Sunday, November 12, 2006

Waitress Gossip

I was a waitress for two restaurant chains. One is a national family restaurant chain and the other is either national or at least, regional to the west and/or southwest. Some of what I saw and experienced, I reveal here.

Contrary to all the public bitching and moaning I've seen about how slow their waitress is, in almost every single case where the food came out to your table too slow, your waitress had very little to do with how long it took to get there. It's almost never your food server's fault. Here are the main reasons why your food gets out to the table waaaaaaay slow:

The cook is overloaded with orders. We call it being "slammed." Usually when this happens, and if you look around and see a packed restaurant or perhaps even a wait in the lobby, your best bet for decent service is to order items that the food server can do themselves such as soup, salads, desserts and drinks. You can try ordering kitchen-made items that do not require any cooking or very little cooking time such as some sandwiches.

The food server is slammed. In exclusive expensive restaurants, the server-to-customer ratio might even be one or two tables per server so you get all the attention you could ever want. In a family chain restaurant, the ratio shouldn't be more than six tables per server but this is almost always exceeded during peak times. Another factor to consider is the number of customers per table. If I'm only working "duos," those little two-person booths, I can handle ten of those as easy or even easier than one table with 30 people. If you get sat in a section where your same food server is also waiting on a large party of more than eight people, expect that your own service will be delayed.

Restaurant employees are playing games on each other. It's SUPPOSED to be all about teamwork and a good team will have a restaurant full of satisfied customers. Unfortunately, too often ANOTHER food server (not yours) or a manager or cook or any other employee may be actively working to harm your food server with the end result being poor service to you. You, the customer, become the least important priority in this scenario.

EXAMPLE OF GOOD TEAM WORK: When one of my customers asks for a refill of hot coffee, I will take that coffeepot around the whole restaurant and refill coffees, even for other food servers' customers, knowing the other food servers will benefit by getting better tips and I get nothing for what I've done for THEIR customers. Why do I do that? Number One, I am also a customer at restaurants from time to time and I treat customers the same way I would like to be treated when I am the customer. I know what they feel because I am a customer, too.

Also, if my coworkers know I have their back and will rush their food order out to their customers when they are too slammed to do it themselves, then hopefully, they will back me up when I need it.

Teamwork means happier customers and less stressed employees. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work.

EXAMPLES OF NASTY GAME-PLAYING: Managers who play favorites have demanded of me that I act as personal servant to another food server even at the expense of my own customers' comfort and convenience. I've been made to carry out another food servers' orders, do their tables' drink refills, bus that food server's tables and all before I am even allowed to bring out a glass of water or take an order for my own customers.

I have been deliberately slammed by managers. A manager ordered the hostess to not seat anyone in my "station" (section of tables) and let it empty out. I had no customers even as the lobby filled with waiting customers and the line went out the door. Then the manager ordered that my station be completely filled up all at once and oh, by the way, the other servers - ALL of them - were going on break. So I was left to wait on an entire restaurant, alone, starting with my own section of angry customers. What kind of service do you think anyone got? A manager was willing to hurt the company just to hurt me.

The same manager ordered other employees to stick out their feet to trip me as I carried food out to customers. And he did many more things that, ultimately, hurt the customers.

Why? Because I was hired by HIS boss, the General Manager and this assistant manager was exceedingly jealous of him.

Oh yes, I covered stations of teenaged waitresses who'd disappear into the manager's office and then one day, one of them turned up pregnant. I never said a word to the General Manager. But, I could have. And that was the end of this manager's torturing of me.

Another dirty trick was constantly played by one of our cooks who was very angry that I would not flirt with him as all the other waitresses did. He refused to make my customers' orders as they'd asked for them to be made. If a customer asked for mashed potatoes, he would send out french fries or if a customer asked for a sandwich, he made a steak and so on.

One evening when it was just me there as the only server and no manager in sight, this cook simply refused to cook at all. I had to stand at the door of this national chain of restaurants famous for only closing on Christmas Day and send customers away, telling them we were closed. I don't know how much money the business lost that night. I can't calculate it. I told management what the cook did and nothing was done to him. They absolutely didn't care that he shut down the whole restaurant to play some snotty game.

This same cook became physically abusive toward me and one evening, as he grabbed and pushed me and shoved me along the counter as all the customers watched and he prevented me from entering any customer orders into the computer and the other servers were getting furious, not for my sake and any danger I might have faced but only that they wouldn't get good tips from their customers because the cook couldn't be busy cooking their orders while he was busy abusing me, I twisted away from the cook and ran to the manager's office, begging for help. The manager calmly told me, even as the cook rushed up behind me and placed his arm around my throat, "You have to learn how to get along." I was being ordered to submit meekly to the harrassment. If I wanted to keep my job.

I managed to extricate myself from between the two men, both close friends to each other, and escaped, running out of the restaurant even before my shift was up and without logging off the computer. I don't know what became of my customers.

I don't understand such stupidity by those two guys. The next day, the manager was no longer a manager and the cook was slated for firing on the next flimsy excuse he gave the company and it didn't take very long. I don't know why, exactly, they both couldn't have been fired for what they did to me but it didn't happen that way.

Then the company did a whole anti-sexual-harrassment lecture thing with all the restaurants in the area. Perhaps they were having a widespread problem?

I know they were operating (at that time) under the court-ordered supervision of a civil rights monitor for their past discrimination against minorities (mostly customers) and numerous employees made fun of that situation by saying insulting things about minority customers out of the hearing range of the customer.

Anyway... back to 'fun with managers.' The same manager that would not protect me from the physical assaults was also fond of waiting until my shift was over and I had clocked out to order me to continue to work, off the clock, for free and if I refused, he told me I was fired on the spot. He was actually not the only manager to make this demand. And in this case, I was not unique. The same demand was made of most of the employees.

Other managers would not allow food servers to take any breaks and we were often told they were not answerable to California's labor laws since the corporation's headquarters were in another State. Some of these same managers would allow breaks but for one ethnic group only. If you were not of that ethnic group, the manager would threaten you if you so much as stepped back into the kitchen to take a sip of water. I actually did that once and saw all the employees of one ethnic group hanging out around the break table. And that manager screamed at me for stopping to drink a sip of water.

Some employees take pride in their work and want to do their very best to maintain a clean sanitary safe place for customers to eat. Other employees thought it was a joke. They would be too lazy to properly replenish the salad dressings, for one example. Instead of pouring out the old dressing at the end of a shift, scrubbing the container, pouring in NEW fresher dressing then topping off with the old, they wouldn't scrub out anything. They'd pour the new on top of the old. Do that a few times and the old at the bottom never gets used. So it just sits there and ferments.

What causes the fermentation? The growth of bacteria and when there's enough of it bubbling in the dressing, people can get very sick with food poisoning.

When it came to scrubbing the salad dressing area, most of the employees were too lazy to remove all the containers full of dressing first before scrubbing, so they would scrub right over the tops of the open containers and much dirty water and other debris from the counter would fall into the dressing containers. The big bin of salad greens from where we all grabbed our salads was a dirty mess most of the time. I once saw an employee bend down to pick a piece of lettuce off the floor and he tossed it into that bin of lettuce where it probably ended up being served to some customer.

The dessert station was a horror of food poisoning waiting to happen. Toppings for sundaes that had a fruit base were especially vulnerable to fermentation and the proper disposal and cleaning of those containers was critical to public health. I was once ordered by a manager to simply "top off" the strawberry and pineapple toppings, as in, not emptying the containers out and putting new in and then topping off with old. I was just to pour new on TOP of the old, thus allowing the old to stay on the bottom and ferment. I wouldn't do it and refused in a voice loud enough to carry throughout the restaurant. The manager backed off rather than have me keep yelling about putting customers in danger.

And for all that pleasure of showing up at work and being abused and harrassed and taken advantage of and being told to risk customer safety, we weren't even to be paid our full hours that we actually worked. One of this restaurant chain's "economy measures" was to alter the computer records of employees to reflect less hours worked... thus, you got paid less money. You might work several hundreds of hours for free. Each payday, you had to sign a paper that you agreed you worked the less hours or they would refuse to give you your paycheck. You had the option of appealing the decision to not give you your rightful pay but that appeal could only be heard by the headquarters across the country and they would take weeks getting around to the paycheck in question. Were you going to do that every single week for every paycheck?

So, in summary: Don't blame the food server for slow service. Most of the time, it's not their fault. When you stiff them on the tip, you are punishing them for what some other asshole did.

Don't order banana splits with their rotting bananas and fruit toppings bubbling with bacteria.

Be extremely cautious about ordering any greens salads and do not use their salad dressings unless you ask for vinegar and oil. Most restaurants won't care if you bring in your own salad dressing.

When the restaurant is busy or you know you got seated in a zone that has a large party, order quick-to-make food.

Be sure to tell the manager that your food server did a great job. You might ruin that manager's whole day to think the server they like tormenting is actually popular with the customers.

Do not hand your credit card to your server or drop it on a tray. Take your check and your card up to the register yourself and watch as it is slid ONCE through ONE device. There are now businesses and employees who know how to steal your credit card info and how to use it. Be aware.

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