When I started this blog, I wanted to write about exploring restaurants, bars and cafes throughout the world. Given my extensive experience working in hospitality I thought I’d have a deeper insight than most into this kind of thing which could make for some interesting reading. Now that I’m home (for the moment), back working in hospitality, I thought I could write about things from the worker’s perspective rather than the customer’s – hopefully reading this changes at least one person’s perspective the next time they enjoy a meal out.
Have you ever paused for a moment, when you’re sitting inside a cosy café or a fancy restaurant, and thought about the people waiting on you?
About how their day is going, why they might be taking a little longer than you expected to get your coffee out to you? Maybe a simple thought about the fact that they’re human?
I’ve worked in hospitality for almost ten years. I see it daily. Customers thinking we’re robots, there to serve them without realising there might be reasons for the behaviour they perceive to be lacklustre or slow.
Picture this: the restaurant is virtually empty; you take a seat. The waiter appears flustered when he or she appears; you sigh because they’ve taken so long to get you your tap water. Your meal takes longer than you thought it would; you think about which review site you’ll take to to write your essay about how poor the service was when there was no-one there but you. Now think about this… The wait staff have been running around non-stop for hours. This is their fifth double shift in a row. They’re exhausted. They’ve spent day after day being mistreated by customers. People like you, who don’t stop to think about their circumstances. In the brief period between their busy lunch service and their even busier evening service, they’re quickly getting as many staff on half-hour breaks as they can. The person looking after you hasn’t had their half-hour break yet. They’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re overworked and underappreciated. And they’re there, trying to make you happy. Putting on a smile and doing their best to make your day as excellent as theirs can’t be.
Now think about this: it’s Easter Sunday, and you’ve decided to take your family out to brunch. You arrive; there are no tables available. You get angry at the host, who is already struggling with a list as long as his arm of people waiting for the same table you want. You wait twenty minutes and take a seat. You’re immediately upset that the waiter hasn’t read your mind and brought the takeaway coffees you ordered and were meant to wait for at the counter. You spend the rest of the brunch clicking at your waiter and waving them over to ask where your food is, five minutes after you order. Eventually you leave, not noticing the frustrated expression on every staff member’s face at the treatment they’ve gotten today. You leave, you go home to your extended family and the Easter egg hunt you’ve planned. You forget that the waiters and waitresses that have been looking after you all day are missing their family Easter.
Every day, the people waiting on you are going through something. Maybe their job isn’t paying their superannuation; maybe their manager is unfair to them. Maybe they couldn’t get their birthday off work, or they got told to cancel their plans last-minute and come in to work to cover someone else, again.
Maybe the next time you visit a café or restaurant, you could pay more attention to what you’re saying and how you’re acting. You could be sure to say “please” and “thank you” – it’s really not that much to ask. You could move out of the way of waiters carrying a table’s worth of dirty dishes; or help them out by moving your plates to the end of the table when they’re ready to be cleared. Don’t wait for the waiter to ask you all the same question – pay attention and order concisely. Don’t click your fingers or wave rudely; don’t yell or whistle to get attention. Wait until we meet your gaze and politely give a nod or raise your hand to indicate you’re ready to order, if it comes to that. I don’t know about other waiters, but if someone clicks at me I will serve another more polite table first, every time. Don’t get cranky at your waiter if the restaurant has run out of a particular product. In what world is it their fault? They don’t do the food ordering or prep, and even if they did, how could they have predicted accurately exactly what every customer would have wanted to eat before you arrived?
I’m almost twenty-five, and I’ll admit I’m ashamed every time somebody asks what I’m doing with my life. I’ve got two degrees and a lot more is expected of me than to work in hospitality. I come from a family of high-achievers who inspire me to do better and aim higher. I recently attended a party with a bunch of old high school friends and the regular “what are you up to these days?” questions were asked. I led with the more impressive facts about my life – I recently travelled Central America for 6 months; I have two degrees from one of the most esteemed universities in the country; I’m happily single… then the fact that I’m still working in hospitality was raised and I felt I had to make excuses for myself. The fact is, though, I shouldn’t be ashamed. It’s hard work. It’s exhausting and strenuous, it’s high-pressure and low-reward. We’re under-appreciated daily, but you know what? We make long-lasting, deep bonds with our co-workers. We’re smart, we’re witty, we’re strong. We’ve put up with more in our jobs than many other people will in their lifetime. No, I don’t want to be in hospitality forever, but I’m proud of the person I am, and I owe a lot of my resilience, strength of character and personality to my work.
To the people who are kind and considerate to their servers – thank you. You might think your small tip or polite manner are normal, but trust me – they’re appreciated more than you know.
To those who aren’t – it’s about time you realised that without hospitality staff, you couldn’t go out for your fancy brunches or get takeaway when you’re too lazy to cook. Try putting up with strangers treating you like crap for no good reason every day for a week and maybe then you’ll respect the people who are waiting on you.