(This is part 2 in a series of articles on what qualifies me to write this blog. To read part 1, click here. )
I was a waitress at The Washington Country Club and The Meadows Race Track. Don’t be fooled. The Washington Country Club was like the YMCA of golf but with higher dues. More like a golf club, it didn’t attract those wanting to impress their business associates as much as those wanting to golf and gamble their asses off. If you wanted atmosphere, you golfed elsewhere. If you had a nick-name, liked to cuss and had no shame when you needed to take a piss out in the rough, you golfed at the WCC. That summer I waited on golfers named Pickles, Blackie, Fluter and Roto only to spend my Friday and Saturday nights at the track waiting on a dining room full of harness racing fans. Often times serving Pickles, Blackie, Fluter and Roto, twice in one day.
Here’s what I know for sure:
Everything that Anthony Bourdain writes in Kitchen Confidential is true. Restaurant kitchens really are like that.
If everyone had to work in a restaurant before they were allowed to patronize one, most diners would be much nicer.
Never and I mean never, piss off a cook.
Nothing will motivate you to study your ass off like a summer waiting tables. The work is hard. You have to work when everyone else gets to play. And it’s the kind of job that just gets harder as you get older. Walking down four flights of steps with a tray of twelve dinners was hard at 20. I can’t imagine doing that at 65.
Rich people don’t necessarily tip big and men are better tippers, in general, than women.
People have the guts to stiff you but NO ONE has the guts to tell you why.
Many patrons think they are smarter than you, yet are too stupid to remember that you’re handling their food and drink all night. I served food to you that fell on the floor, and took your half-eaten steak out of the garbage after you changed your mind and demanded a doggy bag. I’ve dipped my finger in your drinks to figure out which one was a gin and tonic and which one was a vodka-tonic. I did this without remorse because you treated me like an asshole and let it be known that your opinion of me was a poor one.
I know this because I spent 13 races with you. Rather than turning tables all night, I spent the entire evening at your beck and call. At the beginning of the night when you thought I was a just a waitress, you treated me with disdain. At the end of the night when you learned I was a college student heading off to earn my graduate degree, you treated me better. You sometimes even tipped better because you wanted me to do well in school.
So let me just say thank you. You taught me that, right or wrong, perception equals reality. That often times what I know isn’t as important as what someone else thinks they now. Because of you, I’m very clear with people and if I sense confusion, I correct the problem. And more importantly, I’m nice as pie to every waitress, cashier, cab driver and pizza delivery person I run into. Don’t get me wrong – I had thousands of nice patrons, I just don’t remember them as well.
Those 4 years of waiting tables taught me a lot about people but not enough to prepare me for the characters I’d meet while working for the federal government…
To read part 3 of this series, click here.
(Waitress Flo by Nancye Williams, sculptor and creator of the Oh You Doll Collection)