Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this edition, waiter Thomas Clarke shares his frustration about being forced to sing the Birthday Song to strangers in the name of hospitality.
Every now and then, I find myself standing with a sad-looking cake in my hand and a sparkler burning my wrist, singing happy birthday to someone I don't know and may not even particularly like, all while I have 9,000 other things I need to be doing for other tables.
Maybe I should be happy to have a job, or maybe I should take pride in giving it my all at work—or maybe fuck that. Let me point out that no profession, no matter how demeaning, brings you as close to that of court jester of the king's entourage as being a server singing "Happy Birthday" to a client.
Singing off-key while a group of ten pre-pubescent girls watches on, without chiming in on a single, solitary note, is really shitty. This is it, folks: Short of actually being a professional clown, I am officially singing for my supper. Now, mind you, I used to genuinely get a kick out of it in my early twenties, especially if I was singing to an older lady or a kid—I'm not so morose that I dislike the act of making someone experience genuine, unencumbered happiness.
It all eerily resembles a drug deal—I got the goods.
And of course I get what you're trying to do; you seek chivalry and romance. You get up from your table of friends explaining that you need to find the bathroom. You ask the table if they know where it is in order to appear genuine. You see me working away and you saunter up, cautiously hoping I notice you before you have to force the issue.
Once we make eye contact, you move slowly toward me, repeating in your mind exactly what to say. I, of course, know what you want and have already ordered the stupid birthday cake because, well, I eavesdrop. I still let you speak in your low voice and explain that it's your friend's birthday, though, leading up to the top secret question of the evening: "Do you guys do anything for birthdays?" It all eerily resembles a drug deal—I got the goods.
This whole thing becomes dumb, however, when the last thing on earth your friend wants is me singing them "Happy Birthday." Your friend and I are suddenly catapulted into a situation where we do not want to be doing what we are doing—kind of like the worst sex ever. This common occurrence is when it feels like the universe is laughing it's sick fucking ass off at me—like the grand deity himself parts the clouds and comes down to ask me with a sadistic grin if I regret partying all those years now.
So the big idea these days is to do away with tipping? I want to do away with singing.
And while we're being facetious, who the fuck wants to celebrate being a year older past the age of 25? It's just a perverse reminder of being one year closer to trying to retire in a world that has all but made that concept antiquated, especially for a server.
I mean, fine, maybe some people generally like doing it up on their birthday, but the awkwardness of my six-foot-four ass bringing you a cake and singing a stupid song in my terrible singing voice, pausing periodically for someone to fill in the information I don't know, like your name, has to be as painful for you as it is for me.
So the big idea these days is to do away with tipping? I want to do away with singing. Have your cake and leave the singing to your friends. And for everything that is just and kind ,be good to your server. They're trying really hard, and they're probably more than a little pissed to still be doing this.
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in February 2016.