Written for Daily Hive Vancouver by Anya Zoledziowski. You can follow Anya on Twitter at @anyazoledz.
Vancouverites like eating out, so it follows that the average Vancouverite interacts pretty regularly with food industry employees.
But how well do we treat the people who act as the direct link between our growling stomachs and deliciously prepared meals?
From aggressive sexual harassment to belittling behaviour, we asked some Vancouver servers to share their experiences with us.
What is something you love about your job?
I am a people person! Well, sometimes, I guess. Not always. Some of the ways that customers treat servers make me less of a people person. Also, the people that you work with at restaurants are the people that you’re friends with for life.
What are the best customers like?
I have regulars at my old [Cactus Club] location. One lady that came in used to always come in with her husband, but he passed away before I got there. She would come in almost every day, sometimes twice a day and everyone at that location would sit with her and hang out with her after shift.
Do you find as a woman you are treated differently than male servers?
By management, no; by some customers, yeah. In any restaurant, there are always creepy guys.
What is a bad experience you’ve had with a customer?
Ooh, there are so many to pick from! I was serving this group of guys and one of the guys had said something that made me really uncomfortable, and I kind of kick myself now because there is that part of you that is like, “customers are always right” so everything they say is right and you have to go along with it even if you feel uncomfortable. I just wish I stood up for myself and said, “You know what, just because you are eating at the restaurant where I work, it doesn’t mean you are any better than me.” I shouldn’t have to put up with harassment.
What did the customer say to you?
He, um, showed me a picture that was not appropriate and then asked me what I thought of it.
Wow, understood. What is something you wish customers understood about the job?
That the job is a lot more work than anybody could ever imagine. Just because you ask me for one thing doesn’t mean I don’t have fourteen other things going on. If I forgot your ketchup, I am sorry, but I had to deliver a birthday cake, three tables wanted their bills, and I had drinks waiting at the bar. I just wish people would be patient.
How do you find customers typically treat you, as a bartender?
I’ve gotta say that here on campus it is pretty good overall. When I worked downtown it was a different story.
In what way?
[Downtown] you encounter a lot of obnoxious drunk people that feel very entitled and expect things they shouldn’t be expecting from you. On campus, especially since we are close to the graduate building, it is a pretty mature crowd.
What is something you really like about bartending?
You basically get paid to give people a good time! It makes me pretty happy most days.
Can you think of any bad experiences that you have had with customers?
Cleaning up puke, having things thrown at me, having people wave money at my face while yelling at me.
Can you recall any good moments with customers?
We get a few regulars that come in every day and they are super respectful. They are almost like extended family here. I’ve had [regulars] pick up the cheque for the whole place and everyone was super happy, so that was cool to see. And, obviously, [the regulars] tip.
What is something you wish you could tell customers?
Tip your servers and bartenders! Because that also goes to the kitchen. And at most places servers get paid below minimum wage because they make up for it in tips. If you don’t tip that is kind of rude.
How long have you two been servers?
Both: A couple of years.
Helen: Today is my second day here!
What is one of your worst experiences with a customer?
Alexa: I know Canadians can be so nice and we have a lot of good, regular customers, but often customers are rude because [they see] I am serving food. I worked at Forever 21 and I was a manager. [Customers] never treated me badly when I was a manager. When I work here, some people treat me, you know, not politely.
Helen: There was a drunk customer and I was serving him. He tried to talk to me and he tried to touch me and treated me like, um, I don’t know… He kept calling out and saying, “why aren’t you coming here? I’m a customer!” or something like that. I was very embarrassed at the time.
What do you wish you could tell customers?
Alexa: I really want to tell them I am not a person you treat like ‘whatever.’ I am a person who helps them have a great meal and a great time at our restaurant.
Helen: Maybe one day I might be their customer…
Do you have any final thoughts?
Helen: Serving is very interesting. I meet a lot of interesting customers and I can build a good relationship with them, which has a positive impact on the restaurant. It’s fun, but if customers were nicer, I think the [restaurant experience] would be better for all of us.
How do customers typically treat you?
Typically, well. We have a really laid-back clientele here. Also, we are very accommodating, so there usually isn’t too much for people to be frustrated about.
What is a really good experience you have had with a customer?
My favourites have to be the regular customers. Every time I see a regular it makes my day! Not necessarily because I know they will tip better or because they will treat me better, but simply because I love seeing familiar faces and getting to know people in the neighbourhood.
What is the worst experience you have had with a customer?
There are a lot. One that comes to mind deals with a woman who had drank a little too much wine. She didn’t agree that she had had too much and insisted that I keep feeding her wine. I just said, “I can get in legal trouble for serving you more wine. Whether you make it home safe or not, I am liable for you and I don’t feel comfortable [selling you more wine.]” Servers experience a lot of backlash when they have to say “no” to customers.
It’s crazy that many people don’t understand the responsibility servers and bartenders take on when serving alcohol.
As a server, you take a lot on your shoulders. If you end up in a situation where you serve alcohol to a customer and something happens, you risk losing your legal right to serve alcohol, temporarily or permanently. For me, serving alcohol is my livelihood. If I lost the ability to serve alcohol, I would have to start everything over again and I have no idea what I would do next.
What do you wish you could tell customers about serving?
Serving customers that are easygoing makes my job easier, but I don’t have a problem with demanding customers. In [the customer’s] eyes, I am expected to [cater to them] and people tip based on whether or not their needs have been met. I just want people to appreciate the fact that I represent the company when I serve tables, but I work for the customers.
I love it. Keep eating out, because I want to keep doing this.
How can customers make your job enjoyable?
I’m going to say I like tables that appreciate your hard work when you’re providing good service.
Can you recall an experience where a customer treated you poorly?
Once a customer ordered beer without looking at the menu and when the bill came he was upset with the price and decided to yell at me and not leave a tip.
All because of the price of one beer. And the price is clearly written on our menus… and has nothing to do with me.
What do you wish that customers knew about serving?
The tip that you leave doesn’t all go to the server. Also, tipping by dollar amount isn’t really important; it’s the percent that matters. If you have a $300 bill and you tip me $20, all of that will go to the restaurant. Ugh, or if you don’t tip, I will literally have to pay money to serve you. Which is really crappy and unfortunate.