To Walk A Mile In A Server’s Shoes


A Typical bill, All-You-Can-Eat Crab Legs on a Monday afternoon…

I read an article today which was more or less an open letter to someone ignorant and anonymous.  It was really well-written, and was written by somebody who witnessed somebody lose their mind and flip out on a fast food cashier over ketchup on a hamburger.  Read it here.  It’s worth the read, trust me.

I have a lot of love (or tolerance, at the very least) for those in the customer service industry because I spent a goodly portion of my non-professional career working customer service jobs.  I am not a “big government” kind of guy — in fact, the smaller, the better — but I do believe that everyone should be forced into working a customer service-based job, if only for a little while when they are in their teenage years.  It sounds hypocritical, but if this happened, I’d bet you a year’s pay that adults would be nicer to each other.

For example, I waited tables at Red Lobster and Emmitt’s Ale House (great place in Downers Grove, IL…drop by if you can) to get through college, and it taught me a lot about organizing and prioritizing your attention to juggle more than one thing at a time.  Unless you have done the job, you don’t realize how much attention it takes to make sure you approach the table in a reasonable amount of time, then take drink orders, then food orders, then put the food into the computer so it gets to the kitchen, then hand-make salads (at places which have you do that, like RL does), then deliver it, then refill any empty drinks, then drop off the check, then pick up the payment(s), then split the check five ways (because no one said to keep everything separate, which would’ve been easier), then drop off the tabs and hope for a nice tip.  You may be thinking, “Heh, big deal…I could do that for my table all by myself.”  And you’d be right.  But imagine juggling four, five, six tables — all with varying numbers of people, varying drink orders, varying food preferences (extra bleu cheese, dressing on the side, medium rare burger, etc), and varying start-to-finish timelines.  Seriously, think about it:  If five tables of four come in all at once (not typical, but possible during the lunch or dinner rush), you’re literally taking care of twenty separate people.  Twenty separate drinks, twenty separate salads, twenty separate meals…twenty separate tips that you have to work for, simultaneously.     

You don’t realize until you work in the restaurant industry that Corporate is screwing you every time they come out with a new promotion.  Exhibit A looks like a “three-course-meal-for-twenty-bucks” promotion.  At Red Lobster, we dreaded their “Endless Shrimp” and “All You Can Eat Crab Legs” promotions.  All-you-can-eat promotions do servers absolutely no good —  sure, they get business in the door, but the server takes the brunt of, “Sure, I’ll have another refill of crab legs” for an hour and a half, while the total price for the bill ensures a tip that will barely break minimum wage, if enough people don’t come through that day.  The problem is that when people see the price on the bill, they tip for that, not for the level of service they just received, whether it took twice as long as normal or not.  I literally witnessed a guy eat 220 — two hundred and twenty — butter-covered shrimp scampi during Endless Shrimp Month at Red Lobster.  (They bring you twenty to start with, for reference.)  Guess what his total bill came out to.  Not even thirty bucks.  What do you think the server made on that?  

My Dad used to be a huge proponent of abolishing the “tipping” culture that America seems to have a fetish with; he’d much rather have a set price for any given service.  He’d rather have paid more for a meal with the tip already built into the price than have to deal with the variable of charity (which is what he thought of it).  I don’t suppose I blame him, but it doesn’t change the way we do things here.  The fact is, your server is probably making north of three bucks an hour to provide you service, and 95% of their income comes from your tip.  College kids in particular:  If you have enough for the meal and not enough to tip, you don’t have enough to go to the restaurant.  

Oh yeah, one more thing: Don’t be an ignorant, self-important jerkwad to those who handle your food.  I am not lying when I say that I have witnessed an employee of an as-yet unnamed establishment literally spit into the food of someone who was a very self-entitled, holier-than-thou customer.  I don’t condone compromising anyone’s food at all under any circumstances, but you’re rolling the dice if you’re an a$$hole and think it won’t happen to you.  Frankly, I think you get what’s coming to you in that case.  Oh–you poked a sleeping bear in the face with a stick?  And then he got pissed and attacked you?  The nerve of that bear! What was he thinking?!  

Well…what the hell did you think would happen?

Just remember this:  People who send their food back because their steak was undercooked don’t get spit in their food; people who do it with a crap attitude and are obviously looking for a free meal do.  Get up in arms all you want about it, but it’s the way the world works.  

And really…if you were a server and walking in their shoes, wouldn’t even a small part of you want to do the same? 


  1. Hey buddy, you nailed it with this post. I was only a server for one summer, but my work in retail (K-Mart, Eagle Country Market grocery store, Barnes & Noble) taught me to appreciate the thankless jobs that make up the service industry. Those people deal with jerks on a regular basis for poor wages. Sometimes I think that the greatest lesson that I learned working in retail… is that I didn’t want to spend my life working in retail.

    It’s hard, honest work, but it’s not for me. Those experiences I had in those jobs guided me to being a more patient person in a long line at Target, more polite to servers, and nicer to people to strangers in general.

    I agree with you completely that people would be less likely to be rude to a waiter, cashier, or service clerk if they had had a similar job for even a few months in his or her life. Those aren’t jobs that everyone can handle.

    A final thought: One of the greatest bumper stickers I ever saw read, “I Know There’s a Hell: I Work in Retail.”

  2. Thanks, Weasel. I know a lot of people who deal with customer service jobs on a regular basis, but I thought I’d throw my own two cents in there for those who have no idea what the experience is like. It’s funny to imagine for a second if my opinions would mirror yours, if I had exactly the same work experiences…they probably wouldn’t be completely the same, but I know they’d be a little different than they are even now, that’s for sure.

    By the way, Weasel — I really appreciate that you read my blog posts, but I haven’t seen a post from you in a while…feeling a little…empty, as it were.

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