Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Every Point of View is Different

You might be interested to know that more birds fell out of the sky yesterday. This time it was in Sweden. It’s being blamed on more fireworks. What I’m finding interesting is that people around the world let off fireworks quite a lot during the year but you don’t usually hear about them being followed by it raining birds, do you? Ah well, who knows. Maybe birds have become more sensitive. There could be any number of reasons but I’m telling you, if any more mass clouds of birds plop out of the sky, I’m going to get a little more suspicious.

I learned all about the Swedish bird plopping from MSN today at work. I love my job because it allows me to be productive but also lets me do a little surfing during the day. It’s usually when I’m waiting to hear back from someone. Sometimes, I have to wait to hear back from a first choice candidate before I can move forward with other candidates.

In addition to the birds, I read an article on MSN about “What your restaurant servers don’t tell you.” In it was a list of ten things that restaurant servers find irritating. This ranged from being irritated when someone tries to help you clean off their table because they have a ‘system’ for clearing to people who linger long after their meal is done. Also, they complained about not getting enough tip, how people don’t know that the evening’s ‘special’ is really just leftovers and how many people actually touch the celery on your buffalo dip plate or the lemon in your drink.

I find that later idea a little unappealing. I’d like to think that if that many people were touching the lemon wedge that’s bobbing in my glass of water, being that they work in a restaurant, they must at least wash their hands regularly, right? I’m choosing to believe that in that restaurant kitchen there are multiple bottles of hand sanitizer that are used whenever anyone walks by.

It’s interesting to read the complaints of the servers. My experience as a server has been limited to the odd catering gig in my earlier years as well as the occasional party in college. I worked in retail and offices rather than restaurants.

I’m sure the complaints of the servers are valid in most cases. After all, every job has its pet peeves. Annoying patrons must be at the top of the pet peeves list. Customer facing jobs are always a pain at times because they involve people and people are unpredictable. Their humanness allows for the fact that no two days are the same. If you’ve read my blog since I changed jobs, this is one of the harder lessons I’ve had to relearn after having worked with computers and software for a while. People are pains because they’re indecisive, sneaky creatures. They can be selfish and rude. Yet they can also be kind, generous and fun to work with. This is why I will always prefer a job that works with people over a job that works with machines. For every bad candidate I get, there’s a good one who knows how to be polite, say thank you and know that you’re trying to help them.

So, I can sympathize with restaurant servers. For every table of good tippers, there’s going to be several bad ones. There’s going to be tables with people who want everything “on the side,” or ask for a meal that is completely different to the one that’s on the actual menu.

Yet, as with every job, there’s a flip side to the story. As a patron, I could provide my own “what patrons don’t tell restaurant servers” article.
Given that the holidays have just passed, I ate out far more than usual because of the holiday get-togethers, lack of time and sheer desire to just eat badly. In one week, I ate out more than I cooked. This is very, very unusual for me but it did give me plenty of chances to reflect on what makes a good server and how we, as patrons, respond to their service.

Let’s start with tips. I know that servers make very little in actual wages. Most of their pay comes from tips. Thus, the server-point-of-view, a patron who doesn’t leave a tip is rude, undeserving and just plain mean.

However, from a patron point of view, that tip, generally, is based on service. I tend to try to tip well because I know that it’s part of the servers income. However, if I have a server who disappears for twenty minute periods, forgets half my order or doesn’t bring me silverware even after I’ve asked, it doesn’t seem right that I should leave a tip which indicates I’ve had good service. As the server article on MSN pointed out, if a server is busy, it’s irritating to be flagged over by someone when, clearly, they have their hands full.

However, if that table of patrons was seated twenty minutes before and has not yet even been asked if they’d like something to drink, maybe they’re flagging you down for a reason. Or, if they’re a group of people and everyone has their food but one person and that one person has been sitting their foodless for a good ten minutes, again, maybe they’re flagging you for a reason. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than everyone else feeling like they have to wait to eat because not everyone’s got their food and then, when they do eat because they’re food is getting cold, nothing is more uncomfortable than being the person with no food.

It’s not always the servers fault. I get that. Sometimes the kitchen is behind. Yet a restaurant is supposed to a be a cohesive machine. The servers are the ‘public’ side of the restaurant. They’re the ones that communicate with the patrons. If there’s a problem in the kitchen, tell the patrons. If you take the time to tell patrons that their food will be a while, at least the patron feels like they’re important to the server, that they’re acknowledged. I find it incredibly frustrating to be in a restaurant where you’re being ignored because it makes you feel unimportant and less than those who are being served. Then it begins to make you angry and you start getting snippy when the server does finally approach you with the food that’s taken forever to cook.

Yet, as I said, for every bad server, there’s a good one. There’s the waitress who notices that your server has abandoned you and you’ve been sitting there with empty plates for 20 minutes so she comes to your rescue. There’s the server who’s nice and smiles and makes you feel that she’s glad you’re in her section. There are the ones who tell you, honestly, which of the specials they’d really recommend and which one they don’t like. This is the reason I leave tips based on service, not necessarily out of obligation. I always leave a tip but whether it’s the traditional 20% or more or less depends very much upon the type of service I receive. I know lots of restaurants pool all the tips and divide them evenly among the servers so, in the long run, I’m not having a great effect but for me, it makes me feel better and it sends a small, significant note to my server how I feel about their service.

It’s all about point of view. Everyone has one from where they’re sitting. One of my favourite things to do is try to put myself in other people’s shoes and see what they’re seeing. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t but it’s interesting to try. I’d like to think it makes me a little more aware of how I’m acting so that I’m not one of those patrons who’s constantly beckoning my server for small, irritating things or who doesn’t even say thank you when my food is brought to me.

It’s still interesting to read about things from the opposing point of view though because I think it helps us become more aware overall.

It’s just nice when it works both ways.

Happy Thursday!

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