Served: Recession Waitressing

I blog by day and wait tables in a New York City restaurant by night. I'm excited to bring you Served, dispatches from the front of the house. Enjoy!

20080616-servedbug.jpg“We’re like Babbo!” P. says, referring to our seemingly miraculous popularity. It’s Friday night, and our restaurant is swinging.

“Only at Babbo, people actually spend money,” B. chimes in.

He’s sort of right. There are two women on table eight sharing one glass of madeira and one piece of chocolate cake. Our place is tiny, so we save our tables for those who are eating—drinkers get a seat at our bar or at the smaller bar wedged in the front window. The lanky ladies promised they were dining, so I shepherded them to table eight. Now they have been there for nearly two hours, and there are at least a dozen people eagerly waiting to slip into their space.

We’re the Place to Be

I weave my way through the crowd to say hi to a befuddled couple. They have barely managed to open the door, which is blocked by mass of wannabe—if all goes well, soon to be—diners. The place is so packed that the two newcomers must suck in and squeeze themselves against the wall. I say hi and get their names.

I write down, “Annie for two” on our list, which is a few post-it notes taped to our cheese case. “How long for Annie for two?” I ask B., who is orchestrating the proceedings of the door tonight. “They want a table.”

“They’re after these seven deuces,” he counts. “Forty minutes? At the least.” I return with this news and a wine list. They look sad.

I need to run back to the bar, which I’m tending. There are a group of gentlemen who are very concerned with my career. There are winemakers from Portugal trying nearly everything on our menu, one dish at a time. A mother and daughter finish up their second bottle of wine. They’re busy planning the daughter’s wedding and arguing passionately about flowers. My inquiry into what they are drinking next is an unwanted distraction. If the answer is nothing, well, their seats are premium real estate. A couple is already standing behind them, ready to pounce.

Through Thick and Thin

My restaurant seems to be recession friendly. It’s not cheap, and I’m too familiar with the “how could a few glasses of wine and a few snacks add up to this?” sticker shock. This often translates into a grimace and an unacceptable tip.

Nine dollars on a hundred dollar check? My first thought is always to wonder if I messed something up. Usually, nothing comes to mind. Did the table hate me? They seemed to love everything! Especially the chocolate cake. Was it a mistake, I wonder? No, it wasn’t a mistake. People are worried about money. I know, I’m one of them. And they’re taking it out on their servers.

Of course, not everyone is. I ended up making a respectable amount of money that night. Most people still understand that a tip is not an optional expense and that waiters make their living off of tips. You might be saving a few bucks, but remember: bad tipping is bad karma.

We’re no bargain spot. But we’re no Babbo, either. You can rack up an impressive bill, but you can also order a good, filling dinner and a glass of wine and spend way less than fifty bucks a person. People are opting for us over big commitment meals. We’re like the fun girlfriend you don’t have to worry too much about getting serious with. You can still have a good time and not sweat the ring.

Times might be tough, but people still want to eat and drink well. People want to go out and have fun. Especially New Yorkers! Restaurants are shuttering like crazy and talk is all doom and gloom, but life goes on. A table for four? That’ll be an hour, at least.

But all is not roses. There are the one glass of wine sharers. There are the opulent orderers who are taking it down a notch to an unprecedented level of temperance. There are the tip slashers. But for now, from the admittedly microscopic model that is my restaurant, at least people are not staying home.

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