The Waiters Who Serve You

In preparation for the next chapter on Who Is Killing The South African Restaurant Industry where I am going to concentrate on the role the staff are playing in the demise of the industry, I have decided to introduce you to that most wonderful of creatures… The Restaurant Waiter.

300SquareAt some stage in our lives most of us have waited on tables, eking out a meager existence through the begrudging generosity (or lack thereof) of the restaurants patrons, while being verbally, emotionally and sometimes even physically abused by management and customers alike. Now before you start shaking your head and saying “ag shame, does that really happen?” or if you stand on the opposite side of this argument “well they bloody deserve it, the service is so KAK!” why don’t we take we take a look into the minds of these strange individuals who all handle our food when we are not looking…

Firstly like most other jobs in South Africa, waiters (I will avoid the term WAITRON, and you can report me to the human rights commission, if Dave Bullard can be reported, why can’t I?) are not born into it, they are not sold as waiters by their parents and forced to work for their ‘owners’. They are free to come and go as they please, and boy do they ever. Oh and so did I when it suited me. There are plenty of horror stories of poor little Johnny, whose mom is usually the first to call in when 702 has a field day on restaurants and she painstakingly explains every shift he has had to work, how he had to buy his own dish cloth and the cheek of it when the owner expected him to pay for an order he got wrong or a tray of glasses he broke. But on the whole THOUSANDS of waiters work under pretty fair conditions earning considerably more money that any other unskilled workers.

Lets not forget for one second that the Restaurant Industry is one of the few employers left who will hire someone without a matric (and I mean for ANY position available). Think I am making this up? Try get a job with a major bank, a major manufacturer or many of our large corporations without being able to produce a matric certificate. Fat chance! And then lets also bare in mind that “it is impossible to deliver a level of service greater than that which you yourself have been exposed to”

What does that mean? It means we are sending waiters to the tables to sell oysters who have never even seen the sea or expecting them to deliver silver service to our customers when they have never even eaten a restaurant of the caliber they work in. Quite a challenge don’t you think?

Well that’s enough waffling for today, now lets examine the different types of waiter and what makes them tick.

After much consultation and deliberation (with myself that is) I decided that waiters (and waitresses) can in fact be divided into FIVE distinct categories. Now don’t get all worked up about racial and sexual stereo types, just pop over to your local restaurant and see what I am talking about.

Type One – The Youngster

Fresh out of school (or maybe still there) this pimple faced youngster is working his first ‘real’ job. A little shy, certainly nervous and over eager to please he will try and smile at you throughout your meal. You can expect constant interruptions as he esquires “Is everything alright?” Restaurants you can expect to find him working in, include Mike’s Kitchen, Spur, The Dros, Panarotti’s and other ‘family’ style restaurants where the biggest tip he will ever receive will be from his mom.

A new breed of ‘youngsters’ are starting to fill the jobs available at most restaurants; they are often previously disadvantaged school leavers who are finding the job market a little tougher than they anticipated. They are willing to learn but their lack of experience as customers sometimes makes it difficult for them to empathise with customers.

Type Two – The Lifer

Usually a single mom, started her first job as a waitress long before ‘The Youngster’ could even walk, she is efficient, fast and does not tolerate fools. Do not ask her to repeat the specials and do not expect her to be gushing over the table unless she is convinced there is a ‘monster’ tip lurking. She loves serving tables of drunk golfers on a Wednesday night where she can use her up selling skills and their dreams of days long past to separate them from their cash. Can be found working in single unit operations where she often likes to think of herself as the ‘head waitress’

Type Three – The Ex Zimbabwean

Highly educated, exceptionally well spoken (sometime you might actually think he just swallowed a dictionary) he is polite, efficient and clearly understands how precious this job is. He will repeat the specials to you EXACTLY as they were written out for him and you can expect efficient if not a little distant service from him. He may avoid eye contact but this is simply a cultural thing. His brother is the head griller, his other brother works in the soda fountain and his youngest brother just started as a bus boy. You can find him working almost everywhere except ‘family style’ restaurants.

Type Four – The Old School

Originally trained in silver service, these waiters are the backbone of most fine establishments. They have been doing this for so long they could probably do it in their sleep. Sometimes you might think they are! Got their first job as a scullery, worked their way through every conceivable position in the restaurant, there is nothing they don’t know and nothing you can teach them. They can make life living hell for new waiters and new assistant managers who think they are special. They can often be seen sporting long service badges indicating 20, 25 or 35 years of service in the same establishment. Look out for him (yes it is always him, females didn’t waiter that long ago) in long established restaurants, family owned bistros and your local.

Type Five – The Eastern Block

Blond, long legged and gorgeous these waitresses have husky voices, exotic accents and can barely speak English. This minor setback has never stopped a young eager assistant manager from hiring her. Send her to a table of business men but never let her serve a married couple where the wife may mistake her friendliness for flirting. The order may not arrive exactly as you anticipated because while she was reading it back to you in her broken English you forgot to listen as you started into her eyes and tried to work out how old she is. She can be found at a number of upmarket restaurants and seafood establishments.

So that is a peak at the waiters… Next chapter we will delve into the rest of the restaurant staff and why they should all be charged with murder!

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