Like most college students my age, I have to have a summer job. This year I was hired as a hostess and server at a small restaurant by the ocean. It’s popular with tourists and locals and has a lunch and dinner rush every day, rain or shine. The job is fairly straightforward.
As a hostess, I seat customers and take phone calls, and as a waitress, I take orders and bring food to people. But there are a few tricks of the trade that I had no idea about until I dove into the restaurant business.
Seating isn’t as easy as it sounds
I know, I know… just hear me out. As a hostess, I have to decide which party goes where. Something I never realized about restaurants is that at the start of a shift, each waitress is given an area of the restaurant to cover. That way there isn’t any confusion about whose table is whose.
However, that means that as a hostess, I have to keep track of how many customers each server has had so far, and try to keep everyone’s numbers balanced. If one server has had a ton of large parties come in, while another has only served a table of two, I’m in trouble. And, as I’ve experienced first hand, there is nothing worse than an angry waitress.
You’ve gotta be strong (sort of)
Part of hostessing involves moving heavy things. Let me elaborate: I have to run to the cooler out back when the bar’s ice is running low and carry new bags of ice back inside. Usually, I’ll carry about five bags at a time. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, because the restaurant can get pretty hot and holding ice blocks to your body is a welcome relief.
Another bonus of this chore is that when the ice freezes together, I have to break it apart by whaling on it with a brick, which is good for anger management if I’ve had to deal with a particularly snooty customer. I also have to rearrange the tables if there’s a big party coming in, and if I’m unlucky and there’s no one on hand to help me, I have to awkwardly waddle around customers with a table between my legs. Cute. (Also, I’m not strong at all and our restaurant is tiny so this is a challenge.)
Taking orders is so awkward
I’m anxious and an over-thinker, so I might be hyper-aware of this, but I find taking orders to be pretty uncomfortable. While I was training to be a waitress, I was taught that there are lots of questions that you’re supposed to ask your customers (i.e., “Would you like to upgrade that from chips and a pickle to a basket with fries?”).
This made me squirmy because I feel like what I’m actually asking is, “Will you give me more money, please?” Also, some people are just straight up cold to waitstaff. I have no idea why, but these people get very snippy with you and only answer you with one-word responses. Also, they don’t tip well. So that’s fun.
The end of the dinner shift is the worst
Since dinnertime is when the biggest rush happens, I haven’t worked as a hostess in that slot yet. Instead, I do what’s called “roving,” which basically means I do whatever the hostess needs me to (including but not limited to: busing tables, rolling silverware, collecting stray menus, shelving clean dishes, scraping plates, etc).
It goes by pretty quickly during the rush, which usually lasts from 6-8. The restaurant “closes” at 9 which actually means that that’s the latest we will let any new customers enter the establishment. We don’t actually get to close until all the customers have left and the place is spotless (ugh). On a typical night I will leave around 10:30 pm, but sometimes, I’m there until 11:15 pm. As much as I’d like to rush the customers out, that’s not allowed.
Hostessing looks effortless, but it’s hard and gross
Before I worked as a hostess, I thought the job was pretty easy. You just stand there behind your podium and write things down and look nice and occasionally walk people to their tables… right? Wrong.
I’d say about 95 percent of my job is busing tables. Once a party has paid and left, I have to book it to their table and clear the dishes and then wipe it down with a hot towel and dry it off. This involves picking up a lot of wet napkins and goopy food with your bare hands. Yum.
Also, the constant submersion in and out of hot soapy water and the bumping and scraping of piling dishes in the kitchen means your nails never look nice. On top of all that, a typical shift is from either 11:30-4 pm or from 4-10:45 pm, and you only get a break if you work a double (meaning both shifts with a 30-minute stuff-your-face-break in between).
This means that a lot of the time I’m standing around thinking about how hungry I am. Not gonna lie, I’m guilty of eating abandoned dinner rolls I’ve found while busing tables. And yes, almost all of my shifts are spent on my feet. And it seems like no matter how comfortable my shoes are, at the end of the day, my feet are most likely killing me.
It’s not all bad
There are some things that make the job really fun that you wouldn’t expect. A few under-appreciated moments include: when the kitchen makes an extra appetizer by mistake, and you get to eat it, when babies are really well behaved and adorable, when you get a huge tip out of nowhere, and when your significant other surprises you at work.
Overall, the biggest takeaway I’ll offer is that the job is 10,000 times easier when customers are kind and patient. And remember, please tip your waiters.