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Dining Tip: Don’t make the server cry

September 12, 2011

I wait tables on Friday nights for a little extra cash.  As a teaching assistant, I am grateful to receive a tuition waiver and a small salary, but the extra $100 I bring in on some weekends is still necessary.  I’ve been serving at the same small Italian restaurant since February 2010.  It’s not a fancy joint, but the clientele is upper-middle-class, many of whom commute to Chicago for their Important Office Jobs.  The food is hearty and affordable.  A nice dinner with a half carafe of wine, an appetizer, and two nice entrees might set you back $50.

Waiting tables here is nearly second nature to me now.  Though it’s physically very tough, I can practically run on autopilot.  Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a charming server, I’ve never dropped a dish, and I always smile.

Having been in the service industry for nine years off and on, I’m accustomed to generally rude customers.  I’m pretty good at ignoring inconsiderate patrons’ remarks.  I’ve developed a tough skin because you have to in this line of work.  But I didn’t realize until last Friday how easily a person could still hurt my feelings.

I was sat a table of three around 7:00 pm.  They sat for over an hour waiting for the rest of their party, which we were told would total five people.  By 9:00 pm, their party had increased to nine people and we were forced to relocate them to a larger table, much to their chagrin.  After two hours, they still had not placed any food orders with me, but were well on their way to getting tipsy.  Suffice it to say, some of their comments to me were a bit inconsiderate, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Around 9:15, I took their dinner orders as well as another round of beverages.  The booth where they sat is deep and impossible to serve unless I ask the people near the end to pass things down.

I tell a woman on the end, “Here’s that gentleman’s San Pellegrino if you could pass it down for me.  And here’s the extra glass to go with.
She barks, “It.  With it. Don’t end your sentences with prepositions.”
I joke, “Oh, I’m from Indiana.  It’s common—“
She cuts me off. “I don’t care where the hell you’re from. You’re American. Use proper grammar.”


I completely shut down.
I checked on my other tables and, when I decided I had a spare moment, I stood in the kitchen and cried.


I tend to play up the folksy, small town girl persona because it’s warm and it works for me.  I’ve received nothing but compliments on my service and my boss often tells me how sweet my tables perceive me.
Of course I know that, technically, I used improper grammar.  In my defense, at 9:15 pm, after commuting to school at 8:00 am, studying until noon, teaching from 1:00-3:00, commuting home to change clothes so I could wait tables at 4:30, I was not as careful with my regional colloquialisms as maybe I should have been.

To correct my grammar is to strike so incredibly low.  I pride myself on my intelligence and my penchant for the nuances of the English language.  Her comment was not only rude, it was insulting. And it hurt. I felt so small.

Some people have forgotten that dining out is a privilege, not a right.  That, as your server, I’m doing you a favor by catering to your needs.  That I’m still a whole, intelligent being with feelings.  I recognize that there will always be mean people in the world, people who bully to make themselves feel bigger.  I also realize that I am a strong, articulate, capable young woman who shouldn’t let that get to me. 

But I am also human and deserve to be treated as such.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2011 9:11 am

    Never in a million years would it ever cross my mind to correct someone who was my server on their grammar, even if it was incorrect. Even if I was a little tipsy. And even if I was in a bad mood.

    Making people feel small and berating them for something so insignificant? Awful. And I would have broken down, too, even though I know I am strong, articulate and capable because being told that when you’re working is demeaning because, as Americans, we all deserve to be treated as equal human beings, not sub-standard or lesser citizens, because of the line of work we are in. (I’ve heard crap like that before at the newspaper from bosses and higher-ups, which is equally frustrating.)

    I hope that table left shortly afterward.

  2. September 12, 2011 9:19 am

    Okay so, I just read this and it made me get all watery eyed. Not because I felt sad- I KNOW you are a brilliant, intelligent woman, hell you are one of the smartest people I know both on and off the internet- but because it made me feel so angry that someone would have the nerve to talk like that to you. Or to talk to ANYONE like that. My mom always told me that how people treat others is only a reflection of them- not of anyone else and it sounds like this person has an ugly inside. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with someone like this. I would have done the same as you (and Erin) so you are not alone in feeling that hurt. And I know that when someone criticizes me on something that I value it hurts even more. But remember this woman is a douchebag. I’m not sure if that word is in the dictionary, but it fits with her actions. I hope her vagina falls off.

    • September 12, 2011 9:27 am

      I like this comment the most because Brandy ended the last sentence with a preposition. ❤

      • September 12, 2011 9:37 am

        It’s what good teachers do.

  3. September 12, 2011 9:26 am

    After living in Indiana AND Chicago for the majority of my life, I can attest to the fact that people say “bring it with” and other iterations ALL. THE. TIME. It’s not some new phenomenon, it’s our way of speaking. That could not have been the first time she’s heard that and if she stops to snap at everyone that comes across her path that makes that error, she’s going to be snapping a lot.

    And yes, of course TECHNICALLY you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but in our casual conversations it’s almost impossible to avoid. We would be speaking way too formally – sure, “Who are you going with?” is technically incorrect, but saying “With whom are you going?” is just uncomfortable. So screw that lady.

    Whenever I find myself in situations like this, I usually take the “high road” and keep my mouth shut. But then later, after further reflection, I wish I had been more confrontational – even if it wasn’t the right thing to do, it still would make me feel better. But you handled this very gracefully and we all know you rock at English 🙂

  4. Heather B permalink
    September 12, 2011 9:27 am

    People like that suck! I am so sorry she did that to you. I know I would have done the same as you. I actually have done that when customers at my old job where rude to me (I use to work at a movie theatre). There was no need to her to do that AT ALL. I hope that your night got better!

  5. brookem permalink
    September 12, 2011 9:31 am

    that’s just terrible. some people are so… clueless. i’m so sorry that you had to deal with such a shithead of a customer. props to you for not saying anything nasty back, for going about your business, and keeping the upper hand. because lord knows for me, it would have been hard to not snap back at her. i would have done the same as you though (i too, was a waitress for a few years through grad school), and gone in the back to cry. people are so mean sometimes. i hope that you are able to remember fondly all the wonderful customers you’ve had, those that you can tell really enjoy your charm and are kind and APPRECIATIVE. hugs to you for that one, it does indeed suck.

  6. September 12, 2011 9:38 am

    oh, my sweet, sweet lady. i am SO sorry that this happened to you. i cannot believe–i CANNOT–that someone would be that biting, that rude, that entitled, to behave in such a way, and in such an environment, OVER A COLLOQUIALISM.

    it makes me so mad that i could spit.

    after i graduated from college in 2002, i spent two years in chicago, and i hated every minute of it. i was constantly in the presence of people who thought that because they held Important Office Jobs or drove Fancy Expensive Cars or wore Amazing Clothes that they were somehow better than me, more worthy of good things, and all-around supreme. it made me loathe my time there, spend many hours sobbing into the carpet of my living room or in the back room of my horrible retail jobs, and decide to leave and never return.

    sometimes that’s all it takes–one person being less-than-human to another.

    if i’d been there that night, in that restaurant, i would have come over and hugged you. and told you that you were the bestest and smartest and kindest person in the world to be with. yes, that’s right. ending my sentence in a preposition. right in front of that horrible woman.

    and i would’ve given her the stink-eye somethin’ FIERCE.

    sending you the most love and hugs ever,
    Secret Agent L (Laura)

  7. September 12, 2011 9:40 am

    You should have spit in that assface’s food. How rude.

  8. September 12, 2011 9:41 am

    I read this post with my jaw on the desk. Because, REALLY?? Of all things to take issue with in a restaurant…you’re server’s GRAMMAR? And the grammar in question is a local habit!

    People are nasty, and I’m SO SO sorry she said this to you, especially because your posts are always immaculately written, and you’re busting your ass in grad school. This lady totally gets her jollies by thinking she’s better than people that work in the service industry. I hope her table-mates were embarrassed by her behavior.

    If only you had “accidentally” spilled red wine on her, you know, since you’re just a server who can’t speak good.

    • September 12, 2011 9:46 am

      Interestingly enough, that should say “YOUR server’s grammar”

  9. September 12, 2011 10:47 am

    There are a great many things that TECHNICALLY, we are not supposed to word the way we do – but guess what? We do. We don’t do it in writing, on paper, for grades or to our bosses. But when speaking to others, colloquially & casually, there is absolutely no reason not to use a great many of these socially accepted phrasings. And you know what? No matter WHAT, there’s NO reason to treat someone like they are so small & insignificant & stupid. That woman should be ashamed of herself for her pompousness & her jerkiness both.

  10. September 12, 2011 12:25 pm

    I was a server for a few months after college and I don’t think people realize what a hard job it is. Especially with the clientele not always helping. I once had a guest (we had to call them that) tell me to “get the EFF out of here” when I tried to take his order. I refused to go back to take his order, and the women in his party tried to say they weren’t with him – just so they could get drinks!! I flat out refused, told my manager I refused to be spoken to like that, and had someone else who was willing take them from me. I will NEVER be rude to a server.

    I also dislike when people blame servers for their food not being right or coming out slow from the kitchen. Most times? It isn’t the servers fault. Don’t assume, and don’t gauge their tips from them because people forget that it’s how servers basically live.

  11. September 12, 2011 1:59 pm

    That lady was obviously just looking for a reason to be mean to somebody, and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t let it get you down!

  12. September 12, 2011 2:54 pm

    That’s so horrible. I work directly with the public on a day to day basis as well and there are days that I get yelled at for minutes on end and I just have to take it. Of course I know they’re not really yelling at me, I’m just the messenger, but it still hurts.

    Co-workers have started calling me “The Nazi” because of my thick skin and ability to stick to my guns even when they are trying to break me down. But just because it’s my job to work with these people, doesn’t give them ANY right to treat me in this manner.

    In summary, it sucks and I feel for you.

  13. September 12, 2011 3:54 pm

    What an absolute bitch.

    I would have cried too. How DARE she????

  14. September 12, 2011 4:47 pm

    I got so angry for you as I was reading this post. I was in retail for years and many people treated me the same way. Like I was there to serve them and I must be some idiot with no education when in actuality I was working my way through undergrad. There is no shame in crying, but don’t let those a-holes get to you. You know who you are and how amazing and smart you are. *hugs*

  15. September 12, 2011 5:06 pm

    As a fellow graduate student, server, and cute, Midwestern gal, I am so frustrated that this happened to you. I’ve experienced similar harsh words and the same (embarrassing) tears. But I’d attempt to find solace in the fact that maybe she was having a wretched day. Maybe her only strong point is her apparently perfect grammar. Maybe she feels guilty about her comment and wishes she could take it back. Who knows, we’re all only human – bitchy comments, grammatical errors, and all.

    Keep serving, keep smiling, and keep ending your sentences with a preposition. It’s one of my favorite habits, too!

  16. September 12, 2011 5:47 pm

    i seriously can’t believe that entire party to begin with. two hours without even ordering food and waiting that long for their whole group? ugh. and then to behave like that. some people just make me so mad and i’m so sorry you had to go through. i don’t think i’ll ever understand why some people find the need to belittle everyone else, ridiculous.

  17. Mom permalink
    September 12, 2011 7:40 pm

    Oh no she didn’t! You should have then offered her a hot cup of kiss my a$$.

  18. September 12, 2011 8:12 pm

    Oh my god.
    I am SO sorry you had to go through that. You are such a brilliant, amazing woman. You end your sentence with a proposition if you want! Damn it! ❤ Lots of love.

  19. September 12, 2011 10:32 pm

    Ok, this post upsets me in more ways than one:

    1) I worked in the service industry for 10 years and I know what it’s like to deal with rude, inconsiderate restaurant guests who think they can treat you like dirt just because you’re waiting on them.

    2) If I were you, I would have taken a great offense, too. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and know that you’re a very intelligent woman who is working her way through grad school. I wonder if that bitchy woman still would have tried to correct you if she even knew that information about you, but she didn’t, so she had no right to say that to you, or anyone for that matter.

    3) I believe that all restaurant servers deserve respect, but I believe that the ones who deserve even more respect are the ones who are working their way through school. I worked in restaurants my entire high school and college careers, and it’s tough! You go to school all day long, rush straight to work after your last class, work until 10pm, then go home and study. With a day like that, of course you’re going to be tired during your shift and maybe even make a small, tiny, irrelevant, grammar mistake. But who cares? It’s a restaurant, not an English class.

    4) You’re right: Dining out is a privilege, not a right; therefore, diners should be more considerate to their servers. Just because a person works in a restaurant, that doesn’t make them any less of a person– a person who has feelings, damnit.

  20. September 13, 2011 5:48 pm

    I would have cried too. I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to mess with people who handle the food they hope to consume. It just doesn’t make sense to me. You’re a human and you absolutely did not deserve to be treated that way by that awful group of people.

  21. September 14, 2011 12:07 am

    Still thinking about this. Still hoping her vagina falls off. Hope you are feeling better friend. Close your eyes and pretend Josh Lyman is hugging you while he talks about the numbers in Iowa. That always makes me feel better. Xo

  22. September 14, 2011 2:50 pm

    I had a similar grammar correction moment in a focus group in one of my undergrad classes. It was the professor, a few classmates (that made me feel like an idiot on a regular basis, anyway) and myself. We were talking about our final papers and I said something about “my paper just needs to be edited.” The snarkiest girl in the room turned to me and corrected me. “You need TO EDIT your paper.” Then the professor backed her up. And everyone stared. Simple mistake, people! But I felt like a moron.

    And people can really be appalling when they are out to eat. I worked at Wendy’s part time during college and I had a pissed off customer tell me I need to go to college. When I told him I WAS in college and that this was my second job he said “oh, then you’re going to burn out” and peeled off. Necessary? Hell no.

  23. September 16, 2011 2:31 pm

    Woah. That wasn’t even that big of a grammar deal, you know?? I end my sentences like that a lot, not even thinking twice about it. I don’t think twice when any one says it. Tipsy, or not, that was pretty bitchy. I hope they at least tipped well. :p


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