Ah, waitressing! The job where you smile and promise to take care of someone as they unknowingly abuse you with complaints and annoyingness. I was a server throughout college, and although I used my actual psychology degree for a while, to this day I could argue that I learned far more about human nature from my years as a waitress, especially when prepping for the ultimate test in dealing with human aggravation. Motherhood.
And if there is anything to be gained by my experiences as a server and put to good use as a mother it’s this:
1. Always remember who the asshole is. I would stand at my perch and watch as my table was seated. I’d size them up then grab the silverware and head over with a big fat smile on my face. However, before I could even finish my, “Hi, welcome to….”, they would cut me off to say diet coke, then gesture to the person they were with to make their beverage choice. Assholes. Day in and day out I waited on them. Sometimes I knew they were trouble immediately and sometimes it caught me off guard. As I emerged from my bathroom yesterday morning I saw my son walking towards me. So sweet looking with his hair all a mess. All four years of him. So adorable in his giant onesie. However, before I could even finish my, “Good morning my little…”, he cuts me off to say, “Get me chocolate milk with a top in the blue cup with Lightning McQueen on it, not the one with the footballs”. I have found when dealing with rude customers and children the rules are the same. Do not take it personally, do not let it ruin your day, and always model the respect you want from them. And perhaps “forget” to put the chocolate in that milk of theirs.
2. Don’t blame it on the kitchen, I mean the kid. Panic sets in. I was completely in the weeds with a full section and was suddenly shaken with the realization that my table had been sitting for 45 minutes and I completely forgot to send their order to the kitchen. In fact, the most intense nightmares I have ever had involve this very scenario. I would run into the kitchen, tell the cooks I forgot another freaking order, listen to them all tell me what an idiot I was, and then run back to the table and tell them, “I’m so sorry. The kitchen is way behind”. I would bring them out some “complimentary” chips and salsa because it was the only thing I could get on my own. I blamed everything on the kitchen. After all, they had no idea. Until my manager went and told my table he was so sorry and that I had clearly had a “rough day”. And then suddenly I was right in the middle of a life lesson that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and take responsibility. More humiliating at first, but feels better in the end. So now when I am super tempted to explain to people that my children are to blame for the messy house, the stain on my shirt, and the lateness, I have to stop and appreciate that in fact it may be me who’s dropping the ball. But thank goodness I keep stocked up on chips and salsa.
3. It can always be grosser. Within my first week I dropped a full tray of food right before I made it to my table. I spilled drinks on people, and I had chili flicked in my face by an elderly gentleman whose wife clarified he just “didn’t like it”. I stumbled into my apartment at midnight, plopped on my bed, immediately getting a full-blown whiff of what smelled like throw-up, but was actually beer mixed with different kinds of food particles attached to my shirt, and the grossness of the gunk stuck on the bottom of my non-slip shoes. When my son was born I quickly found out what reflux was and a “blow-out”. We both changed our clothes twelve times a day. I was spraying him in the face point blank with breast milk and he was puking it back up all over me. And now my second son sits in his high chair at 15-months-old, smiling as he precisely hits me in the face with the spaghetti I have prepared for him. Thanks to waitressing I just presume, he didn’t like it. And as the children grow I realize not to stress the mess because it could always be grosser, always.
4. Complaining training. I put too much ice in the glass then not enough. The meal described on the menu as, “Insanely Spicy” was “too spicy”. People ate their entire meal then requested it be taken off the check because they were pretty sure it wasn’t actually what they ordered. The restaurant business gave me the perfect practice because 4-year-olds are fluent in the language of “It’s never good enough”. Being a server provided the realization that people are absolutely nuts. They complain like toddlers and building up a tolerance to their noise is key. I remember those moments when my son sits down to dinner like he’s running the show and almost always rejects the meal I have prepared as though it’s not what he ordered. When he tells me the spaghetti is “too stringy” and the chocolate milk is not “brown” enough, I do what I did when waiting on annoying customers. I smile, nod, and then walk away at a distance safe enough to observe them and take a moment to appreciate how ridiculous they are.
5. Always put the children first. I would act like it was so cute when I walked up to a table and saw the children emptying the entire caddie of sugar packets, biting them open, and making little designs on the table out of sugar. What I was really thinking is that children are monsters. However, after months of waiting tables I realized the key to successfully getting a good tip from a family. Always, always, put the kids first. Get the kids their drinks out first, their food out first, dance for them, give them extra crayons, and basically completely embarrass yourself. And now that I have children of my own I know why. When the kids are happy, the parents are happy. Personally, I was blessed with two boys and they are very cute but at restaurants they too are monsters. Not just to servers, but to most people I come across in my life this rule stands true, If you’re good to my kid, you are all good with me.
So for now I will continue to use all the skills I developed while waitressing to deal with my little monsters, until the day comes when I can send them into the world to get a job of their own. I will gently turn them in the direction of the closest restaurant and encourage them to apply. Then I will sit back and wait. Wait for the stories of the 12 top getting sat right before their shift was ending. The mucky dishwater flying in their face. The nice couple that never tipped, and the double-shift from hell. And I will smile and know that my kids are one step closer to gaining the parenting skills they will one day need themselves.
But most importantly, they will learn to always tip their server and that nobody likes an asshole.
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