Waiting Tables Can Be Bad For Your Health

Very good night at Carney’s. Walked with $269. This was partially on the strength of a $100 tip ($140 check) Jacqueline received, but we also had some pretty good wine drinkers, good spenders, good tippers, and an employee celebrating her birthday with her husband and another couple. Add it up and you have great revenue.

Don’t know if there’s some trend at work here, with the busy Friday. Actually, hopefully there isn’t a trend, as the earlier part of the week was extremely slow.

Michael’s was nothing much at all. I had but one table – an 8-top. But they left me $60, so I walked (a little earlier than normal, which was nice) with $51. That put me at a respectable $98 average per shift for the week. The only problem of course, as written last post, was that I only worked two shifts instead of my historical four.

Update about my knees and ankles. Previously mentioned in this post. It’s obvious now that in addition to my old habit of cracking my ankles (as you might crack your knuckles or your neck), the shoes have a lot to do with aching ankles. As I recall now, I got a new pair of work shoes, and shortly thereafter, my ankles became sore and creaky. The same time as I decided to quit cracking the ankles, I also ditched those shoes. The ankles improved.

Well, that ‘good’ pair of shoes finally wore out. So I went to a new pair. And guess what? Absent my cracking habit, the ankles have started to ache again. Nothing like before, but there have been similar twinges. Nevertheless, I’m going to ride this out for a bit and see what happens. The shoes I have now are high quality (as compared to the Payless-quality of others in my past). I actually feel like they’re supporting my ankles and foot better than most I’ve had. As I’ve recounted earlier, I played a lot of basketball in the old days. I remember having ankle aches at times when I would break in a new pair of shoes. Maybe that’s what happening here.

About the knee, it has improved a lot. I’ve been paying attention to my gait, my balance, my hips. I feel that I had somehow adopted a funny way of walking, and then when the knee pain started to appear I modified it to be even funnier. I’m back now to my regular balanced walking.

forward lean

Remember I said I had developed the habit of planting forward? This puts undue weight and inertia on your knees, compared to keeping your center of balance above your hips which spreads the impact throughout your body as it should be.

A funny thing happened when I started correcting myself. I noticed a lot of other waiters and bussers walking the same way, planting forward, their torso leaning slightly ahead of the rest of their body. Why in the world would so many of us walk like that? And also, why had I started to walk that way, when I never used to in the past? Waiting tables must be bad for your health.

As usual, I’ve come up with a theory.

I blame management.

This should be no surprise because waiters blame management for everything. But hear me out.

Have you seen people walking with their upper body pitched forward, ahead of the rest of them? What does it look like?

I think it looks like they’re hurrying. Of course it doesn’t mean they really are, but that’s what it looks like.

That’s why I blame the managers. Restaurant managers over the decades have a penchant for instilling fear in their employees. One way they do this is the stated or implied judgment that workers aren’t hustling. If you are concerned about what your manager thinks (and who of us isn’t?), you want him to think you’re working hard.

It may well be that you are working your ass off, but just like an elegant and efficient centerfielder in baseball, you are making it look easy. A bad manager can’t see that you are creating an aura of calm for your guests (and the rest of the staff, incidentally), by remaining collected and not hurrying. The bad manager just sees you aren’t sweating, hauling around at a breakneck pace.

You find yourself under fire, if only because you know in general management wants ‘hustlers.’ So at some point you subconsciously notice another waiter who looks like he’s hustling. And, subconsciously, you begin to emulate that person – the pitched forward, foot-planting guy.

And of course it works. Someone leaning forward looks busy and fast. You are taught, again subconsciously, that this is right because you will feel the negative attention about your lack of hustle disappear.

This is what happened to me. Once I started walking normally again, the pain began to disappear. God knows how long I was walking that way – probably about as long as I have been at Michael’s, which is a testosterone-charged, competitive, typical multi-manager corporate restaurant. It just took this long to wear down the natural padding in my knees. Now I’m having to rehab.

I recommend: Don’t fall into this trap. Walk normally – like you would cruising the mall on Sunday afternoon. You can still walk fast with a good center of balance.

And damn those idiots who might say or imply that you’re not hustling. If the issue comes up, just ask them to assess your performance, not your appearance.

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7 thoughts on “Waiting Tables Can Be Bad For Your Health

  1. Food Service Ninja Sat, May 16, 2009 / 7:55 pm

    You are making a good choice in upgrading to better shoes which may not ever last longer than the cheap ones but they do support better. Replace them before they fall apart when they start hurting your feet again. This is easy to do if you are keeping up a 2 pairs so one pair can dry out while your wearing the 2nd pair. We put more miles on our shoes than a runner in training and runners get new shoes pretty often. I consider myself good if I get off my duff and let mu shoes last just 6 months but I probably avg 8 months.

    Start taking glucosamine every day. It really helps. I have more a bad knee prob but also have a bad ankle on the same leg that when put thru the range of motion that crackles out loud. The supplements help reduce down the day to day fatigue of the joint. If I slip and strain the joint its going to sewell and hurt but the recovery time is better. there is a noticeable difference when I get home at night and climb my stairs easy 10-20 yrs of age feel isnt there w/o the pills.

  2. Will Work For Tips Sat, May 16, 2009 / 10:47 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog here because I Googled, “Is waiting tables bad for your health’. I did so because I started a similar blog just recently and I was wondering if there was ever some sort of study done on being ‘fake nice’ to people all the time. I haven’t figured that out yet but I digress…

    About the shoes thing, it’s totally true. Shoes can change your entire life. I once went through a whole summer with bad shoes because I was broke and I think I uttered the words ‘My feet hurt’ at least ten times a day. I even changed my Myspace quote to ‘My feet hurt’. I would buy insoles week after week but those turned out to be a huge waste of money. I was doing the ‘stand on one foot at a time’ thing but realized that’s not working at all. One foot is relieved but the other is throbing.

    That summer was brutal. All because of my crappy shoes.

    Anyway, it’s nice to know that other servers in the world have the urge to write about all of the shit servers go through. You should check my page out, it’s not as good as yours by any means, but I’m new to this. Not serving, blogging. I’ve been a server for ten years now and finally, it’s come down to making a blog site. Anyway, check it out if you get time and tell me what you think. http://www.eighty-sixme.blogspot.com

  3. ivy Tue, May 19, 2009 / 1:26 pm

    may I ask what would you do when you saw a lot of food left on the plates , and your guest gave you an ugly face and ask for check, and as a wait staff ,you ask if they want a to go box, they commented the food is too spicy. At this point, you will just bring them the check , or see their comment as a complaint and make a deduction of the bill or anything to compensate your guests ???

  4. Darci OConnell Sat, May 23, 2009 / 10:36 pm

    You described my posture and walking stance perfect!! Waitress and server for 20!!! years. I love these blogs as they are cathartic after another rotten day at work. To all young servers ,GET OUT NOW!! ITS NOT WORTH IT!.LOL

  5. waiternotes Sun, May 24, 2009 / 12:55 am

    Darci – So glad you’re checking us out. Also, did you mean your posture and walking stance is the good one or the bad one?

    Will Work For Tips – The body is a delicate thing. Not so much when you’re young and can absorb anything, but like a car, the shock absorbers start to wear out over the years … dumb things like shoes and posture start to matter. Also, I checked out your blog … it’s great!

    Ninja – I’m a member of the same club (ankles and knees crackle when you move them). But I’ve been that way for awhile as I played a lot of basketball. As long as the crackles don’t hurt, I don’t care. That’s why I wrote about the knee and ankle pains I’ve had the last year.

  6. star Mon, January 3, 2011 / 7:57 pm

    waiting tables for 7 years and also recently started running.I think I might be a glutton for punishment.I am not exaggerating when I say that there is not a day that goes by when something dosent hurt.Knees..feet..back..well those are the main ones but there are some days when EVERYTHING JUST HURTS.I actually like the physicality of the job and the money is not bad either(most days).I enjoy the adrelaline of a lunch or dinner rush.I guess 7 years is finally starting to take a toll-or am i just showing my age …..

    • waiternotes Mon, January 3, 2011 / 10:41 pm

      Well, Ravita, examine what I wrote. Check your shoes. And your posture. Mainly, give an effort to pay attention to the way you are using your body. Waiting tables can be hard, physical work, but it truly is not like digging ditches or mining or working in a steel forge. You should not be breaking down just because of food serving. Glad to hear you’ve started running. Another thing which is probably key is to do some consistent maintenance work on your core muscles – abdominals, etc. When your core is weak, the load is transferred to the various joints, and that’s when our backs and knees and necks start aching. Best of luck. And remember: pay attention to what your body is doing.

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