The smile on my face as I ask you what you want to drink is fake. The laugh that comes out of my mouth when you make that dad joke is fake. The "it's okay" that I say when your kid decides to make an art deco out of his food is fake. As soon as I turn around my smile dies to reveal my real mood—dullness.
This is my routine as a waitress.
Let me set the mood: I am four hours into a nine hour shift. 5 pm to 2 am, on a Friday night at a local diner. My clean hair is now swept into a bun that smells of frying oil and old coffee. I have about eight different stains on my apron from the dressings in the back of the kitchen because you wanted ranch and bleu cheese and extra pickles and "ooh some coleslaw" every single time I went back to the table.
The large kitchen feels like a cubicle with waitresses and cooks running back and forth and shouting out orders. One waitress is shouting at the cooks to hurry up her to go order and they shout back lewd comments in Spanish. I turn to walk back into the dining room and slip on that fake smile.
Here's how my night usually goes:
I walk up to your table with a smile and ask you how you are and what you would like to drink. This can go a few ways.
1. You can be a group of 12-16 year olds and laugh at everything I say and your friends say making this super uncomfortable as I stand there waiting to know if you want a Pepsi or a damn water.
2. You all completely ignore me until someone answers an awkward 10 minutes later without even looking up from the menu/ phone.
3. You all whisper your orders to me at 9pm at a loud diner and then get mad when I ask you twice what you would like.
Those are just some of the delightful ways we meet. Then you order your food. If you are the teens you get one order of fries and one kid with the big bucks gets a burger. Thanks for the $2 tip please don't come again.
Or you can be the substitute customer who switches everything in the menu item to something else, pretty much makes their own dish, then gets mad for substitution extra prices. Yes, because I the underpaid, under appreciated, overworked, college student waitress makes the prices. You know what they say, the customer's always right.
Now it's 10 pm. My section is full. You can clearly see me running around the diner. You clearly know its me hell I have purple freaking hair. You see me checking on food in the kitchen. I try to come over to you as often as I can and you still complain the food is too slow and continue with reprimanding me for it.
Let me inform you of something. I am the waitress. I do not cook the food. I do not control when the cooks make it. If I could go behind the grill and flip your burger myself to shut you up I would but I can't and sure as hell don't feel like it. So ask for more pickles or ask for a salad or soup because I can control that.
Now it is 10:30 pm. You got your food as well as my other tables. The cooks were moody tonight and decided to be slow and screw up the orders. Yes this is a thing. The bus boys were also in a mood and decided not to bring any of my tables water or place settings. Everything seems to be going wrong tonight.
It is a Friday night and I am in college. My girlfriends are out. My parents are even out. You are sitting here with your friends laughing and I am finally having a minute of breath. Your rude comments as well as the others I have received are sitting on my mind. The stress of tonight is crazy, it is a busy night.
It's 1 am. Only an hour left. I start to clean up my section, do my side-work which involves cleaning the counter, and balancing out my sugars and salt and pepper. My last table leaves, so I take a quick bathroom break. It's the first time I have been alone for hours. Its the first time since 5 pm someone hasn't called me an idiot, made a nasty comment, or snapped their fingers at me. I cry silently in the bathroom. #LifeOfAWaitress. Now back to adulting.
Its 2 am and the diner is closed. We turn away the drunk customers and stack the chairs on the table. We cash out some tips to the bus boys, we turn off the lights, and we lock the doors. I finally sit down for the first time in hours behind the wheel of my car. I feel a slight moment of relief. Until I know I have to come back in a couple hours for the next shift.
Being a waitress is not a completely negative experience. I made some really great friends as a waitress. On the slow days just hanging out with my fellow waitresses, making milkshakes, and sharing fries over laughs are great memories I will always cherish.
I did not write this article to sway you against being a waitress, I wrote it to tell you what a waitress goes through on a typical busy night. What she deals with, who she encounters, and her thoughts. She is busy and she is trying. She is smiling but on the inside she is screaming. She waited on your every need and you left her chump change because you "don't believe in tipping."
I wrote this so the next time you go out to eat and your food is taking too long, you look for your waitress. Sometimes you just get a shitty waitress who does not care about her job and is just chilling on her phone, but most times you can barely catch her with your eye because she is running around trying the best she can.
So don't be a shitty person and don't forget to tip your waitress.