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.
Good call on the comeback. As a girl server I have had to deal with my share of asshats. She would have needed to turn that response into a flirty joke to make that work, but then, I’m sure you know that 😛
I think the key to that situation is to say ‘oh, baby, you couldn’t afford me’ with a big, flirtatious smile on your face. It’s the mixed messages and stringing along that has tables ‘eating out of your hand’ and tipping big.
The downside, of course is that some guys are just thick and don’t get that you’re playing them. Then I think other dudes go into a restaurant with the notion that waitresses are like strippers who don’t take their clothes off. They understand that it’s just a show, a game that they won’t ever win.
The whole economy of it is a little perverse, but like so many other aspects of the restaurant industry, it’s showbiz.
I worked in a hotel bistro which was known for having paper on the table. We left out crayons an customers coul win a free meal for pictures etc. One night I was serving two guys who wrote on the paper “Scrub own the waitress and send her to my room”. They made sure I could see it an were so proud of themselves. My reply with a grin was to tell them I was very insulted….why would I nee to be scrubbed own first?
While I believe there are caveats to that rule, (gay waiters, gay customers) I tend to agree with her.
Unfortunately, that’s not an analogous situation because the male-male dynamic is completely different from the male-female dynamic. When gay men have experienced a couple of millennia of being put in their place by other gay men, then we can talk.
The first two posters are correct, by the way. Kylie needed to deliver that line with a huge smile on her face. The guy was an asshole, but her line totally set up the line he wrote on the check. She didn’t make him feel big, she made him look like an idiot in front of his friends. You don’t make money that way.
In my bartending days, I learned that I could say the most startlingly offensive and rude things to men as long as I had a big ol’ flirtatious smile on my face. I made a FORTUNE. And I wasn’t ever made to feel like an object.
HA! You’re right those guys needed new material. No joke, my GRANDmother used “you couldn’t afford it” comeback when she was a waitress.
Sometimes the restaurants themselves perpetuate this. Waffle House restaurants have jukeboxes with special songs created by ad agencies about the Waffle House. One of them is a country ballad sung by a man who croons about meeting the “pretty lady at the Waffle House”. I was never quite sure what is supposedly happening between the patron and the server after they meet, but I know I really disliked that song. My manager would sit in the back office whenever it came on.
In case you’re wondering, no one ever actually paid to listen to those songs. When the jukebox hadn’t been fed any pieces of silver in a while it would blast up a random song in the Waffle House ad genre.
It might just be me, but I don’t tip depending on how pretty the waitress is. If she does a good job and is cute, I tip large.
If HE does a good job and looks like a burn victim, I tip large.
Looks don’t mean shit, service does. Those guys were cockbags.
As somebody that has stripped and is currently a waitress in a fine dining establishment, I jump for joy when large groups of middle aged men walk into the restaurant. Not only are they usually willing to take my wine and food recommendations but the flirty interactions keep me on my toes and make earning larger than average tips a pleasure(This demographic has always rewarded me with good tips).
While I could get offended by the sexism inherent to such situations, it cannot be forgotten that I am there to work and earn money. If a certain demographic finds my company appealing, then you had better believe that I am going to work that angle! In this way, serving is very much like stripping. The major difference that I have noticed? In stripping I am entitled to yell at customers for inappropriate behaviour. I may have a customer expelled from the club if I choose. No such luxury in the restuarant biz…
Maybe I’m wrong, but as a waitress, I’ve always worked the sexism (I have large breasts, I had no choice but to work it.) Had she said that same line, “you can’t afford me,” with a wink and a smile she would have had her tip, and it would have been good. But, everybody’s got their values. Good on her for sticking by them.
I have read this entire blog start to finish and never felt I had to comment until now.
Those guys need to be curb-stomped. Seriously.
Amazing article, its true, im sure that you have really really true…
interesting blog, bookmarked for the future referrence, what template do you use ?
Like a couple of posters have always said, if she would have delivered the line with a little more flirtatiousness the situation could have been reversed. My first waitressing was in a beer and wings type place the uniform was a little on the scanty side (and I have a rather large chest) so I had to deal with comments from drunken guys and even sober guys all the time and I was only 18 at the time. Handling them was something that came with time and it’s amazing what insulting things you can say to someone as long as you have a smile on your face and you say it in a sweet tone of voice.
Thanks for the interesting read. I’m about to get into the real world and I don’t really know shit. It seems people have tough jobs out there depending on what you do for a living.
I ALWAYS tend to go “Ahh I’m not on the menu.” Recieving tips here in the UK is totally different though. We don’t rely on them to pay bills. Tips are nice, but I’d never get £50 off one table. We’re lucky to get £5. On a good night, I’ll make £10 in tips. We get paid about £5 an hour. NMW (National Minimum Wage) dictates that we cannot be paid below a certain amount for our ages.
forgive me, but in this situation how was saying “you couldnt afford me” an insult to the MAN?
wasnt it more insulting towards the female waitress instead….insinuating that she can be bought?
Pandering to sexism, and saying ‘Yes, in fact I am a prostitute (but you can’t afford me)’ is NOT the right way to deal with the situation and unless it was her own idea and she wanted to do it, her male manager had NO right to tell her that she had to get used to sexism and play along with it. End of. Appalled at this – I’m a waitress.