Patience and Big Hitters

As a waiter, a large percentage of survival – both fiscal and psychological – can be attributed to patience. Grinding it out. On a small scale, there are a lot of menial, detail-type tasks to be accomplished during the shift: filling waters, crumbing tables, replacing silverware, refolding napkins, poring over your checks making sure you’ve not forgotten anything. These all add up to excellent service, though each in itself wouldn’t seem to add much to the experience if it were neglected.

Larger scale, you have to resist the urge to rush your guests even though there is an invisible (to them) time schedule bearing down on you. You have to work slow nights to get to the busy ones. You have to try to keep busy in the early hours of the shift, before things finally get moving. And likewise, you have to thoroughly complete your closing sidework at the end, even though you want to meet your friends for a drink somewhere.

Financially, this is where the Big Hitters come into play. If, at the end a typical month, your nightly average is $150 per shift, it can be flat-out frustrating to work four nights in a row and average just a little over $100.

Until, like last night for me, you get a couple of Big Hitters. I was in the midst of just such a slump when two late, unexpected tables came in. One was Jerry and Georgina, some of our favorite people. They always order good wine, and tip 30% or more. Georgina used to be a restaurant manager. The other couple just showed up and ordered an upgraded version of the Big Surf ‘n Turf for Two. Six guests, $120, and another middling $110 night was turned into an excellent $170 night. Now fold that into the take from the previous days this week, and I’m back at my average.

Jerry and Georgina hardly chatted with me at all, which is unusual. Quite often, I and the other waiters hang out with them so much, it’s almost like we are guests with them, rather than serving them. But last night they were with another couple and they had their own fully-engrossing conversation topics.

As a professional, it’s essential that you quickly see where you stand with people and adjust your manner accordingly. Usually it’s people you’ve never met before, and it’s called ‘reading your table.’ But, as in this case, you also have to read regular customers. I’ve been a diner more than most people. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more annoying than a waiter who won’t let you alone, always joining in on your conversation, interjecting his thoughts and experiences when you were talking about your own. Frankly, it’s in the top of my pet peeves. Can’t these people see we’re (us two diners) here to have a night out together, and not to visit with and learn about the waiter’s life?

This is why I feel no disrespect at all when diners pretty much ignore me. They’re here for their own reasons. Sure, sometimes they want to be friends. Sometimes they have nothing to say to each other. Sometimes they’re having a tiff. Under those circumstances, it actually improves the dining experience for them to be chatty – it glosses over the uncomfortable silence scarring the table.

There is, however, a distinction to be made about ignoring the waiter as a personality and just ignoring him period. That’s another of my pet peeves. It’s pretty disrespectful when you are ignored in the process of doing your job, of trying to help them have a good dining experience. Specifically, when you are trying to tell them the specials and when you are taking orders. These are moments that demand the attention of the diner; without that attention, things will almost always go wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been completely ignored on multiple visits when hoping to take the order, only later to have a guest complain how long it has taken to get their dinners. Well if you’d given me three minutes of your time at any of several earlier instances, you would have had your dinners promptly. Don’t you know you can’t cook a 16 oz. baseball cut filet mignon to medium well in less than 25 minutes? (All grills are different. At Carney’s it takes even longer. At Michael’s they can do it in about 20 minutes.)

Lunch today was another Banquet Backbreaker. Made $92 and was lucky for it. That put my average for the week, for lunches, at $84 a shift.

It’s between shifts right now, so nothing to report about Carney’s.


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