I’m in the kitchen struggling to whip up a skim milk cappuccino. I need a caffeine jolt. Normally I’d make cappuccino with whole milk. But since I’m watching my cholesterol I’ve been making adjustments great and small. I stare glumly at the limpid froth in the pitcher. Maybe I should cheat. Whole milk froths easier and tastes so much better. No. Thoughts like that are the slippery slope to damnation. No minimization. No bullshitting. Discipline dear boy. Discipline. Stick with skim and use Splenda to boot.
I’m putting the cappuccino to my lips when Kylie, one of our servers, runs into the kitchen.
“I have a real problem with table eight,” she announces.
“What sort of problem?” I reply.
“They’re sexist pigs.”
“Really?” I say, “What are they doing?”
“They’re saying ‘Oh you’re so pretty. Are you on the menu?’”
I stifle a laugh. These guys need new material.
“Anybody grab you?” I ask. “Touch you?”
“Not yet,” Kylie replies.
“Let me take a look.”
I go outside and walk past table eight. Kylie’s torturers are three guys in their early forties. They’re drinking expensive wine and having a good time. I have an instinct for when customers are gonna turn bad. These guys are adolescent and harmless.
“I think you’ll be OK Kylie,” I say, walking back into the kitchen.
“Look on the bright side,” I say, “You’ll probably get a big tip.”
“That’s sexist,” Kylie says.
Kylie’s a very pretty, flirtatious, twenty one year old girl. I’ll bet she started flirting with these guys but the situation slipped away from her. A good waitress knows how to utilize her physical assets to make bigger tips. But a good waitress also knows how to shut down overeager men in a heartbeat. I know this sounds sexist but it’s the truth. Ask any girl whose waited tables. Kylie has yet to acquire that skill.
“Kylie,” I say, “You’re gonna run into this situation again. You need to learn how to deal with it.”
“They’re creepy,” Kylie says.
“If they get out of line I’ll step in,” I reply, “But you need to shut them down.”
“The next time a guy asks if you’re on the menu just say, ‘Yes, but you can’t afford me.’”
“That’s a good one,” Kylie admits.
“Works like a charm.”
“I’ll remember it,” Kylie says.
I go back to work when I suddenly remember Jen, a waitress I used to work with. She was twenty seven, blonde, and built like a Playboy Bunny. Jen was also smart, personable, and industrious. Men loved her. Women loved her. Management loved her. Jen made double what the other servers made. She could handle any customer. Jen would’ve had Kylie’s table eating out of her hand.
Jen always told me that waitressing is very different from waitering. Female servers, according to her, just by being female, have more variables to consider during customer interactions than male ones. While I believe there are caveats to that rule, (gay waiters, gay customers) I tend to agree with her. I’m a guy. It’s rare for a customer to make me feel uncomfortable. But female servers deal with feeling uncomfortable a lot. A waitress can’t run away from every male chauvinist she encounters. She has to figure out how to neutralize the situation or, even better, make it work for her. A waitress develops a persona she wears like a suit of armor. Sometimes that persona’s seductive, other times it’s maternal, and sometimes it’s as tough as steel. Kylie is still developing her armor. One day she’ll be just as good as Jen – but not yet.
Kylie struggles with her table. I watch her. The guys are jerks but they’re not crossing the line. I could help her but then she’d never learn. Sometimes you have to let people struggle.
Finally Kylie hands out the dessert menus. One of the guys predictably says, “I’d like you for dessert.”
Without missing a beat Kylie replies, “You couldn’t afford me.”
The man’s cocksure expression collapses like a bad soufflé. From the sidelines I feel like a daddy watching his five year old smacking the neighborhood bully in the nose.
“Uhhhh…” the man stammers.
“Would you like some dessert or not?” Kylie says, her inner waitress bitch emerging.
“Ah I guess not,” the man replies, “We’ll just get the check.”
Kylie drops offthe bill. The men pay and leave. Kylie walks over to the table and opens the check holder. Suddenly she looks like she’s going to cry.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“Look!” she says handing me the credit card slip.
Written in the tip section is a big fat 0. To add insult to injury the man wrote,
“I’d leave a tip but I can’t afford you.”
“What an asshole!” Kylie cries.
I’d cry too. The check was $200. But standing up for yourself doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.
“You did good,” I say reassuringly.
“But I made no money!” Kylie sniffles, “I didn’t think they’d stiff me on the whole tip.”
“Yeah,” I say, “But they’ll never come back. You hurt the guy’s pride and that’s one less shithead you’ll have to deal with.”
“I guess so.”
“You’re better off in the long run.”
Kylie goes back to work. She’ll be all right.
Some people who read this blog have accused me of being sexist. That makes me laugh. While I’ll cop to having an eye for the ladies – sexist I am not. But those guys on Kylie’s table exhibited an attitude that hurts women emotionally and financially in every walk of life –not just waitressing.
And we act all surprised there’s a glass ceiling out there. Gimme a break.
Come work in a restaurant. You’ll find that the more things change, they more they stay the same.