eating in to eating out

there seems to have been a lot of chatter recently about waiting tables.

for the past few months slashfood has had one of their authors writing - and sometimes ranting - about her experiences waiting tables and the questions and concerns that go along with the whole customer/server relationship. yesterday google news proudly gave me an article from the ny times entitled "100 things restaurant staffers should never do (part one)." and that evening, by happenstance, i actually looked at the baltimore sun's taste section. (in general, i'm an online news girl. save the trees and all that. and i'm way too lazy to actually grab an actual newspaper most days. i know... i'm part of the reason for the alarming decline in newspaper industry. but think of the trees.) in an effort to fill the section, the sun had reprinted a piece from one of their writer's blogs. oddly enough, it was a top ten list bemoaning "the top ten things you'll find in the restaurants in hell." besides having some serious issues with the fact that the sun was unable to produce all new, interesting material for their print section (at least make an effort to re-attract readers, don't just reprint what they can find online), it really struck me that, as a culture, we have some serious problems with eating out.

all of these articles elicited numerous responses from readers online. and all were split between the noble question of "who is right?" the server or the customer? this is a funny question for me. i waited tables for over three years in sort of mid-level restaurants. i never cashiered at a deli counter and i never had to worry about the starched white shirts or aprons that were so long i'd be afraid to walk in them. i'll be the first to admit that i have a deep love for pubs, especially irish ones, because i really did enjoy working in them. and i do get a small kick when i go out to eat knowing exactly what's going on around me and why.

the problem is not whether someone is wrong or right, but that we, as a culture have built it into our psyche that when we go out to eat or when we put an apron on, someone is going to be wrong. and we sure as hell don't want it to be us. going out to eat appears to have turned into a passive form of going out to war. it doesn't help that this veritable war isn't just servers against customers, but it's also servers versus the kitchen, front of the house versus the back, customers versus customers (as many servers will admit to treating different customers differently; woe unto your family if your children aren't cute or as well behaved as those at the next table). the restaurant is a modern day battlefield and it's not just your meal that is feeling the heat of the flame.

the worst part is, these negative stereotypes are constantly being reinforced. anthony bourdain, who i'm never sure if i like or not, referred to the serving staff in his book kitchen confidential as "waitrons." horror stories abound about waiters who disappear to gossip, customers who dash and dine, drinks faked by bar staff, and nasty additions kitchen staff add to meals sent back to the kitchen. all of this makes me feel a bit nauseus when i think about it. having done a little bit of everything in a restaurant, including working in the front and the back of the house and having experienced the difference between being a customer and being a regular - i know first hand the difference in service and what it means to all involved.

one thing to remember, no matter where you work, is time passes differently for you than it does for everyone else. a customer is going to feel a longer time has passed than s/he would like than a server might notice since s/he is running around attending to other matters - not just sitting there. (it may also seem longer for a customer if they have boring dinner companions, but that's another thing.) time for a chef or a cook is always going to be based around the food and how long it takes to prepare, not the clock on the wall. bartenders watch drinks and drink tickets. and their clock is on bar time. the roles we all play alter our perceptions of our surroundings and experiences drastically, and we never seem to take that into account.

no matter what, it still strikes me as odd how defensive we all are about what we do. isn't there a point where there are rules of respect and proper conduct that should apply to all people, no matter what role you are playing or where? if we could all pull ourselves together, be a little less defensive, and start understanding that, things might go a little smoother all around. while we may be at odds with each other, the very functionality of a restaurant wouldn't exist if there weren't chefs, servers, bartenders, gms, and customers. and if you can't man up to that (or woman up. or hermaphrodite up.), then stay home or find a new job. you'll like the experience better.

because, honestly, i'm tired of the complaints. let's be adults here.