by Kris Mason
I’ve been… down.
I write a blog that requires me to look at what I do for a living in a positive light to try to encourage people to embrace the hospitality side of the industry and not focus so much on the darker underbelly of the business. I try to rant while not berating anyone; I attempt humor; and even though my philosophies steer my life in an above average, positive mindset, I’m human and subject to a severe case of the blues just like everybody else. I’ve been… down.
I’ve started this article multiple times and this is the first time in the last eight weeks that I’ve made it past, “I’ve been… down.” I still don’t have enough energy to high five myself; but there is a mental victory dance that will have to suffice. The hardest part has been going to work every day. I wait tables. You’re probably thinking, “No brainer,” or “Just dial it in,” or the apathetic, “Yeah? And?...”
Easy to picture since in many cases your server can seem clinically depressed some of the time anyway. The problem is, this isn’t a part time job or a little side gig for me. It’s how I pay my mortgage, feed my family and keep the lights on. I’m in the hospitality industry and I spend each day at work trying to maximize your positive experience to maximize my take home income.
Here’s what I’ve learned. When you have a great dining experience, I take home more money. When I, “Just dial it in,” I take home less money. I can’t make you happy with red, puffy eyes from crying. You don’t leave as much money when I mumble things or give you the thousand yard stare. When I’m… down, I get distracted. I immediately forget what you just said to me. I didn’t forget your straw; I forgot that you even asked for a straw.
Somehow, I have to figure out how to bring my A Game while playing at a D+ or at best a C-. There are no sympathy tips for being… down. There are times when having a job in a cubicle seems like a pretty good deal. My income wouldn’t be affected by my poor performance. I could ignore my co-workers, send out a few emails, and take multiple breaks with a long lunch. Just dial it in.
I know that every workplace would prefer that we all leave the problems of our personal life at the door when we clock in. Waiting tables is one of the professions where money is lost for a lack of peak performance. Granted, I would like my emergency response team to be working at their highest level if things go horribly wrong in my life; but you get what I’m saying. Unless you work directly with the public, face to face, you can have off days go completely unnoticed; and you get paid the same amount either way.
I have discovered that making a connection with my tables, and customizing their experience maximizes my take home pay. These last eight weeks have been my greatest challenge. I’ve exhausted myself trying to bring my energy level up to not let on about how low I feel. At times it seemed like I’m just acting; and sometimes that act was just enough to get me through the table.
"If you used to make more money when you first started waiting tables, I invite you to run some basic drills."
Last week I was knocked off guard when the woman at my table made a connection with me. As her meal was coming to an end and I dropped off her check, she asked me what I did in my spare time. I froze.
I had no idea what to say first. Part of being… down right now is the feeling that my free time doesn’t belong to me. There are so many things in my life that are in a state of flux and that gives me the sense that I have little or no control over any of it. She knocked everything loose.
I was spiraling out of control. I still hadn’t said a word in response. It felt like an hour had passed since she asked the question and I just stood there with my mouth half open trying to form a word to somehow compile a sentence. She broke the silence first in what could only have actually been a long second or two. “You must just see a ton of interesting people all day long. It would be a great place to work to watch people if you were a writer or something.”
I quickly shared my story and blog address with her and the conversation unclogged. I was still busy and as I passed her table I saw a hundred dollar bill for her $46 check. I know I had woken up because the voice in my head thought to myself, “Great, now I need to go find change.”
When I came back to the table, she was gone. As I picked up the tray and carried it back to the servers station, I saw her wave going out the door and she mouthed, “Thank you,” and threw in a little namaste type bow. At my computer I picked up the bill only to find a second one just like it hiding underneath.
The trick (if you can call it that) was to put all my dwindling energy into the basics. Some of the greatest coaches, regardless of the sport, achieve excellence by simply drilling the fundamentals; they practice the routine, the same things that are practiced in Jr. High and High School. No matter how advanced or flashy the games seem, it’s the basics that make the winning team.
I ran my basic drill so well, the simple, unselfish generosity of being basically attentive, that I made a connection even when I wasn’t aware it was there. I don’t know her story. She could have been conducting some great “Pay it Forward” experiment, I have no idea; but I’m inclined to believe that she wouldn’t have left a $154 tip on a $46 check had I been moping around trying to figure out my own problems.
I’m still… down… but I’m slowly waking from my fog. It was gratifying to be validated in that grand fashion. It’s great to have my thoughts flow out of my head and make it coherently on to the screen again.
If you used to make more money when you first started waiting tables, and now you think that people have just gotten cheaper, I invite you to run some basic drills. Dribble up and down the court and shoot some free throws. Simply be attentive with unselfish generosity. See if that makes a winning difference.
And the next time you're at a restaurant, and the server forgets your straw once or twice... cut 'em some slack.
I do Waiter Boot Camps at your restaurant. Contact me to schedule a meeting. 480-600-6973