Servin’ it up

ABOVE: Brittany Godwin takes a customer’s orders during lunch at

Being a server can be a fast-paced, sometimes stressful job. But
it’s also a fun way to meet new people and make some cash
The man at the bar is rubbing his nipples through his T-shirt as he tells anyone within earshot a suggestive joke.

Marisela Rivas, a server at the Krazy Koyote Bar & Grill in Gilroy, doesn’t notice. She’s too busy fixing a mixed drink and straining to hear the “ding!” of a bell to signal another food order is ready.

It’s country western line dancing night at the Koyote, and the back half of the building is packed with people having dinner before the dance lessons begin. About 50 patrons fill the place, and there’s only one server to make sure they’re happy: Rivas.

Being a server in a restaurant can be a stressful experience. There are orders to take, side dishes to remember and tips to be made. But the job also can be a fun way to meet new people and is a change from a traditional 9-to-5 desk job.

“It’s hard, but I like it,” Rivas, 26, says, as she scoops ice into glasses, filling them with different kinds of soda. She loads them onto a tray. “I like talking to people, and the chefs are really fun.”

As Rivas carries the drinks out to a large table, she dodges line dancers who are working on their moves before class. She distributes the drinks, then has to lean in close to hear customers’ orders over the throbbing music. She scribbles furiously on a pad of paper, answering every request with an upbeat, “Yeah, sure!”

As one woman orders her favorite song comes on, and she jumps up from her seat to swivel her hips and bob her head to the beat. Rivas gives the dancing woman some room to groove but continues taking her order without batting an eye. Over the din in the room, the bell in the kitchen ding-ding-dings that orders are ready.

Rivas, wearing a Krazy Koyote T-shirt, black pants and sneakers, heads back to the kitchen. She picks up the orders, checking them as she turns toward the dining room. After an immediate about-face, she asks one of the chefs to put ranch dressing on a salad that is sitting naked on one of the plates. On the way to delivering the food, Rivas stops to get a few more orders and jokes with customers, calling some by name.

Perhaps inevitably at any restaurant, someone complains about their food. Rivas nods, smiles and says she’ll take care of it. As she pushes through the kitchen door, a chef stands with a grimace, pinching his forehead.

“I’ve got brain freeze!” he yells, crossing his eyes.

“See what I have to put up with?” Rivas asks, laughing.

But she does have to put up with a lot. Rivas’ job includes greeting customers who have just arrived and taking their drink orders. She also must take food orders from customers who have put down their menus and also keep track of how long the food takes to make, sometimes having to harp on the chefs for orders.

She checks on customers who have their food, making sure everything is OK. She clears tables of now-empty dishes, runs to the bar with alcoholic drink orders, makes ice cream sundaes, keeps water and soda glasses full, keeps track of the bills and then gets ready to do it all over again when a new customer walks into the restaurant.

As a server, being on your feet all day is bittersweet: You get some exercise, but your body likely feels it.

“I guess I walk at least a couple of miles every night,” Rivas said. “I get tired and my feet hurt, but hey, that’s the job.”

While achy joints can be soothed with rest, another pain of the job requires patience: rude customers.

“I’ve been taking someone’s order and someone will come up behind me, tap my shoulder and start giving me their order,” Rivas said. “I’ve heard things like, ‘Hey, waitress, I’m thirsty,’ or ‘Do you think I could get my food, like, today?'”

There are plenty of times Rivas would like to remind customers the recommended tip is at least 15 percent. As a full-time aviation mechanic and pilot school student at Gavilan College, Rivas depends on her job to pay tuition and to pay rent.

Serving food over loud music and upbeat dancing is the norm at Koyote. At the Cedar House Cafe in Hollister, the job is a little different. Here, the servers are in white button-down shirts, ties and black pants. The restaurant can accommodate about 250 people, with 18 servers or more working. The clientele generally does not jump up to dance while giving their orders.

The restaurant serves a range of upscale food, from seafood to salads to steaks.

The servers move quickly, but not conspicuously. They softly call out “corner” on their way out of the kitchen to avoid crashing into anyone. They fill shakers, make toast, prepare bread baskets and direct customers to the bathroom. They take and deliver orders, recommend dishes to undecided patrons and toss coins to decide who gets a table to make sure everyone has a fair shot at making tips.

During a recent lunch shift, a server hefts a large tray laden with plates of food onto her shoulder and makes her way to a table. Another server follows her with an extra plate that wouldn’t fit on the tray.

“It’s stressful carrying the trays,” said Brittany Godwin, 20. ” You’re carrying steaks and stuff that takes a while to make, so if you drop it, people will have to wait a while again for their food. It’s a relief to get to the table.”

Crystal Martinez, 19, said she loves her job, even if her heels hurt at the end of each shift. She has no complaints about the tips and enjoys chatting with customers throughout the day.

Making sure customers are happy is a big part of her job, but it’s not always easy, Martinez said.

“Customers take it out on me if their food isn’t what they expected or if they don’t like it,” she said. “But we try and make OK either by fixing it or maybe giving them dessert on the house.”

The complaint heard most often from customers is about the temperature inside the restaurant, said Serena Chapman, floor manager and back-up server. The air has to be comfortable for patrons but cool enough not to overheat the servers running back and forth. But the hardest complaint to deal with, Chapman said, is someone who isn’t happy with their food.

“It’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry’ when it’s not your fault. And servers are always the first person to get people’s wrath when something is wrong,” she said.

Servers want their customers to be happy and enjoy their meal, and Chapman said she wished people would show more empathy.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘She’s just a waitress,’ but people need to remember we’re human, too.”

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