5 Reasons Waiting Tables is a Horrific Job

Composed on the 29th of February in the year 2016, at 11:42 AM. It was Monday.

Everyone thinks that being a doctor, a lawyer, a software engineer, or a real engineer is difficult because "I don't understand it" is synonymous with "gee it must be hard" in any context where it's not synonymous with "kill it faster."

When professions use normal (or meaningless) terminology, non-practitioners think they're experts. When it's something obviously difficult that everyone's tried, such as playing guitar or painting, everyone's a critic. Finally, when you're freaking out over a job that isn't obviously difficult, everyone thinks you're a moron.

This is why almost nobody understands that waiting tables is the worst job that doesn't involve explosions or snakes.

"Hey Doug. Yeah, so I might not be able to get this done in the time I initially quoted you."

If you tip less than 20 percent, you are a criminal of the pettiest and most craven variety, and should probably shoot yourself and your children in the head. You didn't even do it for a good reason: you did it because you didn't keep track of how much you were ordering so when the bill was twenty dollars more than you expected, you found a self-righteous reason to cop a little extra gas money. But that's fine, because waiting tables is easy, right? If you can't do THAT right, you deserve starve to death.

Seriously, fuck you. Try doing it sometime, and the first thing you learn is

5. There isn't much to learn

People equate "amount of possible knowledge in a field" with "difficulty of activity."

For instance, this job looks harder than Iron Man's balls.

Software developers have to learn a lot of shit. Thing is, once they have all that knowledge, they can do most of the work expected of them before they finish their coffee. Because it's so arcane to the rest of the world, nobody knows what the fuck they do except other developers, and they have a code of silence stricter than the mafia's to keep word from getting out, so they can continue to put in four-hour work weeks for six-figure salaries while reading Salon articles all day.1[1]

"Shit, haven't checked reddit in a week. This missile guidance bug is going to have to wait till Thursday."

There's dick all to learn about waiting tables. Learn whatever computer entry system the restaurant has, the layout of the restaurant, and the preferred service order, which is generally water and bread, drinks, appetizers, salads, main course, one check back, clear table, ask about dessert, ask if they'd like the bill, listen to them say, "Well no, not really," chuckle politely, bill them, then hope it's not your job to clear the table. If it's your first time waiting tables, you learn how to space out your tasks, combine taking orders with serving drinks, get a sense of timing down, learn to befriend the cooks, and figure out how to flirt just the right amount with customers.

And that's it. End of the lessons. Now you can never become a better waiter.

Perhaps you have some propensity for it, perhaps not. What this means is that by your second or third job, it never gets any easier, and what that means is you will never have a good day. In fact, you can and will only go down from there, because

4. The nature of the job makes you progressively worse at it

The thing you discover in all service industry jobs is that most people are cheap, moody bitches who think the world exists to make their tedious lives easier, so, naturally, you begin to see death in a different light.

Meh. He had it coming.

The entire nature of your job involves protracted interaction with these skin-wasters, and you can't crack for an instant, because they determine your salary. Little compares to dealing with loads of smiling Christians who chat you up (waste your time), smile (at their own cleverness), talk about their kids (the spawn grinding french fries into the carpet), then tip you 8 percent as if it were a favor. You learn to treasure not interacting, and your ability to give a shit about whether anybody at all even lives through their meal becomes more and more a pretense, and eventually, people see through it, and you've just become a worse waiter.

Meanwhile, it's physically debilitating. Everybody lauds how fit waiters are because they take an average of 22,778 steps per day, which my scientists confirm is approximately a number of miles, but between these steps, they're leaning over at awkward angles, lifting with their back, holding tendon-snapping weights on trays or plates, or hunched over brooms and mops. Sure, you burn calories, and then hop out of bed one day to find—oops, that wasn't a hop, that was a back spasm. So long, job.

Mentally, waiting tables is the definition of multitasking, and multitasking makes you dumb. You can't choose not to multitask and change your work habits when you're waiting on fifteen different people who all think they're the crème de la humanity because they can afford to not cook twice a week. Even if you've abstracted the process into some multi-dimensional equation that turns it into one task, you still have fifteen to twenty discrete things to keep in your head at one time, and surprise! Your brain only holds seven. You know for a fact that you are always forgetting something, so you become anxious about what you're forgetting, and that just eats up another slot and you forget something else. You will fuck something up, because the work is already placing unrealistic demands on your brain, and attempting to meet those demands actually damages your brain in exactly the areas you need to meet those demands. And that's bad news, because even on the days you somehow don't personally fuck up

3. Everything is your fault

If the dishwashers can't get the silverware out fast enough you can't give people their soup spoons, but that's your fault. If the cooks are too slow, people will walk out saying, "What terrible service," as if you saw their food in the kitchen and said, "Eh, fuck it."

"What job?"

If you break a rule of service order at the customer's request, the managers will yell at you. When you do your two-to-five minute check back, the customers will say everything's fine and give you a look that says, "Why are you interrupting me?" after which they'll finish their meals and sit around for twenty minutes while you anxiously watch them for a signal that they'll leave so you can stop dealing with them, until the very moment they decide to go, whereupon you have thirty seconds to get to their table before they start hating you and complaining about slow service. You have to be the Sherlock fucking Holmes of social cues to keep track of exactly when people want to be bothered.

Virtually everything that happens in a restaurant affecting the quality of the experience is under the control of somebody else: the host who divvies up seating, the cooks who determine how long the food will take, the owners who determine the quality of the food, the bartenders who make the drinks. And if any of those people screw up, that's the server's problem, and that server is the only person in the whole restaurant whose living wage depends on how many customers leave happy. Most of your day is spent begging the people around you to do their jobs a little faster and apologizing to customers as if you're the one running the restaurant. God forbid their bill gets comped for some reason and your work suddenly becomes worth nothing because their bill dropped to zero.2[2]

The only thing you can do is attempt to perform your basic duties and perfectly reorganize the constantly changing list of tasks in your head to make sure everybody gets roughly the same service. Sometimes, you just can't do it, so you select the table in your head that you know isn't worth your time and they just get screwed. The inevitability of this happening is mostly because of the most frustrating logistical aspect of your job:

2. You have no control over your time

Even cashiers are allowed a measure of grudging respect from the people in line, who acknowledge that there's a line and it's going to take some time. People going to a restaurant can't see the line, and believe that a server's notepad gives them the magical ability to dedicate all their resources to each and every one of the six separate groups of people who showed up between 5:00 and 5:07. Despite learning how long a credit card machine takes to work at the grocery store, they seem to forget this when they divide the check after the fact and ask to pay five different amounts with five different credit cards, plus the ten bucks from the guy who doesn't have quite enough money so take his ten bucks and put the rest of it on this credit card, but as a separate charge so the condescending penny-pincher with the spare credit can nag his friend two weeks later with the receipt.

Had it coming.

You've just lost ten minutes of your life to people's inability to plan ahead, you automatically make the separate-check table angry because they don't understand how long it's going to take, and you're angering somebody else waiting for your attention.

As mentioned above, you don't get to decide how the cooks get everything together, so the length of time between arrival and mastication for a given customer is never in your control, and maybe two dishes advertised as "hot" come up at once, so you pick one and rush it out, but one of the sides is missing on the steak, and now that table's edging toward angry so you can't let them see you serve other food before fixing their problem, so you rush to fix it and God forbid when you finally serve the other dish it's a bit closer to warm, and the cascade of shit picks up steam.

I was afraid to turn off safe search while googling "cascade of shit" but whatever this is made it worthwhile.

But at least your fellow servers understand, right? Sure, but they don't give you any sympathy, because

1. You're at war with your coworkers

I'm sure gladiators sometimes got chummy, but they didn't give each other tips.

"Psst. Chuck. I'm blind in my left eye. Thought you should know."

The waitstaff at a restaurant starts every shift knowing there's a finite number of resources that will be distributed among them. There's a three-hour period to get as many of those resources as possible, and the fast and the lucky could easily double everyone else's income. If a well-tipping regular comes in, every server will pull in every favor to make sure that person gets sat in their section. Some servers claim these customers like prized bulls, and will literally slap others out of the way if they try to take this person's order.

"This table's going to make me five extra dollars tonight and I will smash these in your daughter's face if you fuck it up for me."

You fight over customers. You fight over time at the register. You compete for the cooks' attentions. You compete for the empty space between you and your tables, because you are the primary people getting in each other's way, and at the end of the day, one of you will swear gory vengeance upon another, because your comrades are the only people you don't have to take shit from, hence they're the only outlets for the rage you build up taking shit from literally every other person in the restaurant except the dishwashers, who don't take your shit because they pull ten bucks an hour on their best day, and that's barely enough money to stop them from burning down the kitchen.

So when you finally leave the restaurant you can't afford to eat at with your handful of cash, you get to go home with the knowledge that out of everybody you interacted with over the past eight hours, half a dozen think you're stupid, two or three will unfairly blame you for ruining their night, you are more hateful and slightly dumber, you're not learning anything new, you're marking time until the crippling spinal trauma that will lay you up just long enough to get fired, and the only other people in the same boat are dreaming up ways to push you out of it.

Editor's note: Clickbait title: check. Overuse of images: check. Descending listicle: check. Style seem familiar yet? Yeah, I wrote this for cracked.com, but they rejected it in the final round because the content wasn't unusual enough and everybody already knows this stuff. But given the way I see people treat waiters, it seems clear basically nobody knows this. Also I didn't have anything else to post so I dusted this off.

1 I may have neglected to mention this in previous work.

2 Fun fact: those Europeans who don't tip? Well, 160 years ago, their ancestors wandered around America saying how weird it was that we DIDN'T tip. But they tipped because they had a servant class, and it was a little condescending way to pat them on the head. People working service jobs just said, oh, free money. Politically, most of America was so against it they passed anti-tipping laws, but the practice caught on, then businesses realized that if their waiters were going home with enough money to cap minimum wage, the restaurant didn't legally have to pay them minimum wage, and they could offload an expense on the customer. Check it out.

Someday, I will have two of these in my living room.

Hi there! You should totally go buy my book for the low low price of 6.66! It's like buying me a beer at an out-of-the-way dive bar in Brooklyn! Not in Manhattan. Manhattan prices are ridiculous, though there are a couple of decent Irish dives where you can snag a drink for five bucks. Otherwise, you're looking at a two or three book beer.