I I have waited tables for nine years and when you first start the gig, peers warn that blacks don’t tip. Asians don’t tips. Middle Easterns don’t tip. Latinos don’t tip.
Not yet thinking autonomously, I subscribed to this “name of the game" if you will. While I never treated a race poorly and always gave what I believed to be good service, I would see a table of non-white people being seated in my section and feel a gut wrench. Everyone told me they weren’t going to tip me or leave me $2.
Over the years, I began to wonder if perhaps I, along with my coworkers were perpetuating stereotypes because we approached tables of different races already believing they would not be of any use or worth to our bottom line. To put it another way, what if the problem wasn’t entirely a cultural issue, but included the mediocre attitude of service we’d give.
Lots of waiting tables at 3 different restaurants have found me overhearing remarks from co-workers like: “They can wait for their refills, MFers aren’t tipping me anyways” “Ohhh God does anyone want 13? Please? I can’t afford to be stiffed tonight” for starters. I’ve heard worse. Racial slurs aren’t uncommon. “Three bucks might be a good tip in Mexico but it’s not here, go back!"
So, while the logistical service given was probably good, service in its entirety was not because at the heart of service is the right attitude. I didn't have that. What I did have was a lot of ignorance, and blindness to what I was ignorant to. Such a messy combination, honestly. You don't know what you don't know. So, beginning to wade my way through so many embarrassing situations where I'd said something ignorant, I had a desire to change. To just see people how God sees them and have God's mind toward them. I have to be honest here, I am STILL ignorant in some areas in regards to racial minorities and the issues faced. And it's embarrassing EVERY time I realize I've just said something or thought something that does not honor another human. I've used a term interchangeably or incorrectly, I've confused two things, etc. I've had to say before, red in the face, in front of others: Wow, I am so embarrassed that I didn't realize that. Thank you for letting me know so that I don't make that mistake again. I really appreciate that you care about me enough to correct me.
It's embarrassing because my heart is to LEARN and GROW in love. I want to be sensitive and gentle to someone who is a minority in any capacity so as not to compound their suffering, and possibly even alleviate it.
A couple years ago, I was extremely pregnant with my last baby around tax time. I had a table of 3 black moms come in with 6 or 7 little children. They wanted all three of my tables. We were running a never ending type promotion and I treated them all warmly. Graciously dodging the children who were running throughout my section and obliging with kindness their very demanding needs. In the beginning of their meal, they asked why we were so busy and I wasn't sure of any event that particular day that would make us super busy and supposed it was people excited to have a night of treating themselves with their refunds.
The nightmare began when one of the moms didn't like her dish. It was exactly what she ordered, but no matter. I told her hey not a problem, the super good news was that it was a never ending thing so I could quickly ring in what she WOULD enjoy and have it out in no time at all with minimal effort. Total win-win here. I removed the dish from her and noticed she was giving me a really disgusted look. Uncomfortable, but whatcha gonna do ya know.
I pieced together that they had gotten up and retrieved several to go boxes on their own and were keeping them at their feet filling them up with food. This is why she was so mad, she wanted to take the thing she claimed to not like, home. Things were getting weird before this because that was a lot of food gone quickly, so I clued my manager in that I was anticipating a problem and here's why:
See, I'm not giving any opinions about whether or not it's right, but the restaurant doesn't like when people come in and get a ton of refills on something and take it home. It cuts into profit. I get both sides, the customers and the business'. But here's the rub: When I try to uphold the rules because I want to keep my job, I don't get tipped because people get so angry that I need to charge extra for a salad to go home when if they'd have just ordered a free refill, they could've taken it home. So then if I want to be tipped and feed my family, I have to turn a blind eye to what's going on and then risk discipline action. It's a real crummy spot to be put in. I KNOW restaurant mark up on pasta is crazy. I KNOW it's important to follow the rules of your employer. It's just crummy to reckon these two. Plain and simple.
So, this particular manager was eventually fired for his pure hostility and nastiness, it was very difficult to bring issues to him, but I wanted some advice on my next step here. I was told to go let them know they can't keep boxing up refills. ALL ACTUAL HELL BROKE LOOSE GUYS. Hollering, telling me off, claiming another location allows this across town. Demanding a manager. They told my manager I'd made racial slurs to them AND told them that the only reason they're in was because they'd just gotten their taxes back. They said I gave awful service and had an attitude. That I was racist and nasty.
This cut me so deeply. I was in a place in my serving career where I SO BADLY did not want to have automatic unkind thoughts about waiting on tables of different races, and this whole blow up not only threatened my ability to feed my family, but deeper drove the wedge of caution I'd heard years ago, between myself and my guests of color. My manager not only gave them a ton of free food to take home and took care of a $200 bill, but didn't believe that I had not acted the way they said I had and that hurt worst of all. A good manager always knows their employees character and when a complaint doesn't match up with it. These women kept talking where I could hear them because I HAD TO BOX UP ALL OF THEIR FREE THINGS AFTER THIS ENTIRE SITUATION about "Yep, we showed that pregnant bitch yes we sho did girl. Teach that lil white bitch to mess with a real black bitch. That's what she get. She ain't know shit bout us." It enraged me.
The very next table I had was a family of 5 black people. GOD PLEASE NO. PLEASE. NO. The dad was horrendous and not only didn't know what he wanted to order, but made ME the problem with not knowing what he wanted or liked. The mom never once stuck up for me, and the teenage children had no manners. I gave it all I had, reminding myself that the ability to feed my children with a job had to outweigh whatever outcome this table gave me. I had to be nice. The bill was $97 or something and she wanted change from $100. OMG. I was so fuming mad. I handed her the change, and she handed me a $50 bill. She told me it looked like I'd had an awful night and that God loves me. Yikes. I'd let some serious ignorance get in my way.
The lesson of people acting how they act because of who they are and not their skin tone was so tangible to me that night. I never feared or thought a bad thought toward coming up to a table and seeing a minority after that. I only welcomed it.
As a mom of three, I am so THRILLED to get adult interaction and make lots of money once or twice a week outside of the home that my mindset is truly one of gratitude and excitement to connect. I want as many tables as possible for the money and I want as many interactions as possible for fun. I LOVE making people laugh and being helpful, so this is just perfect for me. This shift in paradigm has allowed me to be free of letting a table of ANY race who may not tip well run off with my emotions and keeping me in a bad attitude all night, ruining my FUTURE tips altogether.
A couple weekends ago, I made $50 in thirty minutes from 2 Hispanic tables. They both told me I gave them fabulous service, and it made me wonder if they naturally tip that well, or if they'd had a poor experience dining last time and they wanted to show their appreciation for my humor and warmth toward them with money.
You know who are actually the worst to wait on for me? The upper-middle class clientele. They tip just fine, but they don't see me. I am in a service position and my humanity is neither here nor there. I am called "they" standing right there while they chat amongst themselves about what I'll bring or do. They chuckle condescendingly about my lack of education and socioeconomic status. They don't SEE WHAT MAKES ME, ME AND IT HURTS. ME.
Ya know, last week I had a table of 2 black women and we hooted and hollered with laughter about life. They took up a table for 2 hours and left me $5 on a $70 tab. I was okay with it. I wasn't bitter or resentful. They saw me, and I can't wait to see them again.
Here's a newsflash: white people tip bad sometimes too. Some people are cheap. Some people are rude. Some people don't know dining etiquette. Some people may have realized their bill was much higher than anticipated. Some people may have left money at home by accident. Lots of scenarios. And yes, it would seem after 9 years of serving that one scenario could be cultural.
Waiting tables for me is so fun and refreshing. I TRULY can now say that I approach each table with a baseline of respect and desire to serve them, now that I have a new way of thinking for myself. One of those baselines IS, believe it or not, to see someone's color.
Last night, a nicely dressed couple sat in my section. The man wore what I believe is called a turban on his head, and his date had the most beautiful mustard yellow dress to complement her olive skin, green eyes, and shiny, thick, dark, long, hair. I had their shared entrée split up for them in the kitchen so they didn't have to fuss with it, gave a good recommendation on appetizers, and while I was boxing them up, we had a good conversation about egg-free substitutes in baking sweets. I was giving the ratio for a chia seed egg when he stopped, looked right at me and said, "Out of the past 7-10 times we've been out to eat this is the best service we have received. Thank you." His eyes were sincere and painful at the same time. I knew EXACTLY what he meant by that, but I smiled and said, "Well I'm SO glad to know that, thank you for telling me!" I boxed up the rest of their food and again, he thanked me and told me he appreciated me. "I appreciate you" he said. The words fell onto my soul like warm honey. Because I KNEW. I knew why he wasn't given good service. I KNEW he had pain and has had to adapt and overcome immeasurable adversity in something as simple as being served A MEAL. He appreciated the way I treated him. He appreciated the way I didn't treat him.
I saw his color. To say I don't see color is not only a lie, but I think it robs a person of color from the ownership of their experiences as a marginalized population. I understand that when people say they don't see color they are TRYING to find some way to say "I treat everyone equally. I am not racist." However true that may be for the person speaking it, it does strip away part of what makes a person, that person. We can't deny another human that, ever. To say we don't see color is to say that we don't see THAT PERSON in his or her entirety. I saw his color, and I went forth with no reservations about what that may mean in regards to my tip, but rather what that may mean in regards to how I could connect with him and his date.
I think Jesus wants us to SEE people. See their color. See their wheelchair. See their single parenting. See their deafness. See their poverty. See anything that may be uncomfortable for us to acknowledge has shaped them into being marginalized and excluded. To see it, and then to meet where that pain has a need for healing. Even if it's just one bowl of pasta at a time.