A typical night in the fine dining industry…
You show up 30 minutes before you get paid to get your uniform on perfectly, write down your features and read the 86’s and new additions. Peak around the corner to your section to hopefully see that no tables are already sat and ordered. You then are expected to speed walk for a full 8 hours straight with maybe two bathroom breaks if your lucky, continually planning your actions 5 steps ahead while smiling and stopping saying “oh no after you” meanwhile deep down your wanting to climb over everyone to move as fast as you can.
Let’s not forget about the emotional aspect. A good server can adjust their emotions, stature and style within seconds from jumping in-between tables. Table 8 is a couple celebrating their 10 year anniversary, they expect you to put all focus on them and fully explain the whole menu while not caring that you haven’t had a sip of water in 4 hours, you also have 3 other tables that are in a hurry to go to the concert, one of which is a table of 7 ladies with separate bills who are sharing bits and parts from seat 3 and 4 while seat 5’s bill is going to be divided by the rest. Now back to the emotional adjusting from table to table. The couple, you’ll talk to slowly, look at the girl a lot and be the “professional” style server, then the table to the right who is a table of 3 guys, wants you to flirt and tell them what they should order. Next table, a group of 4 who barely speak English and don’t know how to look up from their phones or actually eat the food they order.
Being able to adapt and change your persona and emotions that fast and that many times in a night, is extremely hard on your mental health. Your body doesn’t know what emotions end up being real and what ones are fake. By the end of the night you don’t even know what kind of mood you are in, all you know is that you want a fucking drink.
Now lets talk about the blame game. Your drink or wine is taking some time and the guests are impatient, as a server this is the worst. This gets your guests anxious, more hangry and sets the pace of the night.The drink that shows up is wrong or wine is corked, now don’t even get me started. You’ve been told that you need to flip tables or get orders in ASAP because the kitchen is about to get slammed, so you sneak in your time to shine and talk about the menu, ask the guests questions about themselves and try to do a few little special touches to distract them from time. Hopefully once you’re done your spiel drinks arrive and you can go check on your other tables.
Manager comes up to you and asks why orders aren’t in, doesn’t know you tried chasing down a sommelier for 5 minutes to try to find the wine you rang in 10 minutes ago. While talking to your manager you see your mains for your 4 top is on the pass and the food runner is about to run the while, all while your table is still taking lovely photos of their appies. A little Houdini action and you maneuver plates, reset cutlery and stash their dirty stuff on the server station near by.
Food shows up, one of the dishes is over cooked and you have to do ground control. Managers are too busy to go talk to the table so its all on you to smooth things over. While you’re smooth talking and trying deflate the situation, you see your table of 7 is being so nice and waiving at you to come take their separate payments, a new table sat down who are a group of very powerful business men who expect you to eloquently kiss their feet and remind them how “special” they are.
The nights go on and on like that, right up until you get that much enjoyable sound of the printer printing out your cash out.
With a restaurant that has over 10 servers, you can see how the drinking after work can easily happen. Even during a great night, there are always moments of high stress and intense quick reaction to spontaneous situations. I like to think of it as a “Choose your own adventure” book with someone else flipping the pages for you.
Once in the back doing your cash out, if you don’t already have a glass of wine in your hand you can smell one not far away. “Holy shit that night was a gong show”. I’ve heard that way to many times, to the point that I’d say at least 1/3 of the servers each night will say it at one point, good or bad.
While cashing out, the servers sit together and bitch and complain about how long the food took, how horrible their guests were, how the hostess’ slammed their section all at the same time. Its the common way to try to vent, try to confirm that the stress wasn’t your fault, and to finally put some of your needs first.With a few of the servers in the Server High, of a good night and smooth service, which always brings competition, jealousy and reminders that you do have a good night occasionally.
This banter and talk, easily transitions to someone saying “lets go for a drink”. Which in server talk, is never just one. Jameo’s show up and then the wine switches to highballs. No one has to work till 5pm tomorrow, so sleeping in hung-over is fine, you’ll be good by the time you have to work again.
This cycle is vicious and way to sad that its true. With the combination of the extremely high stress environment and lack of morning obligations, why feel the need to adjust it. After all, you deserve to go out after working so hard and that’s your only time to socialize.