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Just Say ‘Thank You’

How we subconsciously treat wait staff and how to treat them politely

It’s often said that the way someone treats wait staff is a true indicator of their character. If your first date is rude to the waitress, you should see that as a red flag. I agree with this idea, especially considering being served at a restaurant or bar is one of the few times many of us are put in a certain position of power. How someone treats someone who is serving them is a definite indication of character.

So how do you feel you treat servers? For most of us, I’m sure we consider ourselves considerably nice to wait staff and, when I think of my friends, I know with certainty they would never cuss out a waiter who brought them the wrong order. But maybe the disrespect shown to wait staff isn’t always that dramatic. Maybe we don’t even realise when we’re being rude.

In the past year, we’ve finally been able to go back out into the world and, as university students, we’ve all been able to enjoy the lifting of restrictions by going to as many balls, dances, and events as our bank accounts will allow. I’ve gone to my fair share of events, and I wonder if I will ever get over the shock of seeing so many people shuffled in one small space after being told to stay 6 feet apart for nearly two years.

At all of these events, we get to enjoy our time in large part due to the people behind the counter - the waiters, the bartenders, and the organisers. Anyone who’s gone out to 601 and the union on a wednesday night will tell you, the bartenders are truly unsung heroes.

Particularly at these events, the sheer number of students makes doing your job as a server infinitely more difficult. Add in the fact that, most times, students are extremely drunk, makes the job that much worse.

Coming as a waitress myself, I hate to break it to you, but many of us, and I mean most of us, are subconsciously disrespectful to wait staff. And the worst part is, we don’t mean to be. When you ignore their questions, when you get in their way, and most especially, when you don’t acknowledge their presence, you disrespect the people whose job it is to make sure you’re having a good time.

If you’ve never worked in serving, it may be difficult to understand the complexities of the job, and just how far customers may go to make sure that you know that the ‘customer is always right.’ Let me break it down for you.

Firstly, as floor staff, your job is primarily to take food out to customers and take orders. But your job is also to watch the hot pass, to make sure all the plates and cutlery are polished, to make sure all the tables are cleared, and to clean the restaurant before opening or after closing. Waitresses and waiters, who, especially here in St Andrews, are often students just working to get by, are put under an extreme amount of stress in these jobs. We spend our shifts running around, burning our hands on hot plates and wishing, praying, for just 1 minute off our aching feet.

That’s not to say, of course, that every job does not come with its own difficulties. But being a part of wait staff comes with a lot more responsibilities than those who have never worked in service seem to realise. Even in the case of events, it may be that servers of those events may be working the normal service of the venue at the same time, or may have a list of tasks separate to serving the event they must complete.

So naturally, there might be moments when exhausted uni aged servers accidentally let something slip. Though most of the time these mistakes are hidden from customers, sometimes it is inevitable. I can easily say I have accidentally taken the wrong dish to the wrong table a handful of times, and I have been met with a range of reactions, from understanding to incensed.

On top of all of the tasks set before wait staff, dealing with customers is yet another obstacle to be dealt with. There are always customers who are exceedingly kind, but sometimes, they pose an extra difficulty by insisting they know better, or questioning your capability. It can happen in subtle forms too, such as someone repeating their order one too many times to make sure the waiter has gotten it right or asking to double, triple, no quadruple check their order. The condescending tone and slight side eye, for a waiter or waitress who has been running around all night, is enough to belittle them. Weirdly enough, there really is nothing like a rude customer to completely ruin my mood.

In the setting of an event, particularly from the perspective as a student myself, there is an added layer of intimidation. Serving people your age, and even worse, serving someone you may potentially know, is a nerve racking experience in a certain way. Even though I am just a university student, like the people being served, as a waitress, I am put in a position of servitude to people who are meant to be my peers.

In these situations, the disrespect is arguably more hurtful. I doubt I am alone in this, but there has been more than one occasion when serving students where I have wanted to scream, ‘I am a student here too, just like you!’

Illustration: Sarah Knight

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