Not Just the Tip: Inside the Mind of a Waitress


You may sit anywhere you’d like. Here’s what I’d like to do for you: I would like your table to be clean before you sit down at it. I want you to have menus and water right away. I want to be able to describe all ingredients and dishes to you, so that I may be more helpful to you than the menu alone. I want to give you a little time to settle in, to think about things before I ask you what you want. Plus, table five is waiting for their drinks! But I’ll be back. I’ve done this before. I know I am crucial in this process; I am the one responsible for you being able to order things and eat them.

Select your fine beverages, and food
After a little while—just long enough for you to have slaked your thirst (drinking water is so important!), and look at the menu—I will come back. What do I like best on the menu? You don’t know me! I know, seems like we kind of know each other because we’re talking, but I might have horrible tastes. You might hate sour beer! You might be vegetarian! My special diet might be only meat. So I’ll tell you what the most popular thing on the menu is. All right, fine, I’m a sucker for total honesty. “I personally love [menu item x], but that’s just me.’’ Maybe you’re not open to new things—it’s great to be open to new things! What’s that? You still want the thing thing you initially wanted? Very good.

I’m putting in your order now!
At the POS system, I want to add all necessary instructions for the kitchen, so that you may get exactly what you asked for. No one wants to get stuff they didn’t ask for—that kind of thing ruins entire evenings. When I place your food in front of you, I will ask if you need anything else right away. Hot sauce? Don’t depend on it too much! This food is quite good as it’s made! But I understand. I have a weakness for your hot sauce weakness. I’ll be right back with a little silver bowl filled with red liquid that you may dump all over your sandwich.

Your drinks are coming, I promise
What’s that? Did I remember to put in your drink order? I did! I mean, it does happen from time to time that I forget. Like, on Friday. I had seven things to do and I only remembered six!  Table eight totally did not get their drinks. But not this time. It’s just, Victoria at the bar, she’s so backed up. I will triple check with her, though, sometimes the printer jams… Yeah, Victoria’s on it. She’s filling four pitchers and the line is three people deep and the taps are really slow! But I promise, they’re coming. Oh! I see you’ve had a whole glass of water while I was gone. Let me get you a fresh pitcher.

The Myth of the Rare Game Bird Waitress  
I might get pulled away by another customer on my way, though. I don’t know if you’ve heard that, in a restaurant, I turn into a rare game bird who might never resurface if I am not captured the moment I appear! Just kidding, that does not happen. I always resurface, and I will walk over to you. It’s my job. What? You still need your thing right now? I understand. I’ll add it to my list of nine things. Anyway, like I was saying! I’ll really try to get you that water.

Dig in!
Your meal has arrived! That’s great! You’ve got your food, your drinks, your share plates (the back-waiter is great tonight), plus your friends! They seem pretty cool. I mean, that couple in the corner, they seem kind of judge-y. But not the rest of your friends. They all seemed interested in what I had to say when I was talking. That’s so nice! That doesn’t happen all the time. Well, sometimes people want to know too much about me. Where am I from? I mean, do you know Minnesota? Oh, your college roommate was from Minnesota. It really is not habitable in the winter. In fact, you don’t grow a tough skin while you’re there. Lake Wobegon is lies. Women are not that strong. Well, I didn’t grow a tough skin while I was there. No, not Minneapolis. It is a cool city! But I was up north. Then I left Minnesota to go to college… I’m sorry, I have to go! Table nine really needs menus. But now we’re sort of friends! Whoa, that happened really fast.

Maybe just come visit me another time?   
Actually, don’t come visit me. Visiting me here is a terrible idea. If I were a bartender, that would be different. You could just pick a stool and hang out all day and I’d be in your general vicinity, and we could casually talk to each other, like when I’m on my way to the rocks glasses, or filling a drink. Only thing is, waitressing doesn’t really work that way. I have so many places to be at the same time! So, like, when my friend John came in once? It was so nice to give him a hug! But then I was like, extra stressed, because all I really wanted to do was hang out with him, and show him a good time. But I couldn’t! Because everyone needed me. So I failed him and didn’t do the rest of my job that well. Anyway, all I’m saying is: maybe we can’t be friends, not in here. By all means, come back again! But I can really only say hi. Aren’t you here to eat, though? I can totally help you with that.

I see you’re nearing the end of your meal
I’ve been subtly orbiting  your table—like, not really trying to bother you, but just letting you know I’m here. So if you do want that third drink, it’s so easy for you to flag me down! Plus, I see that that share plate is empty, there’s just a little tomato sauce on it that looks sort of gross. I’ll clear that for you. Oh, I’m sorry! You want to dry up the last centimeter of that sauce? I totally get it! My bad. I enjoy cleaning my plate so thoroughly that it looks like no food has ever touched it, too. I’m not taking that plate anywhere. It does look like your friends are finished though. You’ll take the bill? Great.

It really is time to pay me, though
I’m so sorry to bother you but could I run that credit card? What’s that? You’d like to split the bill nine ways? Sure, that is absolutely not a problem. I mean, it’s a pain in the ass. But I do it constantly. I can swipe cards with my eyes closed. Oh, you don’t want it split equally? OK. I appreciate that you feel bad about that. Your friend Katie will walk with me to the POS in case I have any questions? That’s cool. I mean, typically I hate when customers talk to me at the POS. I’m busy! I’m consumed in the activity of putting in a detailed order. But this time, I would actually love it if Katie walked me over there to sort out any payment confusion. It’s the end of the night! I seriously cannot wait to get out of here.

But wait! I still need you
Listen, I see you are all very relaxed and intimate, even more than at any other portion of your meal. The real hanging-out time begins now, when I’m closing. But I can’t do my paper work until you sign your receipt! You can totally hang at the bar for as long as you want when we’re finished. Remember Victoria? She’s the best. She’ll take care of you. Thank you so much for signing that. Have a fantastic night! You know, you’ve really been quite reasonable. Let me see, I’ll just tip adjust here—I bet I got like a dollar more than 20 percent. They liked me so much! When it took so long to get their beers, I gave them one for free. I’m sure they totally compensated me for that.

Just kidding
That doesn’t happen. Mostly, I’m penalized for fucking up. Like, when I tried to take the plate with the dregs of gross tomato sauce prematurely. They hated that! So, actually, they forgot they liked me. Our friendship turned so fast. Those tippers who surprise-give twenty bucks extra? They appear from out of nowhere! You never see them coming. Aw, that Victoria. She’s already poured me a glass of wine and brought it over to me while I figure out everyone’s tips! Thanks, Victoria. You’re the greatest. It sure will help me get through this math. My word, is it good to be sitting. Goddamn that wine tastes good. It is so nice to be served.


  1. She is soooo nice! I also do this as a job and there is so much more going on in the brain, this skims the surface, but it’s a good primer for the outsider. There is typically a lot more negativity going on in our brains that we are hiding. We judge, even though we try not to, and sometimes we are proven wrong, pleasantly and life re-affirming-ly so, other times we were right, that couple did leave less than 10 percent. They really were […]! Then self shaming sets in. I can usually nail the people who have never worked in a restaurant. They don’t drink (much anyway), they are clueless, and they stay forever, and they tip badly. Anyone who’s ever worked service has thought it should be mandatory for everyone to work it. I come from a tourist town where just about every kid worked service, at least in high school, summer jobs, weekend jobs, and a lot kept at it. Like me. I hesitate to call it a career. I hide it from people. I don’t list it on my Facebook page, that’s for sure. I could go on and on about all the humiliating, humbling and frustrating emotions we servers have.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here