Being a waiter is easy, right? You just take orders and serve food. Not much too it, right? Granted, it’s not rocket science, but it’s not quite as easy as it looks. The key to being a good waiter / waitress is making it look that easy.

I am currently out of town visiting friends who own a restaurant. As I only arrived back in the country a few months ago and am currently unemployed, they offered to have me work at the restaurant doing some waitressing during my time here. Gives me something to do and I can make a few bucks while here. Of course, I was keen. How hard could it be, I thought.

So after some training, I hit the floor and took on some tables. My first night went well. Really well. I was feeling confident.

Second night came along and the wheels came off right at the get go. I landed a grumpy customer – obnoxious, unpleasant, rude and cantankerous. To make matters worse I made a blunder on the drinks order, to which I got severely yelled at. I rushed off to correct my mistake with my heart pounding and on my return just prayed that I didn’t spill anything along the way with my hands shaking as they were! I managed to serve the grumpy asshole his drink, apologised for the mistake and asked if they were ready to place their order for their meal. “No, I’m so pissed off right, just give me some time to cool off!” he growled and glared at me under his bushy eyebrows. “Certainly Sir,” I said and quickly scurried away, heart pounding even more. The manager went over to speak to him, then came over to me and assured me my mistake was not that bad. That he knew this couple and they were always unpleasant and always complained about something. Still, I felt rattled because it was a stupid mistake and I don’t like making stupid mistakes.

I gave the couple some time to cool off and then headed back, smiling and trying to be cheerful in spite of the situation. “Sir, Ma’am – are you ready to order?” To show their disdain at the service and my perceived incompetence, they simply got up, pushed past me and walked over to the cash desk to pay for their drinks and in disgust swung themselves out the door.

I could have burst into tears. Two of the other more experienced waitresses came over to me to ask me if I was okay. “He is just a horrible customer,” they consoled me. “You mustn’t take it too seriously”. They assured me that they all made mistakes as a trainee and some customers are just nasty and nothing you do will please them.

So, I learnt a valuable lesson about life as a waiter. It’s not as easy as it may seem.

*  Firstly, it’s physically quite demanding. You spend hours on your feet. After my 6-hour shift, I came home in agony! My feet were killing me. If you’re a desk jockey who sits in an office all day and you suddenly go straight into a job where you’re on your feet for hours at a time, it’s quite a shock to the system!

*  You need to know your menu and products. In the case of this restaurant, the menu is quite large and you need to know which questions to ask with which items. A customer will instantly lose confidence in their waiter and become irritated if that waiter is unable to answer questions when asked about certain items or forgets to ask the necessary questions on orders and has to go back to ask them.

*  Knowing how certain items should be presented. Which spoon goes with which dessert, how to serve drinks properly and professionally, which sauce goes with which burger, for instance.

*  Being adept at taking orders down quickly and accurately – a lot harder when dealing with large tables. Trust me, seasoned waiters make this look so easy and they remember which customer ordered which meal by the time they take the food to the table. As a trainee waitress, I can assure you, a large table can be quite daunting when customers are rattling orders off quickly and you’re still trying to come up with a form of shorthand to take them down quickly.

*  Then there are crunch times. Those periods in the industry (holiday time, Christmas time, etc.) when it is crazy busy and you end up spinning. This is when things can go horribly wrong. You’re trying to juggle several tables at the same time and accidentally let one order slip through the cracks. It’s madness and can mean mistakes are made and customers become angry. Not to mention the stories of waiters who’ve slipped on wet spots on the floor sending plates, glasses and food flying into the air while landing painfully with their bum on the ground! Painful and embarrassing.

*  Then there is, as with my experience the other night, the nasty, mean customer. The customer who just enjoys making your life miserable, simply because he can. Makes me wonder why some people are that way. Is it a case of misery loves company? They are unhappy, miserable people and perhaps they cannot really take out their unhappiness anywhere else in their life, so going to a restaurant is where they can really lash out. Being a good waiter means knowing how to handle complaints and an angry customer.

*  Remembering to always keep customer service in mind. From the minute the customer walks through the door, being friendly and enthusiastic. As a waiter you want the customer to be happy. You feel good about the job you’ve done and you get a decent tip

So while it can be tough going, fortunately there are also the nice customers. The customers that are chatty, smile at you and give you a good tip. At the end of my shift that night, I landed one of those nice couples – friendly, cheerful and chatty. They knew I was a newbie, and they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and relaxed. Plus they gave me a 17% tip (which is higher than the standard 10% in this country). Aah… and so my shift that began badly that night, ended on a good note.

And that is the life of a waiter. So next time you’re at a restaurant, spare a thought for the humble waiter!

In my trainee uniform getting ready for my shift!