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Everybody should be a waitress

In a recent conversation with a young professional woman, a mother of two little kids, she blurted out: "You want to know my philosophy of life? Everybody should be a waitress." I hadn't asked for her philosophy of life, but she caught my attention so I asked her to elaborate.

"I believe everyone should be required to be a waitress/waiter/server of some sort at least once in their lifetime. You learn to be respectful and it teaches you humility. Treat servers the way you would like to be treated. For those people who have never been in the service industry, I don't think they really get it. You learn that the customers are no better than you and you are no better than the customer. Rudeness is out -- only the arrogant are rude. It's not all about you. Next time you are in a restaurant, ask yourself, 'If I were the server, would I want to wait on me as a customer?'

"You learn to be patient and accommodating. For people who work for tips, it is important that they heed the customers' wishes. But the customer must remember that one server has many other customers to serve. If it takes an extra minute to get your water glass refilled, is that a big deal? As long as your wait isn't unreasonable and the service is provided with a smile, maybe you can smile too. The more accommodating you are, the better your experience will be. I recall being a 'closer' when I worked in a restaurant in Grand Forks. It pained me when closing time was 9 o'clock on a Monday night and a table for four waltzes in at 8:50 just as you were expecting to clean up and go home. Surprisingly, many times those people actually tipped well because they knew they were the ones keeping you there. If you were pleasant and accommodating, they showed their appreciation in the tip.

"You learn the importance of attitude. When a customer is a pain in the behind, the server still has to buck up and be pleasant and respectful to that customer and everybody else in the place. Harkins back to a favorite saying of mine: 'You can't control everything that happens in life, but you can control your reaction to it.'

"Being a server teaches you to appreciate a good server because you know first hand how hard it really is. It also teaches you the importance of, and how to tip. If you go out to eat, expect to tip; that's the way it goes. Even if you're on a budget, you should not go out to eat and not expect to tip. Tips are what servers live on: they certainly can't make it on their paychecks. Now this doesn't justify poor service. Of course if your service was horrible, your tip should reflect that. But on the flip side, if your service was excellent, the tip should reflect that too. And remember, don't blame the server if your food is cooked incorrectly.

"Some people say that anyone can be a server. But not everyone can be a good server. There is no shame in being a server; take pride in being a great one."

That's all she had to say, but she really believes it. My experience does not include being a server who took orders, but it does include being a bus boy, an ice cream scooper and a server who brought prepared meals to the Minnesota Gophers football team when they were tops in the nation -- went to the Rose Bowl two years in a row. I must have been good, but my jobs in the food business required no people skills.

The young lady convinced me that everybody should be a waitress/waiter/server. The experience would make them better at whatever job they do and better people in general.

P.S. The best ideas in this column usually come from somebody else. Thanks for sharing.