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Working in Restaurants Taught Me That Lying Is OK

As soon as you’ve learned the ropes of a restaurant job, you will develop some character traits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Lying, dealing with assholes, and staying true to yourself are some of those lessons.

by Noor Spanjer
Jun 18 2016, 4:00pm

For many, being a waiter is a part-time job that one does as a backup for their "real" gig.

As soon as you've learned the ropes of a restaurant job, you will develop some character traits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Demanding guests teach you to be patient, and frustrated cooks test your diplomatic skills. Unexpected questions test your flexibility, and lying is never necessary, but bending the truth is.

What follows are a bunch of life lessons I learned from working in bars and restaurants.

Modesty Gets You Nowhere During my trial period at the restaurant where I started my new career in the service industry, it suddenly became really busy. There weren't enough people scheduled to work that day (which was always the case) and my colleague was running around the restaurant with her hair in every direction and a red face. In the time it took for me to take one order and enter it in the computer, she had served a tray with nicely made tap beers to four different tables and given everybody the correct cutlery. When—many hours later—the restaurant was empty and clean, I told her I would never be able to do it like she did. I just couldn't imagine achieving the same level of speed whilst keeping proper oversight and judgment. I'd immediately considered myself incapable of working in service, only on the basis of a couple of bad experiences more than ten years ago. That evening, my boss told me, "You're a great person, but you're not capable." She was right, but she wasn't finished with her comments: "Thankfully, you'll learn the hard way."

It seems you're capable of much more than you ever thought, and you find out when the occasion calls for it. Like when there's an establishment full of people thirsting for beer.

Dealing with Dicks When one works as a waiter, one adopts an attitude of helpfulness, but this doesn't mean that one becomes servile. Good personnel stay in control. There are always people who get a kick out of hierarchy. They start ordering waiters around the way they would with their own employees. They think snapping their fingers is normal. It's not, but telling them won't make much of a difference. What works well with these types is to stay extremely polite and keep your patience. But if someone does decide to act like a total dick, just act like a total dick right back. One evening, an angry man at my bar thought he had to wait too long before he could order. I ignored him professionally until it was his turn, but when he paid me, he threw an angry fistful of change all over the bar, landing between the glasses. He started cursing and ordered me to look at him. That was the last time that man drank a beer at my bar. Assholes are everywhere (in the streets, in bed, amongst colleagues) and as a waiter, you learn how to deal with them.

Bad Mouthing Is Done in the Kitchen Cooks tend to have little love for people, which is why they're often hidden away in the kitchen. This is where annoying requests are cursed at, where slow workers get called names, where dick and tit jokes are made, and where the occasional bump is done. If you're serving tables, it's your task to keep this angry, secret world separate from the happy, open one inside the restaurant. To wait is to act, and the floor is your stage. Shouting about that "cock at table four" (or your boss/colleague/friend) is usually an excellent idea, but make sure it never reaches table four. You keep the peace and the friendly atmosphere with a friendly face and a soul full of anger (which you can unload in the kitchen).

Lying Is (Somewhat) OK Lying is a constant in the service industry, and working in it taught me to be a sly double-dealer. Tricks and bending the truth are great tools for how to not have to say "no" to someone. "Do you have sweet white wine?" two teenage girls asked me one night while I was serving at the café. When I went to get it for them, I told my colleague about the request for sweet white wine. "Oh, but we don't have that," he said, and he pulled out a bottle of house wine and a bottle of vermouth. He poured sauvignon into their glasses and topped it off with a dash of Martini Rossi. "There, two sweet white wines for table 20." Playing your guests is part of the business, and the only goal it serves is making sure everybody leaves satisfied. That's why it's acceptable. Lying isn't always required, but being able to treat the truth flexibly is.

Don't Be Oblivious People are wont to say, "I don't know, that's not my cup of tea" whenever they're asked something that they don't know the answer to. In the café I worked at, ignorance was forbidden. The kitchen could tell you what was on the plate, and if a guest had a question you couldn't immediately answer, there was a thing called Google. There's no reason to stay oblivious. Look shit up.

<3 Stay True, Though <3 There will always be people who simply don't like you. If you're the new kid in a group, you will be tested. In the service industry, fake assignments are how it's done. Humor is the best way to arm yourself against that kind of behavior. If you're poorly endowed in that area, intelligence, honesty, or unpredictability can work well too. After it's been decided who fills which role, you'll know who your friends are. It doesn't pay to make an effort for people who don't care about you. We'd all prefer to be liked by everyone, but it's not possible.