The waiting is the hardest part

BY AUBREY HENRETTY
Neurotica
Published May 28, 2001

It still hurts to think about last summer: The dimly lit building, the smoke, the alcohol. It was so important to smile pretty, to act like I enjoyed the insults and the greasy 53-year-old men with their leering looks, their lewd comments and their crinkly dollar bills. Sometimes they called me stupid. Sometimes they slipped me their phone numbers on square bar napkins. I always felt so dirty at the end of the night, but at least I had a fat wad of cash to show for it.

Paul Wong
Aubrey Henretty

That is, before I tipped out the bussers and the bartender and gave the broiler guy a little extra on the side for helping carry steaks out to that party of 30.

The worst thing about working in a restaurant is that you have to deal with Restaurant Customers on a daily basis. (Note: When I say "Restaurant Customers," I do not mean "human beings" Restaurant Customers are actually members of the leech family.) The average Restaurant Customer is equal parts drill sergeant ("YOU ARE NOTHING, YOU MAGGOT! BRING ME MORE BREAD RIGHT NOW, SOLDIER! AND MAKE IT HOT!), four-year old child ("Is it done yet? Is it done yet? Is it done yet?") and tenured English professor ("This whitefish is not fit for human consumption").

Though I was fortunate enough to escape the intellectual prostitution that is the food service industry, I left behind a host of bright, overworked, undervalued women and men who deserve your respect. They laugh at all your jokes. They pretend to be sorry you didn"t like the soup. They treat you like royalty. Tell you to have a good night. Say that your children who have spent the last three hours screaming and grinding oyster crackers into the carpet are adorable. The least you can do is be civil. When dining out, remember:

"Waitress" is not a proper noun. Address your server by her name. However, do not use her name more than once per sentence, twice per visit to your table. Excessive name use is just creepy. In the event that you do not know her name, "Oh, miss" is also acceptable, but not when you drag out the vowels.

If she says it"s decaf, take her word for it. Why would she lie to you? Besides, if she was lying the first time, what makes you think she won"t do it again?

Your waitress is broke. Some waitresses have to share their tips with enough people to populate a small country. Also, contrary to popular belief, waitresses do not make minimum wage. They do not make half minimum wage. If you can"t tip at least fifteen percent, cook your own damn food and serve it to yourself.

Your waitress is probably smarter than you are. So don"t treat her like a child or a sex object. Many waitresses are working their way through college or grad school. I once worked with a grad student who was teaching a class on neuropsychology. She really enjoyed having Customers tell her she was too dumb to do her job.

Your waitress has other tables. I know this may come as a shock, but your waitress is busy. If you order a small green salad and a glass of water on a Saturday night, don"t expect to see her for more than twenty seconds. And don"t act all insulted about it, either. The same economic model that allows you to choose between JC Penny and Bivouac allows your waitress to choose between your fifty-cent tip and that other table"s fifteen-dollar one.

Finally (and this goes back to the part about your waitress being intelligent):

Your waitress understands spoken words. Hand gestures such as waving your glass in the air when you want more grapefruit juice and pointing disgustedly at your empty plate when you want it removed are completely unnecessary. Also, anyone who whistles to get his waitress"s attention deserves to be shot in the stomach. She"s a human being, not a dog.

Which is more than I can say for some people.

Aubrey Henretty can be reached via e-mail at ahenrett@umich.edu.