Tag Archive: waiter


This one will no doubt surprise and shock a few South Africans, but one of the highlights of my life was being a Spur waiter for five years, back when we didn’t know how offensive the logo potentially was:

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waiter

so i arrive late at my waitering shift last nite and the restaurant seems to be in a bit of chaos. to make it worse i have not worked there for a long period of time and so things and not where i remember them to be. tables are already waiting for me so i grab my stuff and head to the first table, not looking all that presentable as i have literally thrown on my uniform. i grab my pen and my pad out of my apron pocket and a handful of chopped up lettuce comes out with it. the man at the table, who has clearly been waiting for a while and is not too happy about this is in the middle of speaking out his order to me and i am trying to conceal lettuce fragments while his wife in the background has just uttered, “is that lettuce?” and so as i page through my pad to find a clean page so i can start taking the order there is a clump of guacamole at the top of the page so i turn to the next one – not as bad but still gauc at the top – as i finally find a page that is half clean i start writing at a forty-five degree angle just to get words on the page and it is a complete mess and i cannot hear or understand half the words coming out of this man’s mouth and so i ask him to repeat and he is getting irate and so i just grab the sounds of the words i think he has said [i am NOT asking him to repeat them again] in the hope that when i repeat them to the manager on duty she will understand what wine he was asking for, listen to the rest of the order and start walking away… only to be stopped by another table who have just arrived and want to start giving their order – “Sure” i say and take it down and rush to the back to try and decipher anything that has just happened and as i am looking through the wine fridge for anything phonetically resembling the wine i think the man has sounded out, i realise that the name he said was the name of another casual waitress here and he was most likely mumbling her name as someone that had started taking his order before i arrived…

and then i woke up. true story. i don’t dream and remember it a lot so i figured since this one is fresh in my memory and i am still feeling a little panic’d and hoping no-one is going to arrive at the door to drag me back there to finish my shift, that i might actually share this one.

truth is i worked at the Spur [family burger type restaurant] for five years [a long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far, away… well, Rondebosch actually] and loved it. i used to say that being a waiter is the best job in the world [with the addendum of ‘when everything goes well’ and the knowledge that it seldom does] and i still believe it. because it is about serving people – making them happy – giving them [on the best days] a good meal and seeing them leave satisfied. i once got a R15 [a lot back in the day] tip from a couple on a date that i had served a plate of nachos that had a cockroach on it [the roach was a baby Spur special and was on the under plate and never touched the food and i offered to get them a new plate but they realised it and accepted it] by adding an item called “cockroach surprise” to the bill with a fictional charge of R110 – they saw the humour in it and i got tipped. i was all about great service and excellent damage control where necessary [and it was the Spur, so.]

so when things went well it was amazing. but things seldom did because of a variety of reasons and so when things got out of control, like in my dream, the term for being in a panic and having too much to do at once and not being able to do it all was ‘Spinning’ [because sometimes literally that’s what you would be doing]

and if you were caught ‘spinning’ it didn’t mean you were a bad waiter necessarily – it could just mean that suddenly four tables of 6 people arrived at once and the server had made you starter calamari instead of nachos and the bar was suddenly out of Hunters Gold and it all had just happened at once.

panic sets in… [and so you spin more, and your service gets worse and you make less money in one big spiral of downward mobility]

the solution to spinning turned out to be quite a simple one and this is a lesson that you can apply to life as well. do the next thing you have to do. it was that simple and when i was able to get my mind around that i found i became a much better waiter. you can’t do two things at once and if you panic then you get paralysed and find yourself doing no things at once [which really isn’t all that helpful] and so just do the first next thing you have to do, and after you have done that do the thing after that. and repeat.

it really was that simple. alongside that there is the principle of ask for help and so in the unlikely scenario that you had good managers, as we did for most of the time i was there, you just had to call one of them and give them a table and they would help you get back on top of things.

it doesn’t seem like too much rocket scientistry to make the statement that ‘You can’t do what you can’t do’ and so in life, when you are feeling a little overwhelmed by it all, concentrate on doing what you can do, and on continuing in a forward motion and you may be surprised how much you actually get done…

that, or hope you wake up sooner rather than later.

“i’m talking bout the man in the mirror – ooh yeah – i’m askin him to change his face… ooh wa… and no message, could have been, any clearer… if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and change your face” [Michael Jackson, adapted by plastic surgeons anonymous]

yes i know that’s not the line but it’s the one i always sing when i hear of that song – just got stuck in my head at some point and i think it’s fun

and while we can’t all afford plastic surgery, and why would you want to anyway, you’re beautiful, there are some things we can and maybe do need to change…

i just made two guys coffee – no big deal – don’t start waving the saint label at me or anything – no ‘brett fish ministries’ website or road show in the mix… but the point is they are two electricianny guys who are fixing the lights in our place as i speak – yes literally on a ladder in front of me right now and maybe i shouldn’t be speaking these thoughts out loud cos i’m starting to freak them out (okay that bit was only true in my head) – my point being, they came to do a job and i made them coffee – simplest action – completely unnecessary and unexpected and not part of the business transaction at all (although i am hoping they tip well) but maybe the smallest gesture that actually makes their morning that little bit better (being a cold and rainy day and all)

i tip my petrol attendant guys (crummy job i imagine, especially in bad weather  and probly not well paid and so imagine if twenty people an hour tipped them R2 to R10 bucks or more how it all adds up); and i  smile at cashiers when i buy stuff at the supermarket and when i’m really on form throw out some line loudly about how i picked them out of all the others; and i try and be generous to car guards (especially those in places i frequent often – in fact guys from church bought Gil – French dude – at Ginos a pizza the other day to say thankx and now he knows them by name and they are becoming friends; i always try and ask a homeless person their name if i engage with them or maybe buy them some food…

and yes, none of these things are going to win me the nobel peace prize which is great actually cos i have enuff junk around the house we’re trying to get rid of, but my point is that it is actually incredibly easy and mostly costless to lift someones day or moment with the smallest of gestures

“i’m talking bout the man in the mirror – ooh yeah – i’m askin him to change his face… ooh wa… and no message, could have been, any clearer… if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and change your face”

actually… maybe there is some truth in that altered version of the song… because a simple smile can be so powerful – and that sounds so incredibly cheesy but if it is, then it’s the good kind, that you only get when la-di-dah people bring out the crackers and a knife… when you are caught in traffic and you look across and see someone else totally bummed by the fact flash them a smile (try keep it friendly, not the stalkery type that will make leave their car and run screaming through the traffic away from you) – as you walk down the road be intentional about catching someone’s eye and smiling at them – when you shop, when you petrol, when you eat out, when you arrive home to your family…

there’s no ‘I’ in team… but there are two in ‘smile’ if you write it out twice in a row…

now go change the world! [start with your face]

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