29 August 2005

Waiting is another world

Not that I wasn't busy enough, but for the past many years I also worked as a waiter. I've worked in the low-end restaurants, such as those being mocked in the upcoming flic with Ryan Reynolds, Waiting, as well as fine dining, chophouses, and (yay!) just this weekend was my last shift. I am now free of the service industry! I still aid my roommate with private catering parties, but this is more high-end stuff that, so far, has been mostly for judges and lawyers. Aside from being one of the funnest industries to work in (all the sex, drugs, booze, and partying you can shake a stick at — that is, unless you're kitchen staff), and one thing we learn is the "server's smile." Essentially, we're all lying to you. We may even be genuinely friendly, but the reality we're presenting to you is so rehearsed, masterered, that I thank the gods for getting me into the industry. You learn fast how to flirt, apologise, thank, and, in effect, you learn to become a professional actor. We've had fights break out in fine dining establishments, dealt with psychos, had chairs thrown at us, been yelled at, complained of, and at the end of the day we walk out victorious and adapted to all sorts of events, as all this diverse human behaviour stops bothering us.

On Marginal Revolution, here are some statistics regarding tipping, (aka gratuity up here in Canada):
1. Two studies show little relationship between quality of waiter service and size of tip.

2. Hotel bellboys can double the size of their tips, on average, by showing guests how the TV and air conditioning work.

3. Tipping is less prevalent in countries where unease about inequality is especially strong.

4. The more a culture values status and prestige, the more likely that culture will use tipping to reward service.

5. Tips are higher in sunny weather.

6. Servers can increase their tips by giving their names to customers, squatting next to tables, touching their customers, and giving their customers after-dinner mints. (query: how do lap dances fit into this equation?)

7. Drawing a smiley face on the check increases a waitress's tips by 18 percent but decreases a waiter's tips by 9 percent.

8. In one study, waitresses increased their tips by 17 percent by wearing flowers in their hair. In general it pays to look distinctive albeit not freaky.

Also, in Fight Club, it was an ingenius stroke to include Tyler Durden as a waiter. In an industry where so much trust is placed on, essentially, all-night party people — people generally very well-educated in fashion, style, marketing savvy, culture, art, and what not — it is a industry that has mastered and uses daily manipulation. There is a restaurant called Earls that was started here in Edmonton in 1982, and has successfully grown to over 50 establishments in Western Canada, Arizona, and Colorado. The son of Earl Fuller, the man who started it all, is now responible for starting the successor to Earls fame: Joey Tomato's Mediterranean Grill. The food is decent enough, higher-end than most of your average casual dining. They constantly update themselves to be on top of trends. But their secret to success? Sex.

These places were built on extremely attractive female staff. Of the hottest girls in Western Canada, I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of them have all, at one time or another, worked at one of these restaurants. I would figure they're trained to seduce the customers (or hired for their ability to do so). They wear sexy clothing. And they are fucking hot, and in the case of Joey Tomato's recently, only just floating on the cusp of being legal in most cases.

Also, if you're not attractive, sexual, and a partier, you don't generally fit into the "Earls experience." It's widely known in the service industry that you got the shittiest shifts if you weren't fucking somebody at Earls, most usually management. Cocaine binges in the office. My friend, back when he bartended at Earls years ago, actually fucked his girlfriend in the office at Earls while I was there with him. I don't know how many of those tables got stains on them from staff, and customers are totally unaware that this is going on.

A reality upon another reality. The equivalent of a sexual Fight Club going on behind people's backs. In a way, it sort of reminds me of any well-structured subculture or counterculture. In essence, you have a very large group of people, all in the same general age group (18–34), which go through trauma together on a weekly basis (working weekends and taking it up the ass when you get crushed at dinner time), and everyone needs to be there to support one another. If one person drops the ball in a restaurant, the whole thing is capable of crashing down. And it does. More times than I can count I've seen staff break down and cry, hiding in the back while someone tries to coo them back to stability.

This is somewhat akin to some of the more peculiar cult branding strategies out there, as well as secret societies in which you are placed in a position where you are outside of knowledge and experience, and through an initiation — ofen traumatic in nature; to the initiate, at least — a psychological bond of family is created. Add a dose of sexuality in there and you have the makings of one hell of an pseudo-aristocratic power party going on. Definitely reminds me of Eyes Wide Shut in so many ways, or even Story of O in that restaurant staff become so immune to the power trips and attitudes of patrons, as O transcended the control of her masters via their control of her.

Oh, how I'm going to miss it…

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