Survey the Situation
"Welcome to Maggiano's, my name is Aaron and I will be taking care of you this evening. Is it anyone's first time at Maggiano's this evening?" I said, greeting the 4 top that was just seated in my section at table 83.
"Nope," they all replied.
"Excellent. That will save me some time boring you to death going over the menu. I'll point out our new features though. They just changed two weeks ago, and are all great for the summer. The ingredients are reach--" I looked at my guests as I was speaking and saw that only one of them was paying attention. The others were staring at their menus, probably assuming I was just trying to sell them the most expensive item on the menu.
"-- It probably wasn't the healthiest choice, but I've had the spiedini four times in the last two weeks." Two of them laughed softly, probably out of courtesy.
"Do we want any drinks other than just water, say maybe a glass of wine or a cocktail this evening?"
All of my guests were looking at me at this point. One of the gentlemen grabbed the drink menu and began looking at it and discussing the options with his wife. The other gentleman looked a little peeved that I had referred to his glass of water as "just" water and so decided to uphold his water's honor by "sticking with water." His date got a lemon drop.
I walked away from the table to put their orders into the computer, the same way I do now 6 days a week. I'm now through my first month as a server. I'm having a blast.
"I've got the lemon drop for you ma'am." I reached across the table to put the drink down in front of her. She was at the back left of the table.
"And is this the correct bottle of wine sir?" I held the bottle of Copala Claret, being sure to cradle the bottle and place two fingers in it's bung.
"Yessir," The man answered. He was sitting a little distant from his wife, who was now beaming at me with a large genuine smile.
" Hopefully either her husband doesn't see that look on her face or she is tipping," I thought to myself. I poured the man a taste of the wine, waited for confirmation that it was good and then poured his wife then him a glass. Ladies First.
"Are you going to be the only one not drinking tonight sir?" I said to the man on my left, who was at that moment sipping his water.
"Yeah I'm good with water." he replied a little sheepishly.
"Well I can never knock a fiscally conservative choice." I said quickly, being sure to reply before his friends had a chance to gang up on him, I was pretty sure he is tipping. Always Paint Situations in a positive light.
In the service industry, I meet people from all walks of life. I've waited on doctors, lawyers and business executives. People come in from the suburbs in suburbans and from the bad parts of Durham. I've seen 20 somethings with no intentions of pursuing higher education sit down next to three very attractive girls who had just finished taking their board certification tests to be physical therapists.
I walked up to table 82 to give them their check, after having ran their card.
"Thank you for coming in tonight, it was a pleasure and I'm happy that you all enjoyed everything. Oh, I forgot one thing. On your receipt, there is a code for a survey to take online. I know that look. Surveys are boring, I know, but if you take the survey and sign up for the mailing list we will send you a ten dollar off coupon for the next time you come in. We pay you for you time, so it isn't that bad."
"Of course we will do that for you. It's the smart thing to do right?" the man who was paying for the meal said.
"Yessir. Have a great evening guys. The man stood up, thanked me and shook my hand, being sure to call me by my name. The verbal tip. his receipt could not have more than 15% gratuity on it, hopefully not less.
As I walked away from the table, I hoped that 83 did not hear me. I was sure that they felt the way I do about surveys in a fine dining restaurant: It's oxymoronic. There's nothing worse than getting great service, giving a big tip and then being asked by a robotic waiter to fill out a service about whether or not he or she made you feel special.
I guess that's what you get when a large multinational corporation owns a restaurant, or anything. Their goal becomes "Building a billion dollar brand," instead of delivering excellent food. Profit margins become more important than quality. They stuff people into dining rooms so that the people can stuff their faces, so corporate can stuff their wallets.
As Part of one of our pre-shift meetings last week, we watched a video sent from corporate, which listed off percentages from an employee survey. Apparently I was the only person in the room who thought the whole thing was hilarious and ludicrous
"employee satisfaction is up 2% over last year, and we've been handlin problems for our team mates 5% better this year." To me that means absolutely nothing. "We're up 16% on people who love their job, this is just fantastic!" Maybe the surveys do do something. More likely it means that because the corporation is so large, I'll never meet the man who is so worried about my employment satisfaction (probably doesn't want me to accept the real truth that I am 100% disposable) and so requires a survey "to get to know me."
For every corporately owned restaurant, there is one less restaurant run by a small business owner who knows all of his employees by name and many of the customers as well. It's a bit of an absurd evolution of the food industry when owners replaced by tiers of managers.
I walked back to 83 to drop off their desserts and check. The water guy had decided mid-way through the meal to have a bourbon and coke. The man who ordered the bottle of wine was now holding hands with his wife. Everyone was smiling.
"I'll let you fight over who get's the check." I said to an almost raucous laughter as I placed the check in the center. The two gentlemen reached for the check, but the woman who had had the lemon drop handed me her card before even looking at the bill.
"Well played Ma'am," taking the card from her. The name on the card read Lynda Johnson. She had been mostly quiet during the meal. Apparently the other three were long time friends and she was new to Mr. Bourbon and coke's life. Her bold move won her favor at the table.
"Thank you all for coming in this evening, it was my pleasure. Come back any time and ask for Aaron, I'd be happy to take care of you all again."I said after giving Lynda her check, being sure to call her by her name.
They each said thank you in some form or fashion, so I started to walk away.
"What, you aren't going to ask me to take a survey for you?" Lynda said, teasing me. "You think I'm too good for surveys?"
"Oh, no. I was hoping that you had not heard that." My voice was garnished with laughter.
"Oh so you think it's funny?" The entire tabe was now quiet. My face became very serious and I began effusively apologizing, she had not yet signed the receipt. My heart was racing, I could not tell if she were kidding or not. Neither could the other three at the table.
"Gotcha," she said witha smart smile on her face. Everyone began laughing. She left me $50 on $200.
My favorite part of serving has to be the conversations that I have with people right before they leave. At this point I forget everything that happened during the meal, am no longer thinking about making a tip, and become myself. Well, unfiltered anyways. Often times tables will aske me about school and my plans after school, and when I tell them my aspirations to enter the medical field in some form or fashion, there is nothing but encouragement. From the dermatologist who took three tries to get into med school, to the 9-5 ladies who never got a BS degree, the motif is that I should go for it. It being whatever my goal, aspiration, or dream is. While my dream may not be to wait tables or to build a billion dollar brand, this job turning out to be a good stop along the road.
Waiting tables might not be the good life, but it is a good life.