Sunday, September 04, 2005

Tales from the Tables, Volume One--The Sunday Lunch Crowd

Often, our workplaces can cook up loads of fodder for anecdotes. My place of employment is no exception. To help make ends meet, I have been waiting tables part time at an exceptional upscale-casual Italian restaurant. (Doesn't upscale-casual seem like an oxymoron? To me it means "Yeah, you can wear jeans, but we are still gonna charge you $22 for that steak, and don't even think about gnawing on the bone.") I only work a few nights a week, mostly Thursday-Saturday. I did work this morning, a Sunday lunch shift.

Now a bit of background about the "Sunday Lunch and the Sunday Lunch crowd" for those of you who haven't worked in the food service industry. Sunday lunches tend to be one of the most unwanted shifts of the week for servers. People tend to linger, order light and tip lighter. It is the latter that frustrates most waitstaff.

The lingering ties up tables, so they can not be turned (resat with fresh guests.) Many guests order light by splitting entrees amongst multiple people, again decreasing the chance for money. The most notorious of the three, the light tipping, comes from the crowd that tends to gather after noon on Sundays...The "Church Crowd." (Now, before I go any further, my sweeping generalizations are just that, sweeping generalizations. Please realize that there are always exceptions to every rule and forgive me in advanced for taking a few liberties and for venting.)

The church crowd comes in late with everybody and their uncle from the congregation. They tend to order simply water to drink. They split many entrees (I think this stems from the whole fish and loaves miracle.) When they order, it is rarely as listed in the menu. The church crowd loves to create their own dishes, often piling 6-7 special requests onto one entree. I have watched in horror as a simple fettucine alfredo with chicken was grotesquely morphed into some funky salad with fish and spinach. Additionally, they love to ask for one thing at a time. This kills your ability to take care of anyone but their table. Once you return with yet another basket of free bread, they ask for a glass of water. I try scan the table and inquire if there is anything else. I count to eight silently, allowing their minds to formulate a timely request. Hearing none, I leave to retrieve their desire. When I return, they have something else for me to get. They are never satisfied.

When the check comes, they either fight ferociously for it or ask me to split it 15 ways. Then, they do what every good church goer does...They tithe. Not 20%. Not 18%. Not even the archaic 15%. 10%. That is a lot of go for not a lot of dough.

Usually, at the end of a Sunday lunch shift, servers are tired, frustrated and light in the pockets. It is a fact of life at a restaurant. Sunday lunches are not for the weak. It takes a lot of patience and love to survive this shift. That is probably why it is a mandatory shift once a month at our store.

This morning I decided to have a better attitude about the whole situation. I believed that if I worked really hard and tried to please each individual the best I could, that I could survive this shift. It became my mantra during my commute.

I tried to make each guest's experience better than he expected. I strived to help each coworker as much as possible. I still had the sour church ladies, whom the pope himself would not have been able to please. I thought of it as their problem, smiled and continued to do my best to give them a good experience.

At the end of the shift, I had not been tithed like normal Sundays. I had gotten 3 times that. 30% of my sales were tips! That was incredible. And it was consistently from each table. I found that if I changed my attitude, that my once dreaded shift was enjoyable and profitable!

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