9 Things All Former Waiters Know

Waitress holding cup of coffee in cafe


Now this is not about those waiters who tried it for a weekend, broke plates, ate chips off an outgoing order ‘because they’ll never know’, then quit because you’d rather hang with your friends.

No, this is about those of us who learned how to balance five to six plates on our arms, whilst using the floor as a ballroom competition, gracefully avoiding every possible collision. Those of us, who started out wanting pocket money, but eventually slaved away multiple double shifts to pay your way through college or simply to stay afloat while you decide what you want to do with your life.

1. You are a tough client

Yes, admit it, you are extra critical of those who serve you because you did such a good job at it once. You are immediately checking to see if the cutlery is clean and placed symmetrically (Table ODC is a real side effect). You are checking if the table cloth has been changed (or are those crumbs suppose to be an appetizer?). Why do I have to go get my own menu? Why are these pages stuck together? You instinctively repeat the whole tables order very clearly to ensure that he/she got it all memorized or written down (oh please write it down). You know exactly how long it takes to get drinks, regardless whether they are hot or cold, so don’t take 15 minutes and then walk the other way when I make eye contact. If I have to start taking the empty glasses and plates on the table next to me, we have a problem. There are plenty of moments you want to get up and do it yourself, but you are there to be served, and it takes a lot of slow breathing to pretend that you aren’t bothered. But if you are, you will damn well voice it… respectfully.

2. You know how to tip

You know the value of a proper tip and you make sure everyone at the table does too. Friends, if you are on a budget make sure you account for the tip too. If you are feasting on T-Bone steaks and lobster, don’t give waiters a R5 coin and smile like they should be delighted! We know that the job involves long hours on your feet, taking a lot of BS from people. We know you don’t get a salary. We know that if you don’t get a tip you don’t eat this week. So yes, you are usually the one that ends up checking the bill and sorting the notes in numerical order.

3. You have perfected the controlled smile

This is the smile you give that shines through your eyes to ensure the client that everything is under control. You know those customers that are never satisfied with anything and while they make a scene you bring up that gallant smile while mentally choosing which final destination horror should befall this person. This is a skill you learn to use everywhere and when you see it in your waiter because someone at your table is being an ass, there is always a moment of mutual understanding between the two of you that no one will pick up on.


4. You will be judged

Before you even introduce yourself (please introduce yourself) the table will decide if they like you or not. You will quickly learn how easily you are replaced because they didn’t like the look of you. Tip; if you are male, warm up to the man at the table, if you are female, make the women feel at ease. For some reason, people are quickly threatened, even if you are literally just there to carry them food and drinks. Yes, all experienced waiters very quickly learn how to read people. But be aware of the swingers, your tip will be generous but the expectations that follow are alarming.

5. You know your place

Often people confuse charm with flirtation. Leave that to the barmen/women and baristas. As a waiter, you want your tables to be happy and at ease. Being overly flirtatious will not please everyone, and when that awkward ‘give me your number’ or ‘when does your shift end’ arises, they quickly turn against you if you no longer want to play. Keep your distance by taking the photos for them, not with them. Physical contact should be avoided. It remains a business exchange. Food, drinks for money, no IOU’s or freebies. Also, if you spend too much time at one table, you neglect the others and that influences your tip total negatively.

6. Befriend the kitchen, bar and cleaning staff

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. I have seen many make the mistake to treat the other staff with such disrespect that they have to please explain to the inpatient clients why their food isn’t ready. You can’t do your job if there’s nothing to serve. And well after your waitressing days, you will still make an effort to thank those behind the scenes.


7. You don’t like people

Well, you like them a little less than before. With the amount of nonsense you will have to put up with, from both difficult customers and managers on a power trip, you find yourself thinking about what a horrible species we are. But then there are those people who brighten your day and make it all fade away. And you’ll realize how important having the right attitude is.

8. You become a great host/hostess

Years after you quit waitressing, you’ll still find yourself catering to everyone, making people smile, ensuring they always have a full glass, and no one will ever be hungry when you’re around. Not enough seats? You will find and carry seats out for those standing without question. Let’s face it, after the countless dreadful hours on your feet, you can’t bare to see others stand and eat. You know the value of a seat. You will clear tables, collect empty bottles and glasses in one passing swoop with a smile on your face. You simply can’t help it, and people appreciate you for it. You always have terrible dry jokes at hand, because often the table needed a quick pun to lighten the mood. And making speeches comes easily as you are accustom to intimate crowds of people.

9. You become more humble

Hard work is something no one can preach to you about. You can document all the cuts and blisters, physically and emotionally you had to endure. In serving others, you quickly learn to take a back seat from your ego and give yourself to others. Yes, you may have started out just wanting money, but you gain an appreciation for everything and everyone we usually take for granted. You learn to see beauty in human relationships, and humour in the grumpy cats and how you aid as a catalyst for a brief sitting in bringing people together.


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