R U T H  N I N E K E

People Want To Be Served

#Moods, Men, & Mommy Issues

One of the owners at Austin Public, Mark, once asked me why I was so god-awfully happy. I told the truth: I’d given up drinking and was having green juice every day and drinking lots of water. Also, I told him nobody wanted to see a miserable waitress. No one cares for that. Mark agreed.

I explained to him what another manager, at a different restaurant, had once told me. He’d said:

“No matter what’s going on outside of work, you leave your personal life at the door and put on your happy face in here.”

I resented the idea then – as I do now – that we must obstruct ourselves for the sake of others. It’s not an idea. It’s a truth: No one cares about your problems and you’d better have a good attitude.

People want, expect, and demand smiles and warmness from everyone around them. It’s an annoying, unfair, unrealistic, and telling expectation most of us have of one another. This desire people have for others to appear and behave as though they are truly happy is fundamentally disingenuous.

First of all, next to nobody actually cares whether their waitress is happy or not. Nobody gives a fuck about their waitress. If people wanted their waitresses to be happy they wouldn’t be giant dicks, now would they?

The service industry can be a remarkable hustle if you’ve got hustle in you. But it’s also a draining and dingy viewfinder into the collective mentality.

People want to be served; they enjoy it. People also want to feel superior. People enjoy the belief that they have money.

They enjoy being able to spend that money, in order to spare themselves the labor, thought, and time that cooking for themselves requires.

Somewhere in their pleasure at being able to afford to dine out, people draw false equivalencies between themselves and the people who are giving them the food they’re too lazy to make themselves. People think their waitresses are beneath them, and I’d say close to half of all the people who go out to restaurants assume their waitresses are also stupid and undereducated, specifically because they’re waitresses.

This contempt, this entitlement to be demanding and judgmental of someone earning their living – same as we all must – comes off in the first minute a table is seated.

Waitresses work on their feet for a minimum of six hours, sometimes up to fourteen hours or more, to endure countless cheap bastards and rude assholes, and for their entire shift are expected to smile, be pleasant, deliver food and warm feelings, and keep their outside lives and problems at the door.

It’s a tall order – pun intended – when you consider that a) everyone’s outside life is constantly in turbulence, b) no one can reasonably block out their personal life for an entire day of work, and c) it’s often exactly the turbulence of our personal lives which necessitates our hard work.

As a waitress, it was even more infuriating for me to have to acknowledge that all my turbulence was self-made. So literally serving these assholes is my penance for all the dumb shit I’d done and the bad decisions I’d made.

And at this rate I was going to be poor and working and angry and bitter for the rest of my life.

Second of all, waitressing aside, people in general don’t really care who’s happy or unhappy. People want others to appear happy because we’re constantly looking to one another for cues on how we should feel and think and live and be. We’re generally very dependent creatures. We need one another. We feed on each other’s energy.

To bring it back to a restaurant, if your server is curt with you, or sullen, or abrasive, it will impact your time there and you won’t enjoy your meal. Assuming you’re the type of dimwit to attach meaning to that sort of thing. But it’s a valid reaction. We all have reactions to others.

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