I worked in the restaurant industry for 5 years. I started out as a server, then became a trainer, a bartender and an assistant manager. I worked at a restaurant located in the 9th richest county in the country: Johnson County, Kansas, specifically in the city of Leawood. I know what goes on behind the scenes, the meaning behind a server’s words or actions. And I know all the health code violations. It is this knowledge, and more, that has forever ruined the restaurant dining experience for me.
When my server approaches my table, I’m judging their expertise and comparing their serving skills to my own. They may smile, but I know they’re pissed that all I ordered to drink was water. But maybe today, I just felt like water.
Everything they ask me is an up-sell. Do you want cheese? Do you want a salad? Etc. I know your game, server. I was you once. You can’t fool me!
If I happen to ask for a meal recommendation, I check to see if the server is just suggesting the most expensive item on the menu, or if they are giving me an actual opinion based on the food. I worked with many servers who employed this route, thinking they could trick customers into ordering more expensive meals. I always employed the honesty route and whenever a customer asked me what I thought of an item I didn’t like, I told them I didn’t like it. They were always baffled by this. But I think I got better tips because of it.
I know all the questions and sales tactics. I count the pour a bartender gives me. I can’t help it. I was trained to be a manager. When I enter a restaurant, I automatically go into work mode even though I haven’t worked in a restaurant in almost 3 years. When something does go wrong during my meal, I judge the response time and the fairness of the compensation the manager offers.
Before I worked in a restaurant, I used to be able to go to a restaurant and enjoy the experience. I was oblivious to the things going on in the background. But, like a Carnie going to a fair, I know all the tricks and which games to play and which to avoid. And the game is intoxicating; so much so that I frequently forget to just be a guest and enjoy my meal. It becomes a silent competition between me and the restaurant and only I know that we’re competing. I know how a server spiel goes and that some restaurants teach their servers to list the price and others teach them to avoid sharing the price of a featured entree.
Despite the proverbial curtain being pulled back, I know the other side of serving too. I know how hard a job serving can be. I know how rude and condescending customers are at times. I was standing at a table taking an order once and a man from another table SNAPPED at me to get my attention as if I were a dog. I about decked him. I’ve known the aching pain of simply standing on my feet after a straight 15 hours of walking and the disappointment of guests taking both credit card slips so I get no tip.
Knowing all of these things together also make me a very good tipper and a friendly and conscientious guest. I always talk to my server and ask him/her about their day. I ask them about their lives. I treat them as people. And I do my best to remember their names.
My time as a server taught me a lot about other people and about myself. Of course I went to some great parties and have some rather legendary stories about my experiences with that crowd. But as far as life lessons go, I learned how to sell. I learned how to be pleasant, even when I wasn’t feeling friendly. I learned how to diffuse situations, deal with sexual harassment and condescension, to sight pour drinks at the bar and to carry 3 or more plates at one time in my hands. The last two are great party tricks, if you’re ever looking for a way to show off.
So the next time you go to a restaurant, open your eyes and really see what goes on around you. You might learn something. Just don’t forget to enjoy your meal because of it.