I used to wait tables at the diner to help pay for books and gas and food through high school and college.
I worked with a diverse staff. Some were students like me – working part time during the school year and full time during summer break. Many of these girls would stand around gossiping or looking bored, sighing with annoyance when a customer got seated too close to the end of their shift. Most of these girls notoriously… 1) left the juices/coffee/whipped cream/etc empty 2) left orders in the kitchen for way too long after they came out 3) would tell customers we were out of anything that required them to go to the back for 4) would not wipe down their stations at the end of the night 5) did a half-ass job on their side work – leaving it to the rest of us to finish 6) made a mess cutting pies or cakes… you get the picture. They knew this was just a part-time job and they were much more interested in going out after work than actually doing their work.
And you had all other types of waitresses and waiters who came and went through the years.. some post-college-figuring-out-the-world liberal artists, some bus-boy-promoted-to-waiter Mexicans, a few pretty Russian girls, some middle-aged bachelors who would never settle down, aspiring actors/musicians, some international graduate students… a beautiful mix of all different people with all different backgrounds.
And then you had the career waitresses.
These were the ladies who spent their lives on their feet for 60+ hours a week supporting their families, often as a single mom. They gave their best at work knowing that their rent and groceries and medical bills depended on how well they performed and in turn, how well their customers tipped. They had no flexibility to lose their jobs and had no interest in cutting their shift early or in twiddling their thumbs when a customer was looking for someone to take their order. Sometimes they chatted with the rest of us.. about their past loves and lost dreams and favorite trips. And they would have a sad twinkle when we would talk about our majors and our post-grad aspirations… about all of our young and fresh and naive dreams of exploring this grand world. But most of the time, they were much more interested in working, in the here and the now, the customers, the food… than in these obscure, intangible concepts that had little meaning to them.
Today, I went back to the diner where I used to work. Everything changed. New management, new design, better food, better menu, new uniforms. Everything looked modern and different and new… except for Gloria, who’s the same as she was 20 years ago. Ok, so she may be a little slower than she was but she can sure still hustle and bustle faster than the punk kid she has to share a soda station with. She’s still the same and forever a career waitress. Not a career server, because that would mean she could get a job at some nicer joint with tablecloth and a liquor license. No, I mean a waitress.
You’ll know when you spot one. They’re good. They’re fast. They don’t forget things. They know exactly what they’re talking about. They bring your food just the way you asked for within minutes, check on you a few times to refill your drinks, bring you napkins and wrap up your food, then send you on your way. No frills.
So next time you come across a Gloria, tip her well… even if she’s a little on the ornery side today. She probably works harder than most people you know and takes just as much pride in her career as do you.