My 16 Truths: Expanded – No. 3

3. My primary source of income is the gratitude of my guests, specifically in the form of monetary compensation, for the time I spend with them.

Generally, unless one has been a server, one doesn’t fully appreciate the challenges a server faces, monetarily. Our primary income is our tips. How we get paid beyond that varies from state to state. I’ve only ever served in Illinois, so I can only speak to that. My current, hourly wage is less than $5. I almost never earn a paycheck, even when I work 39.99 hours in a week. (Anything above 32.5 is considered full time where I work. Management obsesses over avoiding overtime.) I do average a modestly livable amount each week, but it’s extremely difficult to budget to that average, because of all the factors I can’t control, such as weather, the economy, the seasons, and popular distractions such as sporting events, or religious holidays.

The one thing I can control, to a degree, is how hard I work to earn a guest’s gratitude. I say, “to a degree”, because of all the factors that govern the level of gratitude a guest can or will show in exchange. I know I can’t control spite, disappointment, inattentiveness, forgetfulness, or any other factor that originates outside my circle of influence. Some guests may not care about me. They may hold me responsible for something or someone who let them down during the course of their visit. They may not be paying attention to the bill, or their level of inebriation. They may have forgotten some resource or responsibility that limits their available funds. The factors are so many, that I often mentally assign any number of innocent possibilities to a poor tip to assuage the sting.

The main takeaway of this truth is a simple one. Servers depend on you. No one else is giving them the resources to clothe, shelter, and feed themselves or their loved ones. You rely on them for a lively experience. They rely on you for their livelihood. Make sure the exchange is a fair one; their time for your money. Enjoy!

My 16 Truths: Expanded – No. 2

2. Serving is a noble profession with centuries-old roots in cultures from around the world.

To some, waiting on tables is what people do while waiting to do something else. It’s the go-to job for college students, aspiring actors/actresses, housewives looking for extra cash, and semi-retirees or seasonal workers. In this country, the general opinion of waitstaffs across the board is that they don’t really care about what they do and they are often ashamed of it.

This is disappointing. The nobility of service goes back thousands of years. Waiters/Waitresses, (or the more gender-generic Servers), can trace their roots back through the household staffs of Edwardian gentry, castles and courts of kings and emperors in Europe and Asia, even going back to ancient Egypt. In Sunday School, I learned a lot about the importance of service in general. One of my favorite quotes is in Luke 22:25-27, where Jesus emphasizes his own passion for serving.

“Foreign kings order their people around, and powerful rulers call themselves everyone’s friends. But don’t be like them. The most important one of you should be like the least important, and your leader should be like a servant. Who do people think is the greatest, a person who is served or one who serves? Isn’t it the one who is served? But I have been with you as a servant.”

One of the more recent influences on my growing respect for those who serve came from a Master Sommelier I met through work. Ron Edwards has become known as one of the most “approachable wine ambassadors” as an established member of the exclusive Court of Master Sommeliers, making him one of 214 experts worldwide who have achieved the prestigious Master Sommelier credential. There are numerous accolades and accomplishments in his bio, but my favorite part is found at the bottom.

“Master Edwards is also a passionate proponent of others centered, risk oriented service. He is regularly engaged by restaurants and hotels to inspire frontline employees and managers. His enthusiasm regarding the nobility of service, and how to live it, is infectious. Ron makes a positive difference in the service culture of each business that he touches.”

I learned about this from attending his presentations as part of Cooper’s Hawk’s advanced wine training. His words further cemented my belief in the importance of the role of service in my life and the lives of others.

At the restaurant level, the server is the pivot point, the lynch pin, key to a successful experience. A guest will be directly or indirectly impacted by every employee working, but their greatest interaction will occur with the server. The server bears the most responsibility for the guest’s comfort, well-being, and satisfaction. Made incredibly more complicated by the diversity of guests that come through the door each day, a successful server has to genuinely care about his/her guests. Regardless of their resources, their dietary needs, or their appreciation and level of respect for his/her role, a server is there to serve, to put the focus on the guest during the entirety of their time together.

Everyday, I wear a ring with the Superman symbol on it. It was given to me by my best friend many years ago. People often ask me about it and I give many answers as to why. The one I give most commonly is, “It reminds me to always be the hero.” To me, that’s what serving is. A heroic feat to be accomplished every day in every part of my life, whether I’m on the clock or not. I am a server and that is a noble thing to be. Enjoy!