A Comparison of the Attitudes of a Career Waitperson and a Waitperson Who Has Different Aspirations

Waitressing is a difficult job that is the number one profession of non-college educated females in this country. Servers make $2.13 an hour in most areas of the country. Federal labor laws allow this low wage because tipping is customary in the United States.

One benefit of waiting tables is the quick cash. Servers walk out of their shift with most of the money they have earned, but, at most restaurants, severs are required to “tip out”, or share a percentage of their tips with the bartender, busser, hostess or other members of the staff.

After reading the interview of the waitress, Delores Dante, in Working, by Studs Terkel, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the attitudes of a career waitperson and those of a waitperson who has different aspirations and plans for the future. I interviewed my good friend Maureen Walsh who has been a server at various local restaurants for seven years. She is also a full- time college student, and will earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education this December.

Delores Dante has been waiting tables in the same restaurant for twenty-three years (Terkel 279). After her marriage broke up, she started waiting tables because she needed fast money and didn’t want to work an office job (Terkel 294). She feels that she learns a lot about people in her line of work, and enjoys talking to her customers. She invents ways to keep her job interesting, and likes to converse with her customers about a great number of topics. Dante says that giving service and being servile are two different things (Terkel 294).

Delores Dante takes pride in her work, and aims to please all of her customers. She says that she does certain things to make her customers’ experience more enjoyable, like emptying ashtrays, so that her station looks nice, not in order to increase her tips (Terkel 297). She also never looks at her tips as she is getting them, and doesn’t even count her earnings until the morning following her shift (Terkel 295).

Delores Dante talks about how nerve-racking waiting tables can be and that that is why a lot of restaurant workers tend to drink a lot. She equates waitressing with being “on stage”, and says that waiting tables is an art (Terkel 297). She aims to please all of her customers, and takes great care to insure that she is doing everything just right.

Near the end of the interview, she seems to open up, and gets a little emotional about the stress and the degradation that is implicit in the life of a waitress. She talks about her aching feet and her sore muscles, and says that she senses that her body and soul have had enough (Terkel 298).

My friend Maureen Walsh has some very different thoughts about the serving profession. She started waiting tables at a local restaurant after high school, and has been doing it ever since. She will graduate from college this December, and plans on getting a professional job as soon as possible after graduation.

I started the interview by asking Maureen about the good points of waiting tables for a living. “The money’s pretty good. I can afford to pay all my bills and still have a lot of money to burn”, said Walsh. She went on to say, “I also like the flexibility. I can request off almost any shift I want, or get another server to pick up my shift if something comes up. Not many jobs will let you do that. Although I can’t wait to get a real job, serving definitely has its perks.”

When I asked her about the downside of her job, her response was long. Rude people, crappy tips, and lazy cooks were her most loathed aspects of the job. “I can’t stand it when people think everything that goes on in the restaurant is somehow my doing. It’s not my fault when they have to wait forever for a table, or when the kitchen is taking a long time, or when we run out of a menu item.

Nor is it my fault when someone’s kid is screaming or their husband/boyfriend is pissing them off. It amazes me that these things are usually reflected in my tip. I didn’t write the menu, I don’t cook the food, I can’t make people leave so that you can get a table and I have nothing to do with intra-table disputes. People don’t realize how little control I actually have over what goes on in the restaurant. I’m jut trying to make a buck.”

Maureen Walsh said that she has become pretty cynical and has developed a fairly poor attitude towards the public in her seven grueling years as a server. “Sometimes people make me so mad. A lot of customers treat you poorly, and act as though you’re dumb simply because you’re waiting on them. I can’t stand it when people treat me disrespectfully. I make it a point to be super nice to service people where ever I go because I know that one nice customer can totally brighten an otherwise frustrating work day.”

Through these two interviews, and through my own personal experience in the restaurant business, I think that lifelong servers and those who wait tables temporarily have different attitudes towards their jobs and towards their customers. Career servers tend to do a better job, and tend to take more pride in their performance. Those who see waiting tables as a vehicle to get elsewhere in their lives seem to maintain a poorer attitude and not value their job performance as much.

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