Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Waitress
"A guest once poured champagne over her food and threw sushi around the restaurant. When I asked her what the problem was, she said, 'I've got so much money I could buy your life.'"
Photo by Eva L. Hoppe
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Most people are at their worst when they're hungry. It starts with a more visceral expression of anger when we're infants, but as we grow older, we learn to transform those screams into pure passive aggression toward everyone around us.
Sahra* knows all about hangry people. The 27-year-old has been working as a waitress for a decade and says that she and her colleagues often drink shots to get through shifts with particularly difficult customers.
She started out when she was still a student, working part-time in a pub, before moving on to bars, cafes, and several restaurants. Today, Sahra works as the assistant manager of a fine dining restaurant in Berlin, where she serves rich and famous guests and makes around €3,000 [$3,694] a month.
I sat down with Sahra in a cafe in the city’s affluent Charlottenburg district to find out who the worst guest she's ever served was, whether she's ever spat in a customer's meal, and what strategies she has for getting the best tips.
VICE: Do you take longer serving guests you don’t like?
Sahra: No. If anything, I work faster so I have less reason to keep going back to their table. If I go too slowly, they’ll get annoyed and keep calling me over.
Why did you decide to become a full-time waitress?
At first, waitressing was just a way to make some cash on the side while studying for school. But once I got into the industry and started making all that quick money, it was hard to break out. With time, I developed a passion for my job—I love eating and being around good food—and I'm proud of what I do; I don't see this as a low-quality job. Almost every week someone tells me that I'm "really intelligent for a waitress," which I find very annoying. Whenever I can, I try to push back against the cliché that waitresses are too stupid to do anything else.
Who's the worst customer you've ever served?
Our worst guests are rich celebrities who think they're allowed to treat us like shit. For example, there's this one famous guy who comes in, who loves to humiliate the waitresses in our restaurant. He calls us fat and says things like: "Your breasts are so small. I should buy you a boob job for Christmas." You have to be fairly experienced to be able to deal with that, but some of my colleagues can't, and they spend a lot of time crying in our cellar. Once, things got so bad I refused to serve him.
This other time, we had a table of wealthy Russians who were celebrating a birthday. As the night went on, they got more and more unpleasant. One of them literally bit my colleague. The situation only escalated from there—that guest started pouring champagne over her food and throwing sushi around the restaurant. When I asked her what the problem was, she said, "I've got so much money I could buy your life." Eventually, I got the manager, and they left. But they trashed us all over Facebook—I couldn't sleep for two days.
Have you ever spat in someone's food?
No, but I've worked in restaurants where I've seen it happen. Personally, I could never do that. But if a guest is really shitty, I ask the bartender to "forget" to put alcohol in their cocktails.
In what other ways do you get back at annoying guests?
If guests get too drunk and turn nasty, I just add two or three extra bottles of wine to their bill. But I’ve only ever done that when they've been really shitty, and when I know that they're so rich that they wouldn't miss it. Some customers really have a way of making you feel worthless. Last week, we had an Emirati prince come in. When he found out that I could speak Arabic, he gave me €100 [$123], just like that. I thought that was really nice, until later on, when he actually asked if he could buy me. I had to pass the table on to a colleague.
Do you eat the leftovers off plates?
Yes, as long as the guest isn't too gross. And if there's anything left in the kitchen at the end of the night, we take that home, too. The food we make here is too good to just throw in the garbage. Also, when you're in contact with food all day, you become less picky about what you eat.
What tricks do you use to get more tips?
I do this thing that I learned from a business psychology book. It said that if you put a little smiling sun next to the "tip not included" note on the bill, it seems less intrusive. Apparently, the sun is a more positive message than, say, a heart. That little sun works on every single one of my customers.
What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve seen in a kitchen?
In a Mexican restaurant I used to work at, what was leftover in the little sauce bowls from the customers' tables was always tipped back into larger bowl in the kitchen. I've also seen a chef take his hands from down his pants and then prepare a salad without washing them. But we have an open kitchen at my current restaurant, so disgusting stuff like that can't happen without a guest immediately spotting it.
Do you ever lie to customers who ask if their food is vegan?
We used to have this miso soup, and we weren't sure if it was vegan or not, but we still sold it as vegan. Eventually, we discovered that there was some fish in the soup.
What have you learned about dating by observing your guests?
Here in Charlottenburg, the best bait is money. Lots of women are attracted to wealthy men. I've developed a talent for immediately spotting couples who are on a meaningful date—there's just a certain energy in the air around them. Sometimes I see couples disappear to the bathroom for 20 minutes together. It's always great to know that people are having a special time at our restaurant.
*Sahra's name has been changed to protect her identity and her position.
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