What Do You Do for Birthdays? (Guy's Waiter Blog, Ch 15)
We hate hearing this question. Really, we do.
IMAGE He's only pretendng to enjoy doing this, trust me.
It's nothing personal of course, so please don't let the way I'm setting this up ever deter you from going out on your birthday, or even from asking the question. Heck, come sit in my section even! I'll take great care of you.
For the sake of this entry tho, I need to disclose that this is me at perhaps my snottiest, by the way. I'm not really like this anymore, but no lie, I kinda used to be.
It's just that we servers have had quite a few bad experiences related to birthdays, and especially to this very question.
I'll explain in a moment. The point of starting this entry however is that I actually answered this question this week in a way I never have before. A fun way! But I need to continue what I was saying to set it up first, so maybe you can share with me why my answer today was even "blog-worthy."
This is becoming another two-parter, btw, and more set up than punch line. Context matters to me, haha. Today's blog is something of a study in contrasts, for that matter.
Servers - by and large - are a pretty jaded lot...
The fact that *we* are in a restaurant every day has a very bad way of making us forget that *you* are not. Without meaning to tho, we begin to develop this unconscious attitude problem that makes us believe that we "restaurant people" are better than anybody else, solely because we know more about the place we work than you do. Lame, huh? And it gets worse...
We know where the bathrooms are, for instance. We know what we do for birthdays too, and if you don't know the answer to these *simple* questions... well then, that just makes you stupid, doesn't it?
There's additionally something snobby in many of us that almost defaults to thinking "Well, if you'd called ahead and actually PLANNED this special occasion out a bit, you'd already know the answer to that question, now wouldn't you?"
Not really cool, is it?
Yeh, we're just bitter jerks with bad attitudes sometimes. Sorry.
For us, it's often like the Pavlovian dog scenario tho. Believe it or not, the inexperience about our place of work (or dining out, in general) which you demonstrate when you ask the question "What do you do for birthdays?" immediately takes us back to numerous and certain other painful experiences.
We LOVE our regulars, don't get me wrong. If you're a regular, who planned a birthday dinner out, made a reservation and asked for a server by name (!) then You.. Are.. Golden! 99% of the time, I think most servers will go out of their way to make the event super-special for you and your guests. The fact that you already know where the bathrooms are and that we're not going to have to answer either of those questions only adds to how looking forward we are to seeing you.
But those that just randomly ask us table-side "What do you do for birthdays.....?" are usually a different story.
Aside from not being "part of our world" (Strike One) the question itself implies to many of us - based solely on past experiences - implies... well... "cheapness"...
The phrase "You don't get out much," thankfully fails to fall from most of our lips at this point. Again, it's not personal, it's just that past experience SUGGESTS to us that you're perhaps the kind of people who mainly come out to eat only on Valentine's Day, Mothers' Day, maybe New Years' Eve, and yes especially only on birthdays and anniversaries. Oh, and maybe whenever you have a coupon.
("Not that there's anything wrong with that" (as Seinfield said). Any of that I mean. Heck, the Doxy Lady and I - IF we think we can afford to eat out - are most likely going somewhere on our next anniversary that we have a coupon for, in fact. And if you're a server reading this, don't judge me. We just moved, and times are tight.)
It's just that we love our regulars, and we love our "foodies" - those people with lots of disposable income who eat out one or two or three times per week. Not that I am in this category, by any means. But it's who we like to wait on the best.)
We love these types because we're fairly sure we're going to be tipped well, first of all (and that's the only reason we're here.. same as your job... We're not generally here because we woke up and decided to make random strangers' lives all the happier today. We're just here to make money. Same as you at your job).
Foodies.. regulars... these are people who generally know how to tip, and - perhaps as importantly - know how to be waited on. They'll be patient, for example, if they can look around and see when we're busier than usual. They'll take that into account, and not judge us quite so harshly, when and if service seems to be slower than usual.
On slower shifts, they'll ask us about our lives, maybe even bring us cards on our birthday! They'll say nice things about us to the managers on their way out too. In short, they make our lives a little more pleasant, and our jobs just a little more easier. I of course know that making our lives better are not why most of you come out .. but for some guests, let's just say that for their server, such is often the net result of them coming out to eat.
Not so, the average walk-in birthday table. No, you're probably going to make our life harder in fact, partly because when you ask that question I started this with .. we discern that there's a 50% chance that you're probably not so much asking "How are you going to make our night extra special?" No, better than half the time, what you're really asking is
"What are we going to get from you for free tonight?"
Because even at a 50%o tip, 50 of free is still nothing. About the only way you can make this worse is to bring your own cake in, then expect us to find twenty plates and clean forks for you, and then take time to cut it and serve it for you.
Nope, that's not happening. Here's a knife and some plates. But ummmmm, "Insurance regulations, yeh, that's it!" won't let me serve you food that our restaurant did not actually prepare in our own kitchen.
Yup I actually said that once when asked (I'd been double sat because the hostess knew "my big table" was almost done, so I literally just didn't have time.) I made up that policy on the spot, and have more or less stuck with it ever since. I even told my General Manager about it later that night, and he agreed. Many places won't even let you bring food in anymore, for that very reason. You'd better call ahead these days and ask - and don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger on that one.
But anyways, infinitely worse, built into the question is the expectation that you want all of us waiters to gather around your table, and sing to the birthday person, right?
Strike Nine. You're out. Get out. We hate you with a passion.
It's not that we're not hoping to make your event special, by any means. But if you've been reading this blog any length of time, you've already seen me describe to you two or three "typical days" where we're so stressed and busy, and how often it is that being thrown off of our plans or routines by even eight seconds can make our lives just SO BAD, right?
Not your problem, I know. But the birthday song tho .. throws 4 or 5 or 10 waiters off by several minutes usually. One server starts running around saying "I need birthday singers." Oh crap. Time to hide if you've not already been gathered up in some corner waiting for the desert to be prepared, enough servers to be stopped mid-stream, and the birthday person to get back from the bathroom. You want to hide, walk away, or just get back to waiting on your own tables, but you can't. You know good and well that you might need that same server you walked away from 30 minutes ago to sing for you when one of your tables has a birthday.
So we just let our own tables (and tips?) suffer while "the moment" finally comes together. Some uber-snotty waiter comments that if the birthday person had any real friends to sing to them, we wouldn't even be in this situation right now.
Yes okay, that's crass (and "get another job if you don't like it" is always the best answer) and I'm not much like that myself these days. But I've heard such a comment more than once as a server. I've probably made a few myself over the years.
Again, don't let it deter you, and don't feel sorry for those of us that must occasionally sing for a living. The older, better, more mature me says to you "Just remember why YOU came out tonight, and what you're here to celebrate and paying for." Really, that's me. Please, consider me the messenger for this post today. I'm sorry if you run into one of my "brethren" who hates his job and his life, and it eeks through on your special night.
I've worked both in places that do, and places that don't, sing "Happy Birthday" by the way. Things go smoother in the latter, and the upshot to you as a diner is that if you're out on a Friday night hoping for a nice intimate evening, your evening out doesn't get interrupted every thirty minutes by "the birthday song."
Plus, your waiter is probably there for you more often than if you were eating at someplace that does sing Happy Birthday to everyone who asks.
So anyways... present day again. This 11-year-old kid asks me "What do you do for birthdays?"
All things considered, my answer surprised me.
Please return for Part 2 of this for another "Bleep My Waiter says" blog entry.
(Oh, and if you think *I* have an attitude problem by the way, my words here are pretty mild by comparison to most servers I've known over the years. You should see this other server's blog on birthdays just for instance...
"I Hate Your Birthday" posted by The Bitchy Waiter (Beware of F-bombs)...
Oh just a quick aside. You might find it funny to know that my singing voice is so bad, that I have personally been banned by the wait-staff at not one, not two, but THREE separate restaurants from singing Happy Birthday. My pitch is just that awful, and throws everybody else off. They usually tell me "Don't sing Guy. Just stand there and clap."
Thanks for reading Guy's Waiter Blog : Chapter 15 "What Do You Do for Birthdays? Part 1"
Read other chapters starting at TheWorkingGuy.com's Table of Contents page
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