Confessions Of A…Disgruntled Waitress

If you've ever worked in a bar, café or restaurant, chances are you'll have some empathy for fellow waiting staff. It can be a tough gig – long hours, hard on your feet, bad tips, picky customers and measly pay. We asked one waitress to dish (sorry) the dirt...
How long have you worked as a waitress?
Two years.
What kind of restaurant do you work at?
An American-style bar and grill.
What are the best things about the job?
You get a free lunch. Plus, on a busy night you can get good tips.
What are the worst things about the job?
Dealing with drunk customers…or rude customers. Or serving customers who don’t tip. The restaurant I work at is big on service. Some customers pick up on that and take advantage by making silly complaints.
What are the most difficult aspects of waitressing?
It’s tricky when a customer complains [about the food]. Being the middle-man and the messenger is difficult – having to tell the kitchen that a customer has sent their food back is so awkward.
Do you get attention from male customers?
The restaurant I work at has a popular bar, so people are often drunk before they even sit down to eat. The waitresses get hit on a lot. Having said that, the owner of the restaurant (who is a woman) actually encourages the waitresses to flirt with male customers to get drink sales up.
Do you have a uniform?
Black T-shirt, trousers and apron.
Do you have a good relationship with your boss?
It’s okay. She tends to sit around and get drunk with the customers. She has a reputation for being a bit of a party girl.
What about the other staff?
A lot of the full-time staff stay after hours and drink for free. Two actually had sex in the stockroom after hours once.
What are the hours like?
We do either day or night shifts – so 9am to 5pm, or 5pm until midnight. We have a lot of eastern European staff who work double shifts though. I’m pretty sure there’s supposed to be a limit to how many hours you can do. It sounds like they’re being exploited but they really try to work as many hours as possible…which the employer ultimately benefits from, of course.

Staff often nick food off customers’ plates. Just the odd chip, nothing you’d notice.

Let's talk hygiene...
The cutlery and plates get washed in a massive commercial dishwasher, which in most restaurants will have seen a few years’ service. They’ll often leave bits of food on plates and between the prongs of forks. There’s usually a porter or waiter who will give them a quick wipe with a damp cloth to remove any bits. So basically, things are never as clean as you’d like to think. Also – kind of gross, but waiting staff often nick food off customers’ plates. Just the odd chip, nothing you’d notice.
Worst encounter with a customer?
A while ago I had a table – a couple of guys – who just walked out without paying. I chased them out of the restaurant but couldn’t really do anything about it. Another time a drunk customer had an altercation with my manager and spat in his face. The manager pressed charges and, as I was a witness, I ended up going to court. Another time, I served a large table and when I gave them the bill they basically claimed they had already paid. So the manager went over to the table and the customers made out that I had charged them twice. So humiliating. Most of the problems in the restaurant stem from the bar. There have been some fights between customers. It’s gone as far as the police being called. I don’t think anyone’s actually been bottled (so far).
Do you get good tips?
No. Not really. Any tables with under six people, the service charge is optional. Gratuity is encouraged but it’s very rare that your tips meet the suggested amount. I think anyone who has worked in a restaurant appreciates the importance of tips. The tips are shared out between servers, which causes tension because, obviously, some of us work harder than others, and some give better service than others.
What do the restaurant staff make of the customers?
Chefs will always complain about customers sending food back to the kitchen, no matter if it’s a legitimate complaint or not. I’ve never seen anyone actually spit in a burger, but to be honest I wouldn’t put it past them.
Do you give your friends and people you like free drinks or food?
Sometimes, but only because everyone else seems to. I don’t take the piss with it, though.
What's it like working with a hangover?
Bad. I’ve come to work pretty much straight from a night out before. Not as bad as one waiter I know who came into work so drunk from a night out that he was being sick in the bin behind the bar. He then carried a load of drinks to a table without cleaning up. My coping mechanism is hiding in the store cupboard for 10 minutes at a time, plus drinking loads of soda water.
What’s the pay like?
Minimum wage. Plus tips, when we get them.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series