Featured Writer: Natalie Martin

Former waitress and future firewoman NATALIE MARTIN writes about some of the most memorable—and frustrating—encounters with customers.  

Waiting tables is one of the best jobs I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The types of people I was able to work with and meet along the way made for some of the best and worst times of my life.  Let’s face it, this is the job people often say “a monkey could do.”  However, it would take a particular kind of monkey to be able to be truly good at this profession; it requires one to have a lot of patience and a sense of humor, a great ability to multitask, and a substantial level of integrity, all mixed with a bit of crazy. Anyone who is in this business will say, “one has to be a little insane to work in restaurants,” and that is the absolute truth.  However, most of the people who do this work are pursuing a dream of some kind, and in order to achieve that dream, it takes a considerable amount of perseverance and drive: two characteristics that are central to the service industry.  

Most of the people who work in the service industry are artists, students, or single parents.  The job is convenient, the hours and pay are manageable, and it is probably the only line of work that enables most of these individuals to make ends meet while maintaining their passion.  What other profession, within reason, offers that?  The service industry itself is extremely humbling.  Once you get sucked into the world of waiting tables, it can be hard to get out and find a better gig.  In my opinion, in this line of work, one gets to be the aristocrat of the working class.  

I spent a total of 20 years working throughout restaurants, hip hop clubs, bars, gastropubs, events, and catering.  I have spent time with both some of the loveliest humans ever created and some of the most horrific.  These daily situations made for some great writing, and I believe it was often these types of moments that made me stay in the restaurant business for as long as I did.

Over the years, I began chronicling my adventures in the service industry, and I asked those who had been in the profession for a number of years to do the same, sending the thoughts my way.  Regardless of the cast of characters I could see displayed before me, the moments shared were enough to write an entire novel or television series.  Therefore, using some of that dialogue now, showcasing the day-to-day workings of this industry, I am going to give a little glimpse into the wonderful world of waiting tables.

The following twelve scenarios have actually taken place.

1. Every server, ever: "Today is the day. Today is the day I lose my shit up in here!"

2.  Customer: “Excuse me, it's cold in here. Can you turn the heat up?” 

Server: “Sure, just because you’re cold...never mind the other 50 patrons.”

3. Customer: “Excuse me, this lemon tart tastes like metal and fish.” (In their defense, something was wrong with that batch)

4. Customer: “Do you have crepes?”

Server: “No, breakfast is over.”

Customer: (Pointing to the next table) “They have crepes”

Server: “They came for breakfast.”

Customer: “How about eggs?”

Server: “No, breakfast is over.”

(The customer settles on sandwiches)

Customer: “Excuse me, is it too late to change her order to eggs?”

Server: “We don't have eggs.  Breakfast is over”

Customer: “Ok, what about an omelet or scrambled eggs?”

Server: (Head shaking furiously) “Ma'am, breakfast is over. No eggs, no pancakes, no waffles, no breakfast!”

5. (Patrons are waving me down like they're landing a 747)

Customer: “We're ready!”

Server: “I know, I see you.”

(I walk past them and go in the back and finish my grilled cheese.)

6. (30 minutes after getting their pot of tea)

Customer: “Excuse me, my tea is cold.”

Server: “Yes, that happens.”

7. Customer: “Can you split this check on 17 cards?”

8. Server: “For scones, we have buttermilk, ham and cheese, pumpkin, and chocolate raspberry.”

Customer: “But there was one with chocolate”

Server: “Yes, chocolate raspberry”

Customer: “No, a different one”

Server: “We only have one chocolate”

Customer: “No, I saw it up front. It was brown”

Server: “The pumpkin is kind of brown. Maybe that's what you saw?”

Customer: “No, it was chocolate”

(I slam my book shut and march up front to check even though I know there is only one chocolate. I march back.)

Server: “Nope, just the chocolate raspberry.”

Customer: “Ok, I'll have that.” 

9. The other day we had two focaccia breads left.  The server running the food to the table dropped one.  As I passed him on his way to the table, he said, "this is the last focaccia and I dropped it,” and still brought the bread to the table.  When he came back in the kitchen, he said, "she's a bitch anyway.”

10. Customer: “What's in the chicken potato hash?”

Server: “Chicken and potatoes.”

11. A person is walking their dog outside the front of our restaurant.  The dog pissed on the herbs we grow outside and use for cooking.

12. Customer: “Anyone for a jelly donut?”

Server: “Sir, you can't have outside food in the restaurant.”

Customer: “What?  What do you mean?”

Server: “I mean you can't bring food from another establishment in here. Food that we do not make.”

Customer: “Says who?”

Server: “The people who own this place.”

In my opinion, waiting tables is something that every person should have to experience before they move into adulthood. One develops a strong bond to this line of work, especially with those you work alongside, and you cannot help but laugh hysterically, swapping stories about the insanity of dealing with people behaving in public.  I imagine this bond being similar to a bond shared between war buddies.  Once you’ve been on the battlefield together, you’ve crossed a threshold and develop a newfound connection.  

Anyone who has worked in restaurants usually becomes compassionate towards those who are waiting on them because they understand everything that their server is doing to take care of each individual in the restaurant.  So, the next time you go out for that meal and sign for that tip, take a good, hard look around and be mindful of your dialogue and demeanor.  You just might be the inspiration for that next TV show.


Natalie Martin, Future Firewoman/Former Waitress