Secret Life of the American Outbacker

August 28, 2010

Waiting tables (at any establishment, not at the Outback Steakhouse specifically) is generally accepted as being one of the worst jobs in America. That being said, a lot of people don’t appreciate how difficult it really is. In fact, several people have asked me “What makes it so dang hard?” To help answer this question, I thought I’d share some of my own experiences.

Yes, waiting tables is awful. Nobody waits tables because they want to. They do it because it pays a decent amount of money and it doesn’t require any work once the shift ends. However, waiting tables will never be featured on Dirty Jobs, or any sort of worst-job-ever list, because there’s nothing shocking or glamorous about it. There are no stinking piles of shit to crawl through, no volcanoes to hang-glide over, and no zoo animals to tame. Everything is just bleeegh.

You’re on your feet for hours with no break, constantly speedwalking from one spot to another, constantly carrying things, constantly coated with specks of ketchup, butter, and ranch dressing, constantly trying to remember five things at once, constantly fearing that the kitchen staff won’t get your food out in time and everyone will get pissed at you. Because everyone will get pissed at you. If you mess up a single thing, if you don’t do your job 100% correct the first time, people will get very mad at you. The customers, the managers, the kitchen staff (because they have to make the food again), and the other waiters (because now their food will come out slightly later).

Here’s a possible scenario: I am in charge of three tables.

Table 1 ordered a 9 oz. Outback Special sirloin cooked medium rare with a baked potato (with all toppings) and mixed vegetables, a 14 oz. chargrilled ribeye cooked medium well with a baked potato (with all toppings except sour cream) and mixed vegetables, a 6 oz. Victoria’s Filet cooked medium with a baked potato (with only sour cream) and mixed vegetables with no broccoli, and a 14 oz. New York strip cooked medium rare with a baked potato (with all toppings except sour cream) and mixed vegetables with only broccoli.

So that’s one table. Now imagine there are three, and each orders similar items (which is very likely since it’s a steakhouse.) Note that before any of this I need to already have gotten their drink orders, entered them into the computer and brought them their drinks, bread, butter, and breadplates, which would be easy-peasy if I only had one table. But I have three tables. 

Timing is everything, and I have to constantly be thinking “Did I get table 2’s drinks yet? Yes, okay. But that was five minutes ago, do they need refills? Table 3 just sat down so they haven’t even gotten their first drinks, I should get theirs first. But table 1 asked me so nicely and I haven’t gotten a chance to get theirs yet. Shit, I can’t carry this many drinks with all this bread. I’m gonna need to make three trips. But then I won’t put their food order in on time and their food will be late and everyone will get mad at me. Jesus Christ I need a shot.”

Having worked at Outback for a month now, such minute things no longer concern me and I can manage little tasks like drinks without much thought. It’s the more complicated task of correctly entering food orders into the computers, and timing when you enter them perfectly so that the appetizer comes out before the salads and soups which come out before the entrees etc., since they all take different amounts of time to make.

Look back up at hypothetical table 1’s order.

Each of them ordered a steak with a baked potato and vegetables, but all in different forms. With such similar foods, a waiter entering in a food order could easily misread their notes and give someone “all broccoli” who ordered “no broccoli”, which does not make people happy. Especially old people. Wtf.

Seriously, I hate to stereotype, but it becomes impossible not to when you wait tables, because stereotypes are almost always true in a restaurant setting. Old people always talk really softly, almost whispering what they want, so I have to ask them politely to repeat what they said. Then they get really mad as if I’m disrespecting them because I’m just a disrespectful young whippersnapper who probably spray-paints all over their golf course. Fuck that, I’m serving you food, you should be grateful that I’m giving you a second chance to tell me what you want.

College and post-college ages are my favorite people to serve, because unlike teenagers they order expensive adult food, but they also understand that if some minor thing goes wrong it’s not the end of the world. And they smile.

There’s far more to waiting tables than what I’ve described, but the main drawback of the job is that it’s a high stress environment with no rest period where the slightest error is met with harsh criticism. Its benefits are the wages and scheduling, not anything in the work itself.

But… I have a job. So I’m grateful.

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