time I go to the table. I also get annoyed by all the stupid things that people don’t normally want but somehow need while eating in a restaurant (mayonnaise to make fry sauce or a lime for your Diet Doke) but those things are really petty and easily overlooked when accompanied by a nice tip.
Oh … and kids at a restaurant are usually pretty damned annoying, too.
4. No! I have never “added something special” to a customer’s dish, nor have I ever seen anyone else do anything gross to anyone’s food. As far as I know, it doesn’t happen. I’ll never do it. I fear karma.
5. No tricks for tips. In my experience, generous people are generous, even when you screw up, and cheap people are just looking for the excuse to be cheap.
6. Yeah, once that guy named Pete who does all the Low Book Sales ads came into my restaurant. It was pretty exciting.