A Year in Shifts.

I came home tonight and went through my personal paperwork to try and determine exactly how long I’ve been waitressing and to my surprise, it turned out to be exactly a year. Almost to the date.

When I had gone to the restaurant, I had told them that I’d work a month, maybe two for them. Six at the most I had proclaimed and believing it to be the truth. Yet, my month soon turned to two, then three and before I knew it, I had been working there for 8 months, doing 7 to 8 shifts a week. The money (if I worked hard) wasn’t bad and it sustained me, but it dawned on me that I’ve been there for longer than I planned, my psyche crashed a bit. Work became different as well. The waiters shifted and turned, the managers tried to implement new rules which didn’t really apply to me yet affected me negatively. I thought that I wouldn’t deal with the changes and see it through and I even started to look for a new job but…

I stayed.

I stayed in the restaurant because I didn’t have a better alternative to go to, that moving from one restaurant to another wasn’t really the kind of shift I wanted to make. And, the place had become home and the people my family. When you spend so many hours working with people, seeing them when they are under stress (and you as well) and seeing their triumphs and losses, you form a strange bond. I’ve noticed this even with my customers, that those who have been waiters always somehow feel a kind of kinship with you, sympathising with you and joking with you about things that only we can understand.

And, I learned a lot. I learned that I am not above losing my temper (and that if I do so, I do it in a spectacular way…) and that sometimes, patience can take you so much further than force. I learned that there are two kinds of people in the world (though my Other Half has pointed this out to me as well), those who take energy and those who give it. I have come home some evenings so drained that I fell in bed and cried, feeling as if I lost my soul to my tables and then other nights, I come back with a song in my heart, the world a strangely better place despite the fact that I didn’t make a lot of money. It all had to do with people and how they treated me, and I learned that being treated with dignity is the best gift that you can give anybody.

Four more months passed, and I came to believe that I will never leave there, that I will remain trapped in that place forever. The problem with waitressing is that you get stuck in a sort of groove, this never ending routine of going to work, working tables and coming back. Every day is the same, but different, the customers changing but always the same. Days flow into one and sometimes you can’t even remember what happened the week before because it wasn’t any different than what’s happening now. I accepted my place in the restaurant, even embraced it and started making a place for myself within its structure which would put me apart from the rest. I started helping the owner with his books, got into the foundations of the business and then…

Then things moved seemingly overnight and I got a job. The thing that I had been wishing for, for a year literally dropped in my lap, leaving me reeling for reality. I gave notice at the restaurant, planned my first holiday in a year and quietly, silently mourned the fact that I was closing yet another circle in my life,

Don’t get me wrong, I hated being a waitress. But, I got used to it, and the people that I worked with made up for it. I will miss the comradeship between the waiters, the way we can be irritated with each other yet still have a good time. I’m going to miss nicking the cheap chocolates that we gave out with some of the hot drinks and exchanging peppermints from the front of the shop for potato wedges in the kitchen. I’m going to miss being showered with numbers from strange men (and women!) because it was flattering in a way, giving my extremely low self esteem a little bit of a boost. I am going to miss my regulars.

And, I’m going to miss driving home in the dark, when there isn’t a soul on the road and the night is quiet and dark and beautiful. I’m going to miss singing at the top of my voice when I drive, feeling as if I’m the only person in the world. I’m going to miss the routine, the exercise that I got while working and even my extremely strict boss.

I was shown a part of the world that I didn’t understand going in, but which revealed itself to me in strangely hard ways. Having just come back from England when I started waitressing, the job brought me back into the pulse of my country, gave me the reality check that I needed, banishing my disillusions that I had developed in my time abroad. Some of what I saw was good and other things so dark and depressing that I cannot write about it here and now.

Finally, it’s time for me to confess that I am sad. That I feel as if I’m leaving home and leaving behind the people who have meant so much to me. Most of my friends are like me, trapped in the job that they hate because there is nowhere else for them to go, whether they are students working to pay for their living and studies or fellow travellers who came from abroad to the same disillusion that I had. The worst part is that I always try not to make friend and not to get involved but then, when it does happen, the people worm themselves into my heart so deep that leaving them hurts.

But, change is good, and this change – this change will hopefully be a step in the right direction. And, I won’t lose contact with my friends and I’ll still remember the way to the shop.

It will be different but then, every day is…

That Waiting Thing I do, Part 3.

And, another shift, another post and another set of pet peeves.

I survived my camping weekend, though admittedly not without it taking some prisoners. My immunity is being held hostage, and in its place I have a sore throat, a stuffy nose and a chest that feels as if someone is sitting on it the whole time. Good times, good times.
It’s with these three new companions that I had to go and waiter last night, so I’m not really surprised that I once again found myself thinking of all sorts of reasons why customers irritate me. I’m half ashamed of myself most of the time, because I’m really an irritable person. I’m beginning to realize it more and more. Things have been particularly touchy this month, because my restaurant’s not been busy. I work night shift, because I like the people more and the customers more. The night shift waiters, as I’ve said before, all have little interesting perks that make them very pleasant to work with (as opposed to day shift waiters that take themselves far too seriously). Yet, even we were at each other’s throats this week, all fuelled by the panic of: I’m not making enough money…

I still enjoy waitressing, I have to add this just to make myself feel a little bit better. The problem with this job is that it’s a lot like the lotto. Sometimes you win and other times you loose. A few nights ago, one of my fellow waiters, while doing his late night duty, growled at the world in general: This job really makes me hate people…
I had looked at him in surprise (he’s a very calm, pleasant kind of waiter) and realized that in a sense, it’s very true. You find yourself interacting with people who are real bastards. I’m reminded of a shift that I worked a few weeks ago where we did a massive end year function for one of our country’s most prominent banks. The bar was ‘open’ to everybody so they could drink and go wild as much as they wanted. In my life, I’ve never seen so many drunk people. It was sickening to watch and it fixed a vision of humanity in my subconscious that I don’t think I’ll get rid of quickly.
People are condescending, rude and like to make misuse of the motto that: “That Customer is Always Right.” The incidence that had made my fellow waiter growl his words to the world was that a customer had ordered a Don Pedro, only to change their minds when the waiter took it to them. They then proceeded to say that he had heard wrong, but I know my mate and he’s the kind of waiter who repeats your order back to you three times. So, he had to pay for their change of mind on a night where none of us made a lot of money.

But, then – on the other hand, it’s not all bleak and this is where the lotto principle comes in. Sometimes, customers are very kind to you, they are considerate and respond to your manners in kind. I had a customer once pour me a glass of really expensive red wine so that I could have a taste of it. “You have to do this once in your life,” he had said. “You have not lived until you’ve drank something you think you can’t afford…” He wasn’t taunting me or looking down on me as some people do. He was merely stating a little bit of his own personal wisdom.
You see, as much as working with people can tarnish your soul and conscious, it can also in rich you beyond words’ explanation. We see a lot, us waiters. We see the thrill of people’s first date, or the tense meeting of a divorced family. We see old couples drinking one of many cups of tea together as they have done for years and hesitant, excited young couples who are starting to find the rhythm of their relationship. There is a reward in those moments, and I think that sometimes, people forget that they share more than they would perhaps want to with those who pay attention.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I figured I’d share more of my Rulez with you. They have now progressed beyond tipping tips and are now general Rulez of conduct in a restaurant.

Alyss’s Tips 26- 30.

26) We’re back on an old point. 10% Tips. Not 5, not 3. 10.

27) Last Rounds. I love this one. Ladies and gentleman, when we call Last Rounds, it means that we’re closing up for the night. You come to a restaurant to eat, drink and be merry. When the eating and drinking stops… Well. There’s no more reason to be in the restaurant. You can do all the rest at home. Don’t stay for hours afterwards. Really.

28) Waiters are social creatures and need their mates to make them feel happy and secure. A happy and secure waiter is a friendly waiter. A happy and secure waiter is a patient waiter. If you realize that the restaurant is empty save for you, bare in mind that the only waiter left is yours. Waiters can leave when their last customers leave. If you don’t leave, neither can we and we HATE being alone.

29) Comfortable couches are not for making out on. YOU ARE IN PUBLIC!!! It’s also not for any other intimate activities. I kid you not, I have seen where people’s hands come from. Waiters aren’t blind, they just pretend to be.

30) When waiters start packing up pillows and moving things in, it’s a very big hint to leave. Another one is when they bring you your bill.

30b) On the subjects of bills. Waiters (good ones anyway) are kind enough to leave you with a pen to write in the total at the bottom. Please, please be kind enough to do this. It’s just so much easier to sort out your change. Also, when a said waiter brings your change, take it from the folder. When the waiter comes round again and takes the folder, they assume that everything in it is theirs. It doesn’t even take a minute to do this. Really.

That Waiting Thing I Do, Part 2.

So, a few more shifts, a few more pet peeves. In the previous post, a friend commented that everybody should do waitressing at least once in their lives. I have to whole heartedly agree. It’s changed my life and it’s changed my perception of waiters and waitresses.

Now, something that I should point out is that I actually enjoyed doing this a lot more than I had originally thought I would. I had started working at my restaurant in a desperate attempt to try and keep my sinking financial boat afloat. (That, and get out of the house – I didn’t do very well, being home 24/7). I had thought that I would hate every moment and went through my first week with a terrible feeling of dread. But, then I got use to the rhythm of the place, I realized that the owner’s bark is worse than her bite (and if you don’t give her a reason to bark at you – all the better) and I discovered that in a strange way, we’re like a big family.

Also, to my ever present shock, I enjoyed working with the people. I’m naturally not a very pleasant person. I’m a bit of a grouch, and feel that people should dread the day I grow old… It was therefore quite a surprise to realize that I enjoyed all the interactions, the inter politics among the waiters, the loyalty that they show when confronted with a difficult customer. As it happened, I walked in looking for a job and came out finding friends. Corny cliché I know. 😉

None the less, despite the good, I still have a few pet peeves. I have one major peeve that I’ll address in point 21, but I’ll leave it for there.

Are you ready?

Alyss’s Tipping Tips 21 – 25

21) Never walk out without paying. Never. It is theft. Don’t trick your waiter/waitress into leaving the table and thinking that you’re going to stay longer by ordering an extra round. You might think its funny, but it’s not. If you leave, it’s not the restaurant that pays for your bill; it’s the waiter/waitress. If it’s only alcohol and over R150 on a quiet night, your waiter/waitress will pay the full amount and leave with nothing for that days work. Don’t do it, if you do, you’re an arsehole.

22) Remember, waiters/waitresses leave the restaurant as well and some of them have an excellent people recognizing ability and face remembering skill. If said waitress/waiter ever finds you after you’ve walked out on him/her, you’re going to end up with a broken nose. Simple as that.

23) Paying wars. Sigh. Sometimes amusing, but always able to make a waiter/waitress uncomfortable. Decide who’s going to pay before hand. Don’t fight for the bill in the waiter, waitress’s presence. Don’t snatch it from the waiter/waitress’s hands. Don’t tell the waiter/waitress to tell the other person that he/she is being stupid.

24) If you break something expensive, be polite and offer to pay for it. Don’t giggle at the sight of your destruction and leave.

25) Don’t order for something, then cancel it twenty minutes later. You’ll end up paying for it.

That Waiting Thing I Do…

Waitressing is not something that I ever thought I’d have to do. Having spent five years of my life slaving away at university and a year and a half abroad working in my field, I didn’t think that finding a job in my given profession would be very hard.
I was, of course, very very wrong. And, I’ll be the first admit it. (Take that all of you who says that I can’t do so…)
So, for the past three months I’ve been spending my nights walking the better part of 10km in a Café/Restaurant, learning all sorts of new things from life. It’s a job in which you learn to be very grateful. You’re grateful when your food comes out of the kitchen on time, you’re grateful when you don’t spill anything on the way to your table, you’re grateful if you get duty number 4 and you’re very VERY grateful for the tips that come your way.

Of course, sometimes… They don’t.

If you as a waiter/waitress give bad service, then you deserve the little blank space in the ‘Gravity’ column. If however, you as the customer complimented your waiter/waitress on his/her good service and still didn’t bother leaving anything, you seem to have misunderstood one of the basic fundamental rules of going to a restaurant.
It’s because of this lack of understanding – (and me wanting to vent my frustration before I start my next shift), that I’ve decided to compile this little list of things to remember when you are in a restaurant.

Read them, laugh about them (laugh at them) and perhaps even take them to heart.
It can never hurt.

Alyss’s Tipping Tips 1-20.

1) Tipping 10% of your bill is almost all but compulsory. 10% is the norm, 15% is starting to become the general accepted guideline. Count yourself lucky, in America it’s already 20%.
2) Most waiters/waitresses don’t get commission on sales. That’s why tipping is there. Don’t assume that you can forgo your tip because your waiter/waitress might be earning commission. Most of them don’t and those who do earn a very very small amount of commission.
3) Most waiters/waitresses only get transport money to work their shift. The rest is all tips. Remember the 10% rule? Can you see why it’s important now?
4) If you don’t have enough money to tip a waiter/waitress, don’t go to a restaurant. And don’t think that your waiter/waitress will feel sorry for you when you say: “I’m sorry – this is all I have, I don’t have the money to tip you…” The general feeling will be: Then why are you here?
Another more nagging feeling might also be: ‘And I gave you a clean spoon because…’ or ‘And I put up with your demanding orders because…’
5) Tipping, as you can see is important. Take note.
6) A restaurant, in a strange kind of way, sometimes become like a waiter/waitress’s home. We have our family there, we have our little corners, we have our kitchen. You are a guest in our home. You might be paying us to be that guest, but you are a guest none the less. Please, please – don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want a guest to do in your own home.
7) We’re back on tipping. If you walk into a restaurant, seconds before the door closes and beg to be allowed in for one drink and maybe a light snack (despite the fact that the kitchen is technically closed…) be kind enough to… Tip your waiter/waitress. Remember that that waiter was most probably just on his/her way home and had no other tables until you walked in. And, don’t think you can get away with a rand or two here. R5 is expected, R10 is deserved…
8) Kids. Little kids. You gave birth to them, it is there for your responsibility to keep them in order and keep them AWAY from the fish pond. Preferably away from everybody else as well, but we’ll start slow. Focus on the fishpond…
9) Don’t throw the sugar sachets into the oil lamps. It’s not funny.
10) Don’t leave a half opened sachet of sugar in the sugar bowl… Nobody wants it.
11) Rain and White Shirts. If your waitress happens to be wearing a white shirt when it rains, don’t you dare ask her to run in the rain for an additional amount of money.
12) Don’t touch your waiter/waitresses ass.
13) Don’t touch your waiter/waitress at all unless it’s to get their attention.
14) Don’t whistle, it might bring the dogs running.
15) When the manager calls last rounds, it’s a hint to start thinking of leaving. You don’t have to go immediately; just don’t stay for three hours more.
16) Don’t ask a waiter/waitress any personal questions.
17) Don’t get upset if a waiter/waitress forgets your water – just remind them again gently. You don’t pay for it, it’s a gift. We could charge you for it, but we chose not to.
18) Don’t tug your waiter/waitresses braid. And don’t threaten to hang them up by it in jest. They might just return the favour.
19) Sigh. Tipping. 10%. Please.
20) Remember, inevitably – your waiter/waitress is a human being who is trying his/her best to give you the best service possible. The problem is sometimes that he/she tries to give you and about 10 other customers’ good service at the same time. So, if the waiter is a little distracted or mechanical when the shop is busy, don’t take it personally.