I was a waitress once, in an Islington Brasserie called Uppers. This was in the early eighties and the only half decent restaurant review plastered all over the front door was a very pretty bistro. That was it. The rest of the sentence was probably . . . but the food is shit. The restaurant was run by two Turkish guys and a very strange painter called Bel who spoke in a falsetto voice and called herself ‘an artiste’. I waitressed along with a group of similarly unemployed writers, actors and painters.
Unlike being a waiter in Europe, it’s considered a low grade profession in the USA and UK, and in the latter, it confers servant status. Many of our customers were lovely, but a significant minority would use the opportunity of casually telling another human being what they wanted to eat, to let them know of their subordinate status. Perhaps by not looking them in the eye. Or waving them away like some 14th century Pope. Or when I arrived at a table cheerfully asking, ‘Who ordered the spaghetti?’ to be greeted with irritated glances as though I were interrupting Middle Eastern peace negotiations. Then after an awkward silence I would turn to go only to hear, ‘Oh yeah I did order it.’
Most annoying were the customers who needed background checks on every single item in their chosen dish. ‘Could I have the Spanish omelette without the green peppers and with olives and not capers and can I have it made with egg whites?’ And that lovely moment when a party of twelve all want to pay individually. Especially with the random calls of: ‘Don’t forget I only had a salad and diet coke!’ ‘I didn’t have pudding!’ (Yes you did you fat bastard)
Worst of all were the customers who wanted me to listen to their boring stories and tedious opinions, usually when I was loaded down with freakishly hot plates. So however desperate you are to tell that hilarious story to the waitress, take a hint from her rigid smile and let her get on with her job. And get your hand off her arse you balding, entitled creep.
This was over twenty years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I overtip like mad and have been known to kick my boyfriend under the table when he starts conversations with waiters who happen to be holding plates. It doesn’t make me a complete wimp; I will complain if I get bad service but a smile and acknowledgement that the waiters don’t actually cook the bloody food goes a long way. But when I was doing it, at least we had tips and the lovely chef would cook us anything from the menu we wanted. Not any more. The sheer meanness of companies cutting food and making up crummy wages with hard earned tips has made the job even harder.
Anyone who wants to lead should first learn to serve. Which is (one of the multiple reasons) why the current Conservative cabinet are so dreadful. Incidentally have you noticed that like the Thatcher Years nobody admits to voting for them? None of them have worked their way up. It’s all been private schools to university to something daddy found for them in the city or some management consultancy, to being a professional empathy free arsehole. Maybe it’s not even lack of empathy but lack of the faintest idea. Remember when Cameron contacted his own constituency Oxfordshire council to say how disappointed he was by cutbacks to frontline services? And the astonished council leader explaining in return that Cameron himself had ordered these cuts? So if the Prime Minister is blissfully unaware of the effects of these, why should we suppose that the rest of the cabinet are any better informed? Can you imagine any of them worrying about paying a bill? Ever? Or worrying about a tax bill? Unless they were trying to decide which dodgy offshore company to slip their dosh into. Although the idea of lump of human tofu, Jeremy Hunt, on his feet all day, working for a horrible boss, balancing plates on his head is quite pleasant (especially if he fell down the stairs at the same time) – not one of the cabinet would have any idea what it’s like to serve.
Once you’ve been a waiter you never forget it. And with a bit of luck it makes you a better human being. The entire cabinet should go and work for a pizza chain immediately.