Order the soup at your own risk

Published 10:10 am Thursday, October 8, 2009

My wife and I ran into an acquaintance of ours while getting dinner the other night. She is a waitress at one of the newer seafood restaurants near our house but we knew her from her days at the bagel shop near our old place.

She is a career waitress, working six nights a week doing a job most of us wouldn’t dream of doing anymore. She is friendly and helpful, traits that “serve” her well in her line of work. Having worked for years as a waiter myself, the conversation inevitably turned to life as a waiter or waitress.

We joked about the types of customers you get. Often as a server you get the family, two parents and three kids who, because the parents are not responsible for cleaning up after dinner, are allowed to throw their food and make a mess that in an effort to recreate would require slingshots and a taskforce of some kind.

Sometimes you get the suits. These customers are usually well dressed and appear to have big tip potential. More often than not however, they squeak when they walk and are tight with their money (there is a reason they have money, this is one of them).

They also have an infatuation with ordering off the menu and making a lot of extra requests concerning the preparation and ingredients of their meal. Your chef dislikes these customers as much as you do and while I would never suggest that a chef might intentionally do something spiteful to their food, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a little bit of someone else’s DNA in their soup.

The worst customers to see as a server are the biddies. You can immediately recognize these women as they enter the restaurant. They are all over 70, usually travel in groups, carry purses equaling at least half their body weight and a scowl that can be seen from across a room or small county.

There is little you can do as a server to please these women on their own and when traveling in a group their pack mentality takes over. Your instincts as a server will kick in and you will inevitably try your darndest to please these women, but to no avail. These instincts prove once again that waiters and waitresses are masochists at heart.

Once in a blue moon, however, when the stars are all aligned and karma decides to smile on you, the biddies will find nothing wrong with their meal. Their tea won’t be too sweet, their plate won’t be dirty, their food won’t be cold and chewy and the prices won’t be too high (all of which you, the server, have little or nothing to do with) and they decide to reward you with an extra quarter on your tip, bringing their total gratuity to one dollar; a fine tip and one they would have been grateful for back in their days as a diner waitress in the 50s.

At the end of your 10-hour day waiting on and cleaning up after kids, suits and biddies you count up your tips and hope that when combined with the $2.13 hourly minimum wage you’re paid, you have enough money to actually get some dinner yourself.

I write all this because I have been that server and know you may be that parent. Maybe you’re the suit or even the biddy. Maybe you’re none of the above but have the terrible, rude and annoying habit of loudly shaking your glass when you need a refill, whistling to get your servers attention or taking your frustrations out on someone who is employed for the sole purpose of trying to help you.

If you are one of these people then please stop. One hundred dollars an hour isn’t enough money to put up with such crass behavior, but someone smiling and hustling for $2.13 an hour plus whatever you decide to leave them as tip deserves better treatment.

Ultimately it’s up to you as the consumer to choose how your server gets treated and paid. Here’s a free tip from someone who has lived on both sides of the counter, choose wisely or order the soup at your own risk.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at dave@gate811.net.