Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Good Waitress

Author's Note: On the advice of my erm, editors, I have trimmed a few words from this essay, and corrected the egregious error of misattribution of the lead quote. Thanks David and Henry. Sorry Warren.


I went home with a waitress, like I always do.
How was I to know, she was with the Russians, too?


Warren Zevon

Have you ever had a good waitress? I know, I know, they don't call them 'waitresses' anymore, but if you've ever had the privilege of being served by one, you know what I mean.

For one thing, a good waitress is more likely to call herself just that, instead of the oppressively neutral 'server'. Of course, these days, the young ones always introduce themselves as 'your server today' but take my word for it, that is a clear sign of bad service 'comin right at ya'.

Indeed. The good waitress doesn't tell you her name. Not because she doesn't want you to know. If you want to know, you'll ask. That my-name-is-Steffi-and-I'll-be-taking-care-of-you stuff just gets in the way of good service. It is obvious that she's there to take care of you. She might ask how you are doing, but what she really wants to know is what kind of a mood you are in.

If you are in a bad mood, she'll leave you alone. If you want to talk, she'll make sure to get your order first, and then listen, but she's always serving. Not just you, of course, but usually a whole section full of yous. And, even though they are usually not as good person (and tipper, natch) as you are, she's taking care of them and you all at the same time.

So, first of all, a good waitress is efficient. She is efficient with her time, of course, but she is also efficient with your time as well. The management of the the meal relies on the appropriate timing of the arrival of food and the departure of finished plates, glasses and silverware. Much of this you, the patron, never see. Unless, that is, something goes wrong.

But, for the good waitress, things do not often go wrong. They get the order right every time, deliver it in a timely manner and make sure it is what you ordered. Surely this can't be that difficult.

You won't have to think hard, I am sure, to recall the last time you had bad or even simply mediocre service. At the time, you must have wondered, 'What could be so hard about this?' yet there, before you, was the living proof that some people can take a simple thing and make it difficult by not caring. The good waitress is there because she wants to be. The cynic will say that she is there to make money, of course, but the realist knows that the good waitress is there for the power.

Where many people would find service degrading, and therefore would find themselves stripped of dignity and drained of energy if they were required to wait tables, the good waitress takes control of her tables and the people who sit at them. You might be the CEO of your company, but when you are at her table, she is the one who is in charge. Of course, if you were the CEO of your company, you'd likely already know about this power structure and be perfectly happy with it. In fact, if you are as good a CEO as she is a waitress, you know that you need her more than she needs you (or your tip. remember, you are not her only customer that shift). I call this the inverse power squared rule.

Simply put, the amount you, as client, need good service (ie the good waitress)is the amount of power you possess outside the restaurant inversely squared. Inverse because the more powerful you are, the more you need good service and good servants to remain powerful; squared because the amount of good service you'll actually receive while in power is very small when compared with the total amount you'll actually require to remain there.

The significance of this rule is not to be underestimated.

The good waitress knows when you are ready to go, often even when you don't. If no one at your table has the good sense or courage to tell you that it is time to go, she will. She'll bring the check when it's time for you to leave. This might be later if you are enjoying yourself and are polite about it; it will definitely be sooner if you are acting the fool. The good waitress, like a good friend, will tell you, 'you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.'

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