June 1, 2020

Everything sucks and I’m dying: what it’s like to be a server

Have you ever been to a restaurant on a Friday night, and your server forgot something or they weren’t as attentive as you would’ve liked? They took too long to drop off the bill or gave it to you too soon? Well, that server was me.

Okay, it probably wasn’t literally me, but you get the point. Anyone who has worked in the food industry knows that serving is one of the most demanding jobs out there, and sometimes for crappy pay. But for some reason, it’s a popular job for many college students, including myself.

Serving, like almost any job, has its good and bad days. Sometimes you get to serve a birthday party, and they give you cake, or there’s a kitchen mistake and your manager lets you eat it in the back.

Other times there are two parties of 30 people and only two servers on the floor, so you scramble around to take care of everyone as well as you can.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to tips, a.k.a. the generosity of the people you take care of.

I’m not someone who’s going to demand that everyone tip 20 percent of their bill every time, but I don’t believe there’s ever a time where a server who does their job deserves nothing.

“But the food/alcoholic beverages took forever!” Well, your server doesn’t cook the food, and most of the time they don’t mix drinks. All they do is put the food and drinks into the computer. The rest is the kitchen/bartender’s job, and they have a lot going on, too.

“But they forgot my appetizer/side/etc.!” And they probably feel really bad for it. The missing or fixed food will be out as soon as possible (if you still want it), and I’m sure they’re trying to work their manager for some kind of discount. Many servers take care of several tables at once, so they have a lot on their minds. Also, newsflash: They’re human, too! Sometimes they forget things.

“But my server was downright rude!” Although I would still leave some kind of tip, there’s never an excuse for a server to be completely rude to a customer. Being accommodating and well-mannered is part of the job. To be fair, serving’s customer-centered nature can be frustrating, and sometimes it’s hard to keep a smile and be nice to a customer who isn’t being nice back.

It’s never fun to open a black book and find that they left no tip, especially when I thought I did a great job taking care of them. Plus, even if the table didn’t tip me, I still have to tip out the bartender for their beers and mixed drinks.

Some servers also have to give some tips to busboys, hostesses, and the kitchen. When the tip outs are all added up, no tip from one table may mean that I lose money. How is that fair?

It’s also no secret in the industry that looking pretty makes more money. I’ve found that good tips come more from wearing makeup or fake laughing at my tables’ jokes rather than actually doing a good job. I can tell a significant difference in my tips for the day when I wear makeup versus when I don’t.

This gets taken further when tables actively harass you. Obviously, some customers flirt or leave a phone number, but some take it as far as leaving their hotel keycard or touching their server’s butt. Although I’ve never experienced it myself, many of my fellow female servers experience unwanted advances almost every day.

Another of my least favorite parts of serving is children. Don’t get me wrong, I love kids. But I hate cleaning up after them. They love throwing food and smashing tortilla chips into the carpet that I will painstakingly sweep later. But the worst thing is the throw up.

One time, a kid ate his corn dogs too fast and threw up on the carpet of the dining room floor in the middle of our lunch rush. I was chosen to clean it up because I wasn’t as busy as everyone else.

Wearing gloves, I scooped up the chunky parts of the throw up and tossed them into the trash. I used a broom and dustpan to sweep up the smaller bits, then I got down on all fours and scrubbed the carpet with cleaning solution.

Luckily, the carpet cleaner came within a few days for our monthly cleaning.

Another unavoidable part of serving are the parties. Big groups of 10+ people are common at the restaurant I work at. While they’re sometimes annoying to deal with, big parties are where servers make a majority of their money.

I was working a double shift one day, and the morning shift had been fairly slow. My manager cut everyone but me, one other server, and the bartender. The other server and I were both doubles, so we decided to just work straight through the evening without a break. I’d done this before and wasn’t worried.

As soon as the other servers left, a huge party of 30 walked in the door. We got them sat, split up the party between the other server and I, and everything seemed fine. Smaller tables filtered in every now and then, but the bartender was helping us take tables, too. It was a lot, but we could handle it.

I got the party’s drinks out and was taking their food order when the foyer filled up with another party of 30: a sports team who’d just come from a tournament.

Honestly, I don’t really remember what happened next. Somehow, we got everyone’s drinks and then, eventually, their food out without much of a problem. Some of the smaller tables complained about the slow service, but there wasn’t much anyone could do. The kitchen was pushing out food as fast as it could, and the managers were even taking tables at this point.

The large parties continued into the night, and I went home dead tired. It was the hardest day I’d ever had at work. I wouldn’t wish that kind of rush on anyone.

My point is that servers go through a lot, and maybe we should cut them some slack. Sometimes we forget your side of French fries or mess up your drinks, but we’re never trying to sabotage your night out. We’re human. We mess up sometimes, but we depend on customer generosity to make a living.

When I’ve counted my money and my head hits the pillow after a long shift, my dreams are filled with the sounds of sucking straws in empty cups, children crying, and customers asking for more ranch.

  • Heather Barr is the current Editor-In-Chief of The Chimes and a senior at Capital University, studying Journalism and Professional Writing. hbarr@capital.edu

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