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liuzhou

'Customers looked right through me'

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Posted (edited)

I've put this here, because I think it goes beyond the Restaurant Life forum.

A very well written and moving account of one woman's waitressing experience in a "Chinese" restaurant in Washington DC. Dealing with life, growing-up, identity, language, sexism, racism, asshole customers and more.

 

'Customers looked right through me': what I learned working in a Chinese restaurant


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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Enjoyed reading this very much, thank you.

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"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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Thanks for linking that story, very interesting.

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Thanks for that. It hadn't occurred to me the degree of separation from diners felt by Asian waiters at an Asian restaurant, or even Mexican waiters at a Mexican restaurant. Almost like they were part of the furniture. I'm sure I've been guilty of "looking right through them," although I don't THINK I've ever been part of the dining party from hell.

 

I did two short stints as a waitress, one at a local diner when I was in high school, one at a bar and grill when I was in college. Both times I was in a familiar spot; most of the diner patrons were people I knew (or was related to), while most of the bar and grill patrons were folks I'd sat and drank with before I started working there. Most complaining was good-natured, and I'd give back as good as I got. Obviously, most waiters don't have that luxury.


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At a small dinner in Paris, the subject of waiters came up.   One guest had regaled us with descriptions of his twice a day Michelin starred meals over the past week.    He dropped a comment that he never noticed his waiter.    WHAAAAAT?     Your waiter is not only your server but your only conduit to the kitchen, the chef.    How does the kitchen know that you like, even care about the food?    Even in a diner, the cook likes to hear someone say something nice about their work.    I can't imagine ignoring the waiter, essentially your partner for the duration of your visit.

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Posted (edited)

Customers looked right through her?  What should they have done instead? 

 

While servers are lovely people, diners aren't going there to chat up the server.

 

 


Edited by gfweb (log)
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Posted (edited)
40 minutes ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

At a small dinner in Paris, the subject of waiters came up.   One guest had regaled us with descriptions of his twice a day Michelin starred meals over the past week.    He dropped a comment that he never noticed his waiter.    WHAAAAAT?     Your waiter is not only your server but your only conduit to the kitchen, the chef.    How does the kitchen know that you like, even care about the food?    Even in a diner, the cook likes to hear someone say something nice about their work.    I can't imagine ignoring the waiter, essentially your partner for the duration of your visit.

 

Obviously the guest must have discussed food and beverage at some point.  I'd take it as a compliment on the service if things like re-setting silverware between courses and filling glasses are as unobtrusive as possible.

 

35 minutes ago, gfweb said:

Customers looked right through her?  What should they have done instead? 

 

While servers are lovely people, diners aren't going there to chat up the server.

 

 

I agree.  Welcome to the world of working for a living.  Of course diners should be civil, say thank you, etc but if you work in a service job, sometimes you're just the help.  Sounds like she wasn't very good at the job so better to be invisible than berated for slow pancake rolling.  It sounds like a hectic place, not one where the name of every forager and microgreen supplier is reverentially dropped with each course.  And if they serve family style, the server doesn't have as much direct contact with each guest, no time to bond and become besties.


Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, pastrygirl said:

 

Obviously the guest must have discussed food and beverage at some point.  I'd take it as a compliment on the service if things like re-setting silverware between courses and filling glasses are as unobtrusive as possible.

 

 

No, his point was not that service was so seamless but that waiters were merely food runners, perhaps an American idea but certainly not the French model.

 

He mentioned that he noticed that an adjacent table received a different plate than he although they were each having the same tasting menu.    The waioter explained that the chef sent out the plates he had calibrated each table would enjoy, some getting veal, some getting woodcock etc.   

 

My point, exactly.


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)
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Seems rude to me that you can't at least acknowledge your server by looking them in the eye. Thanks @liuzhou for posting, great article.

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I always attempt to engage our waitperson, bus person, water pourer, et al. right from the start of a meal.

 

It's nice for them to know that I know they are real people doing hard jobs. It helps to get them on my side.

 

I also feel bad for the kitchen, when I happen to have lousy service.

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29 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

 

I see nothing in her article to suggest she was looking to be "chatted up" or would have welcomed that if it had happened.

 

I think you understand exactly what I meant. I used a miniscule bit of hyperbole to make a point. 

 

People go to a restaurant to eat, not to engage the servers.  Her line that 'people looked right through her' certainly doesn't apply to every customer or probably even most customers. Maybe some. And why not? They didn't come to validate her, they came to eat. 

 

Perhaps her adventure in the real working world will prompt some self examination about how the world relates to her. 

 

I recall how Michael Ruhlman, in his book about studying at the CIA, had an epiphany when he realized that some jobs require dedication  and actual hard work.


Edited by gfweb (log)
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I try to engage with servers as much as I can.  That helps to understand about the restaurant, the food, the best dishes.  I usually get extra “taste this” and ‘sip that”.  @liuzhou it seems that this young woman had issues with her mother more than with her job.  And Peking Gourmet is a great restaurant.  It is high volume and high pressure for sure.  Not the best place for your first server job.  

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I can only say that we usually experience excellent service.    We have an inside joke about going into a new restaurant and meeting the waiter from hell, supercilious, condescending, with that "you are SO lucky to have gotten in here!" attitude.    By the time we have placed our order, he is slightly more accommodating.    After seeing our responses to a course or two, he is close to amenable.   By the end of the meal, he is positively jovial.    As we walk out the door, husband will say, "Well, we broke him down."      And a good time will have been had by all.      But acquaintances,  having had a same waiter at a same restaurant, have told us of the miserable time they had, mostly because of this person whom they felt was antagonistic and pushed his own agenda,      They never made the attempt to get him on their side.


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)
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Working in the hospitality industry is tough. By her own description she was bad at her job. Looking through her would the politest way to respond if my waiter truly sucked.  If I felt sorry for her I wouldn't know how to express it without risking being condescending. Way too much distraction if I'm treating someone to a nice meal. If the waiter is charming then of course it's easier to respond, but I would rather not compensate for both my awkwardness and hers when I'm out for a meal.

From personal experience, people who are reserved are perceived as aloof. I wonder, reading this article, whether this might not be how she presents.

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On 9/1/2019 at 10:23 PM, Margaret Pilgrim said:

I can only say that we usually experience excellent service.    We have an inside joke about going into a new restaurant and meeting the waiter from hell, supercilious, condescending, with that "you are SO lucky to have gotten in here!" attitude.    By the time we have placed our order, he is slightly more accommodating.    After seeing our responses to a course or two, he is close to amenable.   By the end of the meal, he is positively jovial.    As we walk out the door, husband will say, "Well, we broke him down."      And a good time will have been had by all.      But acquaintances,  having had a same waiter at a same restaurant, have told us of the miserable time they had, mostly because of this person whom they felt was antagonistic and pushed his own agenda,      They never made the attempt to get him on their side.

 

I can do all this stuff, but it's hard work for me. I prefer a sparkling friendly waiter, but if he's supercilious that's fine by me. It may relate to my post just above, for both the waiter and me.


Edited by Kerala "Me, me, me!" Shoot me. (log)

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14 hours ago, Kerala said:

By her own description she was bad at her job.

 

I don't read it that way at all. Sure, she had to learn, but don't we all? The mistakes she made were when she was in training. Later, her employers obviously thought well enough of her to promote her.

 

Also, I'd point out that carving and serving Beijing Duck is somewhat more difficult than carrying plates to a table.

 

But  I don't think that is the most important part of her story.


 


Edited by liuzhou (log)

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thanks for sharing the article 

 

interesting to hear things from the service staff's perspective 

 

I think twice now about being rude to service employees - e.g., walmart, amazon, etsy, etc. 

 

The author's mom might have a point. I had two friends that worked in construction after highschool and didn't go to college for about 1 year or 2. 

 

I'm sure the pay was like $50k a year or something which was like a fortune to a 18 yr old. 

 

They went to college after doing that hard work everyday. One became a PhD in theoretical physics and another does something similar. 

 

It's like both didn't mind going to college for ten years and not working and studying for 10 hour days in a library. 

 

They never said so but I did wonder if maybe the construction job they got gave them an idea of how hard work and life can be and it's better to be reading in a library all day than to lift heavy beams. 

 

 


Edited by eugenep (log)
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