Confessions of a Waitress


By Georgia Wilkinson


Remember those essays you used to have to do every first week back at school? The ones entitled ‘What I Did This Summer’? This summer I discovered that I hate people.

You see, instead of inter-railing across Europe, taking life-changing trips to Thailand or helping to build houses and schools for impoverished children in the third world, I spent my summer working as a waitress at a café in St Andrews. And it sucked. Instead of putting it behind me and moving on with my life, I’ve decided to write down the worst of it in the hope that the next time you’re out you’ll be especially nice to your server.

Waitressing is an incredibly demanding job: you’re constantly on your feet, trying to deal with several different responsibilities at once, and trying to keep a room full of people happy. If something goes wrong for them then you are their first port of call, and you’re the one getting shouted at. The great British public seem to assume that every waitress has unlimited power in the restaurant, demanding that you make everything come faster, make Diet Coke more diet, make the coffee hotter without actually adding more heat – the list never ends.

As soon as you put on a uniform, people will assume that your minimum-wage job in a small-town café is not only the most important thing in your life but the only thing you have ever dedicated your life to. They will therefore ask some of the most complex, intricate and technical questions I have ever heard in my life: ‘which local farm does your Scottish beef come from? Was it fed on any genetically modified crops?’ I have had people follow me from their table to the back of the food-hatch in the kitchen after accidentally serving a wine still listed on the menu but ‘no longer served’, telling me each and every step, there and back, how terrible it was for me to do it.

While some people are pedantic, others are just thick. It took me all of ten minutes to explain to a gentleman who must have been in his late 20s that iced tea is in fact served cold. One woman was scandalized to discover that despite advertising that we use as much local produce as possible, neither the salmon not tuna served had been caught off the coast of Fife.

Worst of all is a Sunday morning. The same people you saw joyfully singing in the street as you rushed from your shift to the last bus home the night before now appear, headachy and irritable, and demand a menu of their own creation. I’ve taken orders for eggs benedict without any eggs or sauce, served seven shot espressos and cleared plates where someone has clearly ordered a bacon roll and eaten only the fat from the bacon. And once you’ve got their finicky order right, the complaints start: this coffee’s too dark, the replacement isn’t dark enough, why is the food taking so long, we’re hungry, can’t we get some soup, can’t you serve us off the lunch menu….it’s worse than serving toddlers.

As if to drop a cherry on the turd of the morning, the five-month-holiday students appear. Their conversation is as inane as it is incessant, and listening to it is like watching Made In Chelsea without knowing who any of the characters are or any of the backstory. ‘Chloe says, like, she saw Bobo in a flat in Edinburgh kissing some girl, but I know he wouldn’t because he said he wouldn’t at Amanda’s party last week…I saw on her snapchat they were at the beach…he liked her Instagram and I, like, totally lost it…’ Not only does it irritate the customers, whose clanging headaches couldn’t care less about these girls’ weekend, but it upsets the staff who now have to deal with other people’s complaints as well as an 8am start – it can all be a bit overwhelming.

On the other hand, for every rude, obnoxious person you have to deal with, there are some nice ones. Like the five year olds with whom I have a deeply involved chats about the Lego Movie. And Kenny, a retired gentleman who comes in every day to read his paper, when he wasn’t in France to visit his fiancée or Japan to visit his son. Best of all were those tiny, ancient women who are out with their daughters and her daughters – who often gave me a drunk and impassioned speech about how good my service was.

So, the next time you go out, please remember: the person serving you is probably on minimum wage and is having to remain cheerful, friendly and welcoming while working the same hours as Victorian chimney sweeps. Be nice and forgive slow service when it’s busy – and for God’s sake leave good tips!

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