Catching Up – The Holidays Day 18

Back in the days when I used to work in the restaurant industry, I had a love-hate relationship with the holidays. The Christmas music that was piped in over the speakers used to get on my nerves, but it helped to bring in the crowds. And there were a lot of crowds. It was the time of the year where I made a lot of money because I always had packed sections, and people were a little loose with their wallets. I enjoyed making all of that money, but the crowds that were brought in were what we referred to as high school reunions, people who had not seen each other for a long time, and would sit at a table after they had eaten to sip on some water, and catch up. They would take up a table from a waiter who needed the money and sometimes cause us to have to wait around until after they left so we could clean the table and go home. Yes, I got a tip out of these people, but the annoyance was not always worth the change, and we would argue amongst the wait staff about who would take the table or not.

You see in the United States, a table is a waiter’s most important tool, and waiters who can turn and burn through tables are the ones who end up making the best living because they sell the most. So when a group comes in and takes up this valuable real estate, it costs a waiter money. I am not saying that it is right, but that is the system that America has come up and maybe if restaurants started to pay their waiters a decent wage, it wouldn’t require the customer to come up with their salary. We could learn something by the way other countries do it because I generally find myself more relaxed when I eat at other establishments around the world.

I do have to confess that after all of those years of despising the high school reunion tables, that I have started to act in the same manner. Over the last couple of days, I have been able to catch up with some old friends by getting together for lunch. I became one of those people that wanted a refill on my ice tea so we could talk about all the things we have done since we last saw each other. Yes, I was kind, and left a nice tip, but I was one of those people who would not leave the table quickly after I finished my meal. I want to apologize to those waiters whose table I would not give up. But it was great that you gave me the opportunity to catch up with these people.

It is the one thing that keeps me coming back, my friends and family. I love exploring the world, and I love the adventures and experiences I get to go through by having the lifestyle that I have created for myself. But I need to come back home so I can get together with these people and catch up. Yes, I do love the mountains of Colorado and miss them from time to time, and yes, I do wish that I had a grocery store that I could go to that would stock its shelves with a variety of food that I feel comfortable with, but these are things that I can do without. There is always a new landscape that I can admire when I travel, and I might not enjoy the flavors as much but that is part of the adventure because I sometimes find things that I enjoy more. And even though I do meet exciting new people on the road, and forge new friendships, it is these old friendships that have become significant to me. These are the people who have been through a lot with me, and I wish to continue to share my life experiences with them. So thank you to those waiters who have put up with me over the last few days. I appreciate it. It is the best holiday gift that you could have given me, the experience of catching up.

Waiting – Around the World Day 25

This may shock some people that really know me, but the biggest adjustment I have when traveling back to the United States is getting used to the restaurants and the service I now receive. The reason that this may shock some people is because I have spent so much of my life in the restaurant industry and spent a big portion of that time as a server or a bartender. In fact, I have spent more time in this job profession than I have as a teacher or a writer. I know it better than any other profession, and if I wanted to I could probably hop right back into that madness without much adjustment. The thing is I don’t want to get back into service and find more joy and a sense of worth with my chosen profession right now. I am glad that I took the path that I did to get where I am today because any time I do not appreciate it, I can go back to restaurant and remember where I came from. But if I know so much about this profession, why is it the thing that makes me feel so uncomfortable when I come back to the United States?

It really hit me last night when I visited a few friends from Korea at a restaurant in downtown Denver called Los Cabos Puro Peru. We were sat and spent almost four hours enjoying a casual dinner with various appetizers and entrees with a couple of drinks. We were never rushed and it was a beautiful way to spend an evening with friends. I left the place stuffed and satisfied, but a lot of this had to do with the fact that the style of serving that happened in this establishment reminded me more of what I would see in Europe and less of what I would expect from the United States. Before I had moved overseas, I would have thought of it as some of the worst service I ever had, but now I appreciate it more.

When I was a server, I was considered one of the better ones at every place that I worked. I was able to sell a lot of food and drinks, my customers were never in need of something, and I could people in and out quickly, making a lot of money through my tips. I could anticipate people’s needs. I would get them a refill if they needed it, and get rid of plates right as soon as they had their last bite. I knew if the customer was enjoying each stage of their meal or not, and I could have a conversation with anybody based upon what they wanted to talk about. I was there for the customer, and this kind of attitude is what makes me nervous today.

When I experience servers in Europe, it is a completely different attitude. He or she will come to the table to take an order for drinks and food, and if I need him or her again, I need to wave them over. They would leave me alone unless I did this. Sometimes this might mean that I do not have a full drink in front of me, or it might take me a little longer to pay my bill and leave, but for the whole meal experience, I do not have somebody hovering over me, waiting for me to take a sip of water so they can refill that sip instantly. I am left to myself and my company to enjoy.

At first this really bugged me. I felt like I was being rude to the people serving me, and they had to hate me because I was always waving them over. If somebody had done that to me during all of my years of waiting tables, I would have wanted to kill them. But I look at it differently now. The focus shifted from the waiter to the customer in the European model as opposed to the one I had been trained in. As a customer, I should not be pressured to consume more, and be pushed through my meal. I should be able to enjoy my evening at my own pace, and if I need something, why should the server be offended if I wave them to ask for something more. That is why they are there, and it is a simple form of communication.

Now, this becomes a problem sometimes when it comes to the check. I do hate having to ask for the check when I would like to leave because it seems to take forever before they can get it to me, and for me to pay it. But I have come to realize that the process is not much quicker in the United States model. In fact, I think that this is the place where both models fail miserably because when I am done, I do want to leave.

But this is where I think the Koreans have perfected the art of waiting tables. It is the thing I appreciate the most about Korea. Most restaurants have what is called the Yogio button. It is a button on your table that you press if you would like service. The server will not come to bug you unless you would like to see them, and with the button you do not have to catch the server’s eye in order to hope to get a new beer. At first, this button bugged me, but as I got used to it, I started to appreciate what it meant and how it simplified the whole waiting process. The best part is that when I want to leave, I do not need to ask for the check. I just go up to the cashier, tell them what table I was at, and then give them the money that they need. It makes the checking out process so easy. And if there is a large party with a split check you just tell your cashier what you had and they will split it for you right there. I have become accustomed to this style of restaurant service and I think it is the best in the world.

Could the people of the United States ever be accustomed to changes in the service style to the one in Korea? I don’t think so. They have been trained just as much as the servers have, but I do hope that if they find themselves in a different part of the world, they will appreciate the different styles, and that those styles do not give them the anxiety that they gave me when I first encountered them. And if they ever want to experience a more European style, Los Cabos Puro Peru gave me that experience last night, and it was one of the most pleasant dining experiences I have ever had in the United States because it was done at my pace. It is something to appreciate, and I am glad that I now am able to understand its advantage.