Lots of walking. Lots of talking. Lots of spare cash. And, if you work for a place that serves decent food, fine meals at a discount. Ah, the life of a server.
For many, it’s the ideal job between school and real-world employment. Or, it’s the ideal job for night owls who like to party late and sleep in. Or, it’s just the ideal job. For a time here in Utah, a job at one of Gastronomy’s many restaurants was a local rite of passage.
But it’s not all smiles and service. Life as a waiter or waitress can have a serious, profound sub-context. A deeper meaning, if you will. Between the order and final service, there’s volumes to be learned about human nature, the hierarchy of needs, and the importance of clean silverware. It’s a clash between idealism (the boundless wants and needs of the customer) and realism (the limits of a certain server’s resources, time, and often, patience).
These days, serving can involve hours of training and preparation before a restaurant even makes a hire. Just ask any restaurant veteran who works for a successful local or national chain that doesn’t serve fast food. For many restaurants, service is that long-lost link in the chain of profit. Needless to say, they don’t hire dummies.
While restaurants always have and always will deal predominantly in food and fine meals, there are also a few life lessons to be learned after you foot the bill. So it was that we had to ask a few servers amid Salt Lake City’s local restaurant talent: “How would things be different if servers ruled the world?”
Scott Evans, server at Sage’s and co-author of the Wasatch Front Vegetarian Dining Guide:
“If servers ruled the world, I think people would exercise a lot more patience and humility. If everyone were a server, people would be much more accommodating toward one another. Everyone would walk around asking if the other person was all right, or if they had what they needed.
“There’s a motto I like to remember. ‘Jesus serves. But he’s not your servant.’ I think that applies to waiters as well. Sometimes you want to tell certain people, ‘I’m you’re server, but I’m not your servant.’ I wanted to get tags that say that, but the owner of the restaurant wasn’t into it. Really, the point everyone should remember is that there’s not a single restaurant that doesn’t make a mistake. It’s just human nature to make the occasional mistake. At the same time, I realize it’s human nature to be annoyed by a mistake, or someone who forgets.
“You learn a lot about human nature working this kind of job. It’s interesting how people—even really educated people—really leave their smarts at home when they go out to eat. I think sometimes that’s because they really like to relax when they eat out. I once saw someone pour a shaker of sugar all over their pizza because they thought it was Parmesan cheese. Some people will sit down at a table and tend to view themselves as the only important people in the restaurant. That’s not necessarily true. People should learn to look more outside themselves. It’s fine to assert your own importance, but you have to realize the needs of others as well.
“Working as a waiter, I think I’m more eager to talk to people in general—especially in the context of a larger group. Talking to people all day long, it’s easier to approach people you might see as less than approachable and actually have a meaningful conversation with them.”
Steve Sloan, server with 15 years experience, with three of those years under the roof of Oasis restaurant:
“It probably would be a better world if servers ruled it. People would realize that not everything’s going to be perfect all the time. People would be a lot more light-hearted, forgiving and respecting. A lot of people downgrade servers, but we’re working a lot harder than most people. We’re not stupid. I once had a customer ask if I knew how to divide a check into two because they wanted it split. Of course I know how to do that.
“With this job, you always have cash, which is nice. But it has its drawbacks, too, because you turn around and spend it the next day. It’s tricky to budget. That would probably be a bad trait if you ruled the world. You’d be horrible at balancing a budget.
“Also, if servers ruled the world it would be a party all the time. Most people in the restaurant business party all the time, usually after work because you’re so wound up by the time you’re done, you have to have some drinks to wind down.
“But what could the world really learn from servers? Treat people better, and you’ll be rewarded. Most servers tend to treat a table better if the customer is polite when asking for things.”
Yanique Venezia, waitress since 16 who now works at Orbit Café, and Martha Carter, also a waitress since 16 who works at Orbit:
Venezia: “I’ve learned that people can be extremely self-centered and non-appreciative when they go to a restaurant. But that covers a lot of subjects outside of restaurant service, I suppose.”
Carter: “Yes, when some people go out to eat, they forget sometimes that they’re dealing with a human being. Half of them don’t even look you in the eye. Or when you talk about a special and they cut you off. I think all of us who’ve worked in restaurants suppose the world would be a better place if everyone were forced to wait tables for at least one week.”
Venezia: “I’m not perfect either, though. You know, I try to get the best deal and best service I can when I go out, too. But I’m still going to tip well. Here, we deal with a lot young people who often come in drunk. That’s great, because sometimes those people slip you a $20. Other times you may get a raunchy-ass smile, but no tip.”
Carter: “But we see an eclectic bunch of people here. We deal with a lot of colorful people. So we have a pretty high tolerance for all sorts of people and behavior. I’m not Christian. But I think Jesus had the right idea: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Put yourself in the other person’s position. Karma will treat you back in kind. I used to work at a Village Inn. I saw people getting sexual in the booth.”
Venezia: “What about the woman who tried to drive through the front window here? We never had those kinds of problems when I worked at my father’s restaurant.”
Carter: “Being a server helps you with all sort of skills. It’s helped me in my writing, acting and all the humanities, because you learn to read people even before they do something. You learn body language, facial expressions. You can get the best tips out of any type of person if you know how to work it.”
Venezia: “Or learning the memorization aspect of the job. That keeps you on point.”
Carter: “And never assume your server’s stupid just because she has a smile on her face. People assume we’re stupid, but … some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known I met while working with them at a restaurant.”