Secrets of a server
Don’t call her a waitress, that’s demeaning. Let Hannah Harmon, server at Ken & Sue’s, dish the dirt on dishing it out, serving your food, and life with an apron.
What’s the average shift like?
You show up at 4 to set up, which is heavy work. Then you start getting tables. You might get kids throwing mashed potatoes; you might get the nicest people you’ve ever met. You’re running around the entire night, trying to keep things straight.
What do you do to psych yourself up for a shift?
[laughs] Off record, I have a glass and a half of wine.
I’m kidding, of course. Serving is unlike any other job. You’re adrenalized the entire night. I have to decompress for at least an hour after work. You’re on the entire shift.
What makes for a great night?
It’s more than just making tips. It’s having people and tables that you connect with. It’s nice to have people who aren’t annoyed by your presence. It’s hard when people come to eat, knowing that they’re going to be served, only to act annoyed when you come to the table. It’s not my fault that you came to the restaurant.
I had a guy who, every single time I would come to his table, acted like I was bothering him. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me, wouldn’t stop his conversation and I would wait entire minutes. He’d finally turn to me, and go, “What?! What do you want?!” He actually made me cry later, and then tipped nothing. Zero. Not only was I emotionally abused, but then I basically paid for him to eat!
What do you mean?
At the end of the night, I don’t tip bartenders and bussers out of my tips, it’s out of my net sales. So regardless of what I make – like, if I don’t get a tip on any of my tables, I’d still owe 30 percent to the bartender and the busser. And it turns out, I can’t split my verbal tips with them, either.
Leaving a comment card that says, “Best service ever! Love the food! Can’t wait to come back!” or they say- “You’re wonderful! You’re a doll! We had an amazing time!” And I’m thinking, ‘They liked me! It’s going to be a great tip!’ only to find that they left 18 percent or less. It’s like, are you going to go and tell my son’s day care that you liked me? Am I so wonderful that I’m going to get free groceries? Not helping, folks.
What can diners do to help themselves?
I guess, just please remember that your server is a person, too. By all means, totally be specific. Just realize that ordering your steak well done means that it’s going to be on the grill for longer to cook, so it’s going to take longer to get to you than a salad. If you order a burger with fries and you know you want ranch, order it right when you order and not as I set the plate in front of you. That’s five extra steps when I already had five things I was headed to do. And please don’t patronize. This isn’t all I’m doing with my life. For a lot of servers, it’s an in-between while you’re going to school. I’m studying to be a nurse, don’t “Oh honey” me.
Are big tables really so bad?
I actually like big tables because they’re usually having fun.
Is it really that hard to split bills?
It’s super easy. I don’t like it when people tell me at the beginning because it can be difficult to keep track of who got what drink. It’s an extra step, basically. I’d rather do it at the end. They can write their names on the receipt and give me their cards – that’s great.
Worst comment you’ve ever gotten?
It’s not the comments that get me, it’s the guys who stare and don’t try to hide it. They can be facing the wall and will physically turn themselves around as I walk out of my section over to the bar or the kitchen. It’s uncomfortable. OK, so you’re not giving me bad pick-up lines, but come on.
What should every diner know?
I wish that everyone would work as a server at least once in their life. For example, we’re sitting here [this interview took place at Carver’s over breakfast] and our server is losing money. She could have sat another table, maybe two. We should tip by the hour because we’re not ordering anything else while we’re having conversation. Time is money. I had a group sit at one of my tables the other night from 5:30 to 10:30. They spent $50 and tipped $8. I could’ve made $40 off that table with different customers.
How much are you judging us for what we’re ordering?
I’m not really judging what you’re ordering, but ordering the meatloaf with extra gravy and a Diet Coke is pretty funny. I always want to ask, “What are you drinking it for, the taste? Who are you kidding?” I don’t really care what you order, but I’m happy to get it for you.
Cyle Talley may or may not have been guilted into tipping by the hour. If there’s anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org