Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Here at Waiternotes, I’m a progressive sort. I’m interested in advancing the profession. While I endorse learning the ABC’s of the craft (and have done so rigorously myself), I also believe the business is evolving – and even where it isn’t, there can be better ways that no one thought of before. If you read my post about What Makes A Real Pro, there’s a section about waiters using what I call Fuzzy Logic (not claiming I invented the term – I’m just the one applying it to food serving). I just believe there’s always room for creative thinking.

That said, I’d like to submit a couple of commonly held standards/sayings and why I think they don’t hold up.

My number one, which I’ve been championing for more than 20 years:

‘Never Take The Last One!’

Wherein you, the server, reach for the coffee filters to make a fresh pot. Oops! There’s just one filter left. As a responsible waiter who’s learned the ropes, you are required to go to dry storage and restock the coffee filters before (without) taking the last one. Everybody knows this saying. It’s been used since the days a nickel tip was perfectly acceptable.

Instead, I say, ‘You know what? No. Go ahead, take the last one!’

It does not make any difference at all, and I’m going to tell you why.

I first challenged this bromide because I realized that not taking the last one did not save any work, time, or trouble. There is no advantage to it. The person who restocks before the last one is taken is doing no less work, spending no less time, than he would if the last one were already taken. Restocking is still the exact same process of time and effort. So why the hell not take the last one? When the next guy comes along, he restocks.

I say the catchphrase should instead be, ‘Hey, lucky me. I got the last one!’ At least there’s some joy there. It’s great to get the last one in just about everything: last cigarette, last raffle ticket, last one in your size, last call, last chance for romance. It’s a kind of victory, cause for small celebration. Removing that tiny joy is a shame, especially when there’s no good reason for it.

Once I realized not taking the last one saved no labor and created no net convenience, I started to look for further justification for my contrary position.

It turned out, it was actually wasteful in some cases. Let’s take the coffee example (which will also allow me to drop in my disclaimer). If you’re about to pour the last cup of coffee, and it’s the end of the night, and you robotically make a new pot rather than take the last cup, there’s a good chance that pot will be wasted. My disclaimer is that if there’s an item that is ‘made’ (like a pot of coffee) and is usually required on short notice (like a cup of coffee) and there will be an ongoing need for it through the shift, then this is the exception. But this exception really doesn’t go all that far. Imagine you make your own salads as a waiter. You’re going to need salads all night, yes, but how fast do you need them? And how fast can more mixed greens be gotten/produced? In my experience, with the salads . . . ‘Go ahead and take the last one!’

When I peeled away all the layers of the onion, I got to the rotting, black-hearted weevil in the core that is probably responsible for the adoption of this rule:

It was invented by managers.

Who else has the motivation? Every waiter I know is just joyous to get the last one, and hates having to restock. Why would a waiter ever invent that rule? Managers did it because whenever they need something – be it a paper clip, a piece of bread, or that coffee filter – they detest having to do that kind of work. And, of course, if you think about it, have you ever seen a manager observe this rule when he was the guy taking the last one?

‘They Wouldn’t Do That At Home!’

Wherein us waiters and all restaurant professionals complain about guest behavior, pointing out how uncouth it is that a guest just washed his face with the warm finger towel. Or that he just pulled out a pocket-pick and flossed his teeth at the table.

They wouldn’t do it in their own homes, so they shouldn’t do it in our restaurant.

I used to say this a lot, myself. When I said it yet again last month, I paused to examine the statement.

In fact, I think it holds no logic.

Mainly, the guests are not at home. That’s pretty much the whole point of going out, isn’t it? Why would anybody ever go out if it sucked as much as being at home? It would be like cheating on your wife with a woman who complained about you all the time, was 15 lbs. overweight, and didn’t give blowjobs.

In other words, being able to behave differently is the biggest attraction of going out.

  • At home you have to make the food yourself. Out, you sit back while we make it for you.
  • At home you could never (most of us, at least) order up a complicated meal from your significant other and expect it to be done at all, let alone come out perfectly.
  • At home, you ruin the after-dinner glow by doing your own dishes. Out, you just sign a check and think about it not a whit.

Being able to behave differently applies to almost everything you can think up. Sweeping crumbs onto the floor? Check. Impatience? Check. All kinds of special orders/instructions? Check.

I’m not saying a lot of these types are particularly polite or tactful . . . I’m saying that if there’s more or less no harm done, we should cut them all the slack in the world.

Meanwhile, what doesn’t fit the category of Different Behavior falls in the opposite column and disproves the saying (The Wouldn’t Do That At Home!) directly: Yes, they would do exactly that at home.

  • A guy’s talking on his cell phone at the table. Can’t we agree this guy probably does the same at home?
  • The blowhard shouting over everyone else at the table (and in the restaurant). I’m sure he’s the same obnoxious ass at home.
  • Belchers? In fact, they probably do even more belching at home.
  • An overweight, over-age slob makes a pass at the waitress at the end of the meal . . . At home he’s leaning back on the sofa, pants unbuttoned, ‘Honey, who needs dessert when I got you? Now come on over here . . .’

3 thoughts on “Challenging Conventional Wisdom

  1. waiterextraordinaire Mon, November 16, 2009 / 7:27 am

    Good point about restocking. Co-workers can be somewhat a nuisance when it comes to why didn’t the person who took the last coffee filter go and get some more. Well the fact is that person wouldn’t have restocked either. They would have taken the last one and ran with it. Why make more work for ourselves than what is necessary? Late at night too everyone drinks decaf. Why make a regular and a decaf when most of it will be thrown out anyway. One thermo of decaf will suffice.
    They wouldn’t do that at home is crazy anyway. People don’t suddenly change their habits when they go out. If anything they probably act better when they are out. When we see them we can only imagine what they must be like at home.

    • waiternotes Mon, November 16, 2009 / 1:14 pm

      Thanks for the supporting thoughts. Your words make me want to reiterate what I think is obvious: restocking is always a given. My point is that it doesn’t matter if something is restocked when there’s ‘one left’ or ‘none left.’

  2. Waitersfriend Thu, December 3, 2009 / 5:44 pm

    I must say when I first read your re-stocking thoughts, I cringed because I used to be that guy – ‘..always re-stock after yourselves!!’ but after reading on I do understand your logic! Just don’t know if I could bring myself to endorse it in a restaurant setting… – force of habit I guess.

    There are a lot of slobs out there. The good thing is, it is not our job to change them, just put up with them if they come into our restaurant (for a short window in time!) Luckily the good customers heavily outweigh the bad..

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