Service industry staff face society’s worst patrons

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By Jennipher Vasquez

I love my job. I love my job. I love my job.

How often do many of us find ourselves reaffirming affirmations while taking a deep breath and turning the other cheek?

I am a waitress. I started working in the restaurant industry in 2019 as a hostess, which I hated. I later transitioned into serving, which I dreaded. 

I’ve been a server for a couple years now and realize I actually enjoy what I do. But it’s complicated.

Why the hate?! Why the dread? Well, if you’ve ever worked any job where you’re dealing with hungry or drunk people, you know why.

When I was hosting and also working as a cashier for the servers, I was often utilized as a listening ear to each and every complaint they had about serving tables.

I didn’t want to walk out after quitting in the middle of my shift like they did, I didn’t want to work profusely to make my customers happy only to be left a “zero” tip and I especially didn’t want to be ridiculed by my managers for making a mistake. 

I learned along the way, picked up the tips and tricks to make my life easier every shift, but nothing will prepare you for that first awful experience with a customer. 

I was yelled at a few years ago over a fried chicken sandwich by a patron who called in to place an order and was left on hold by the new hostess in training, she never returned to the phone to take his order. 

He eventually hung up the call and came into the restaurant, furious. 

I was belittled by this man, yelled at and had my intelligence questioned. 

He got his sandwich after throwing his tantrum and walked out happy while trying to calm myself down in the restroom. That day I had worked a ten-hour overtime shift, I was pregnant at the time and doing everything in my power to avoid getting infected with COVID. 

Not every experience is emotionally draining. 

I love my job. I do. I also need the money. But at what cost?

It’s not like a desk job, where I can hide my frown in front of a screen. I have to put on a smile, leave my problems at the door and give the best service to my ability.

It isn’t easy. I have many sweet customers. I often end their dinner with a sincere, “It was a pleasure serving you, I’ll see you next time.”

However, I’m also subjected to blatant disrespect by entitled customers who often forget I’m human just like them.

I’ve had customers apologize for their friend’s behavior toward me, which softened the blow of being called a “b—.” But when I walk away I still hear, “I’m not leaving her a tip,” followed by “b—,” again.

What did I do? Cry it out in the bathroom, walk back out and pick up a tray after wiping my tears because, yes, I’m still going to work for the tip.

My duties as a server are to be friendly, welcoming and to make sure you walk out the door happy and full. Putting up with your atrocious attitude, lack of manners and impatience isn’t in the description. 

Here and there I have to avoid giving parents the side-eye for not addressing their child’s behavior toward me. 

And I won’t apologize for it because it is never acceptable for me to have arms full of dirty, heavy plates and for you not to blink an eye when your daughter ran in front of me and hit my stomach while I’m trying not to drop everything. 

As servers we don’t make the joke of crying or screaming in the freezer for no reason, there are many.

 I have been harassed, nearly sexually assaulted and even had money thrown at my face at previous jobs – which is lucky compared to my coworkers having hot plates thrown back at them after setting it down on a table.

Again, it is not easy. I appreciate each and every customer because their patronage keeps business going and in turn helps me stay afloat. Especially while I’m in my mid-20s, trying to make my dreams come true.

I’ve heard people say, “well, how hard is it to take my order and bring me my food when it’s ready?”

No, Karen, it’s not that simple.

I have to serve you chips, salsa, napkins and water as soon as you get in.. I then have to greet you, introduce myself and promote specials. Then drinks and appetizers. Once that’s done I’ll take your entrée orders and the rest is a breeze. Seems simple, right?

Now, let’s throw in being interrupted by children or others at my table of 12 trying to order at the same time that I’m writing down someone else’s order. Add in repeating what beers are on tap to every other person at the table, crossing out an order three times because a customer keeps changing their mind, then running to put in the order and later having to yell — regrettably — at my cook to stop making the plate because the customer changed their mind yet again.

I’m not exaggerating or complaining. It’s my job to do  things for you, but please understand that I am only one person with two hands just like you. I can’t get eight refills, put in 10 entrée orders and bring out your appetizer with extra plates all at once. Odds are you aren’t the only person waiting for something.

Not too long ago, a customer requested that my boss send over a different server because I didn’t play into his offensive “joke” about my age. Well sir, more power to you. I’m sorry that it made you “uncomfortable” that I didn’t respond nicely to the insult, thankfully, I am very grateful that my boss has my back and will also acknowledge if I’m in the wrong. That isn’t the case for many. It wasn’t the case for me when I was hosting and serving at my first restaurant gig.

I was called a liar at the first restaurant by my “human resources manager” in front of customers during a hectic karaoke night and ignored by the co-owner and shift managers when a pot of boiling menudo splattered all over my chest and arms. I get chills as I write this and remember how awful the burns and blisters felt and looked.

I quit the following week. It isn’t only servers who are put in these situations. This is why I try hard to be extremely polite to anyone at any place that I am a patron. I know how difficult it is to deal with angry and disrespectful customers. 

I need to work and love to serve you but shouldn’t be disrespected.

I am not a servant as I’ve been called, I’m not your “pretty little thing” to stare at and cat-call nor am I your nanny who tends to your tantrums.

One more thing, to all the older men telling me to “smile,” as I walk by with either heavy plates of hot food, dirty plates or trays full of drinks – please stop. 

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