What Your Waiter Isn’t Telling You

St_Johns_Lutheran_Church_Rabbit_Hill_Alberta_Canada_02AImagine a large family getting ready to attend church on a Sunday morning. This isn’t your family, and it’s not mine either. This is the most unusual tribe you’ve ever met. There are a dozen sisters and just as many brothers, and they share a tiny home. To fully appreciate the chaos in the home you’ll need to know there is only one restroom to facilitate grooming, and there are not enough clean socks for all the feet. Now just to make things even more interesting, there is a language barrier.

This family would obviously struggle in their efforts to get to church in a timely manner. However, upon their arrival to a quaint steeple, hillside church, each teenager would grab the hand of a younger sibling and walk them safely to the fold. The morning crying and the chaos would be history, and the family would be presented as a unified structure of grace.

This is the life of your restaurant waiter.

A food server’s shift is immersed with duality. The conversations, attitudes and behaviors of the staff while they are working with guests in the front of the restaurant are quite different than what takes place back in the kitchen.

To an outsider, the seemingly disrespectful way in which the restaurant staff sometimes speaks to one another when they are in their safe place (a.k.a. the kitchen) might be alarming and even offensive. But truth be told, it is no more startling than the comfortable communication between siblings. The intense and rigorous work a restaurant staff undergoes forms a familial bond.

Perhaps a reader objects, “Wait! The same is true for my staff at (insert company logo here). We are definitely like family!”

I don’t disagree with you, dear reader, but when you leave (insert company logo here) ninety percent of you end up at a restaurant with your closest pals to debrief the week’s events or to complain about your coworkers. In other words, even those of you who don’t work in a restaurant still go to restaurants. They are the most common meeting ground in every developed Nation. For this reason, we are going to concentrate on restaurant workers today.

The nod I want to give to restaurant workers comes from deep within. If this blog post had hands, it wouldn’t be a formal handshake to thank a food server for a job well done. This blog would be a lasting hug to a wealth of people who have reminded me of the importance of building community wherever you land.

Late last Saturday night, at the end of an emotionally and physically exhausting eleven hour day, my husband met me at the restaurant where I have the privilege to serve. I enjoyed a fruity craft beer, and my husband and I shared a Mexican apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and brandy butter on a sizzling fajita skillet; a delicacy that neither of us have any business eating late at night.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and at some point over the weekend, I had allowed the bandit into my head. As I sat with my husband relaying the struggles I was battling, he made a request:

“Name three things about today that you are thankful for.”

I turned my head towards a passageway to the kitchen, and at that precise moment two young women, fellow food servers who are close in age to my adult children, were coming through the doorway.

“Them,” I replied to my husband.

Image-1I shared with my husband that if I were to list the things I am thankful for, these women would be at the top of my list. Yes, I was thankful for the guests I had the chance to serve; thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with returning guests who remembered my name. Yes, I was deeply moved by a heartfelt conversation I had with a young female guest who is a recent widow. Of course, I was humbled and grateful for a couple of great tips. These moments are always welcome, but I am not surprised when I am blessed by obvious good.

This is why I am inspired by the community of people I get to work alongside amid moments that are, more often than not, quite demanding. I am inspired by the playful bickering that happens in the back of the house. The complaining, the inside jokes, the bending of the rules, the calling each other out, the “happy to do it” sarcasm, but all of it with the knowledge that they have my back. On even the longest night, each of us is never alone.

  • Do you have time to take two waters to table 52?
  • Can you box my food on 13?
  • Will you run my bar drinks to 16?
  • I’m caught up, can I help you with anything?
  • Can you follow me with the fajitas?
  • Can you greet 61?

The struggle to do what needs to be done to create an enjoyable experience for our customers is not done merely for tips. Sure, having a great paying job is important and I don’t take that reward lightly, but in all honesty, the entire restaurant staff works hard for each other. Those who wear name tags work hard for the people in the back of the restaurant who aren’t working for tips. If a food server reflects poorly on the restaurant, the customer may never return. If the customer doesn’t return, then there is less money coming in. If there is less money—there may be less hours available for the cooks. If there are less hours for cooks, one of the cooks may lose their job.

That matters to me if the cook is Chuy.

When a position becomes a person our heart is less apathetic toward the situation.

And it’s not just in the chaos that restaurant workers experience familial love. It’s in brokenness. When a team member’s weakness seeps to the surface the family responds. When the weakness is pride it becomes a bad enchilada for everyone; a selfish attitude harnesses a weakness in the tribe making it hard for everyone to do their job. Because of that, I’ve witnessed staff push back and struggle to overcome workers who have become prideful or greedy. The intensity of the job sometimes means the situation is not handled with soft spoken words.

Of course, at other times, soft spoken words sneak around the corner and find you near the walk-in refrigerator.

Two female servers stand rolling silverware. Both have been on their feet for ten plus hours; carrying trays, taking orders, delivering drinks, warming tortillas, restocking glassware, negotiating with cooks, submitting to managers—basically, just doing the job.

One server begins to break down. Tired and fearful, her comparisons have convinced her she is failing at something that she feels she should have mastered by now. The other server, her sister and friend, responds with grace and speaks truth to the situation. These two women were born on opposite sides of the Nation—one is a Jersey girl while the other is a California native. They would have never met were it not for a restaurant in the middle of the Arizona desert. Age and upbringing are irrelevant. Failures and regrets are insignificant. In this moment what matters is love and encouragement.

The younger of the two women, the Jersey girl, disappears for a moment. While she is gone the older woman continues rolling a knife, a spoon, and a fork into a black cloth napkin. Her mind drifts back one year.

Arriving in the town where she and her husband were separated from every other family member, including their children, was surreal. Taking a job in a restaurant because she saw it as “just a job” reminds her of how limited her worldview had become. Every job has significance in the way it shapes the people we become and the community we create. Restaurant workers spend nearly every weekend together—engaging, challenging and conquering rough situations.

The Jersey girl returns holding a wet rag. “I cleaned the high chairs,” she announces.

Image-1(1)Five simple words? No. A novel. These words are lovelier than a psalm or a Shakespearean sonnet.

The Jersey girl just did the Californian’s side work for her.

Hearing the brokenness of the Californian motivated the Jersey girl to respond to her sister with a physical gesture of love. There were no extra tips, and it didn’t help her to get out of the restaurant earlier. In other words, there was nothing “in it for her”.

Maintaining sanity in this particular high intensity, repetitive job is not merely done for the hope of 20% in tips. That money is here today and gone tomorrow. Overcoming self, inspiring another person and experiencing life with a wide variety of uniquely crafted people are not garnishes in life—they are the main course. These are things that money cannot buy.

But, should you stop in for a meal, don’t forget to tip 😉

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