The Roundup -

Keeping Up with the Youngsters


Nothing beats working to repeat a task that you haven't attempted for nearly fifty years. Time clouds the memory of just what a particular experience entails; one remembers the main points but the little details involved with a task have vanished along with yesterday. In my case, I am speaking of the decision to work as a waitress at the Virginia City Café on the weekends throughout the tourist season. Nothing has changed all that much in fifty years about the art of serving and clearing tables, but WOW has it all changed as far as the minutia of the job and what makes a person a top notch waiter or waitress.

Originally when I first agreed to work at the café part time for the summer, all the employees there had some age on them. In fact, we debated about changing the name of the café from the Virginia City Café to the Old Coots' Café. However, as the summer season began in earnest, older employees dropped away, replaced by sweet young things, many of whom knew nothing about serving tables. As usual, at the time of this writing, I find I am one of the oldest people working at the eating establishment. The proprietor has the distinction of the most elderly of the group, but she only has six months on me, which at our age means absolutely nothing at all.

Also, as an older lady working mainly with kids young enough to pass as my granddaughters, I can see a huge generational difference in work ethic, attention span, and outlooks as we tackle the same task of greeting, serving, and cleaning up after patrons. Kids walk away from the job of looking after customers as soon as they pick up their tips, while older people finish the job of clearing and wiping tables, carting tubs of dirty dishes to the back, washing up, and resetting tables to prepare for new customers.

If kids could not text every minute and a half, they would wither and die. I find it amusing to watch them juggling texting their friends with trying to take orders and serve food. Often the two really do not mix very well and all too often the customer suffers, not the texting.

Kids also expect to eat their shift meal sitting down. One of the youngest of the bunch will approach me and ask me to take her tables, as it is time for her to eat and she wants to sit down for her meal. I never heard of such a thing. In my salad days when I worked as a waitress to help pay my way through school, we did get a shift meal, all right, but we ate it on the fly. If I had just begun to munch on a burger and I had customers walk in the door, customers came first. That burger might sit for another hour before I took another bite, and some days it took me an entire shift to consume one hamburger. Kids today seem to think if it is time for their shift meal, they have the right to sit down and enjoy it with no interruptions, regardless of how busy the restaurant may become. They also have no qualms about grazing continually on any consumables in the kitchen they can lay their hands on.

Now, how to keep up with the kids when it comes to tips. The young girls can bat their eyelashes, dress in clothing that makes me cringe, and sashay around the room flirting with customers in ways that do not work for a woman of a certain age. How can a gray haired older lady, who sports no tattoos of any sort, has no body piercings anywhere, and whose body has succumbed to the demands of gravity, possibly compete well in the tip department? Fortunately, this is where age and experience often trump youth and foolishness, ahem, I mean inexperience. A few pleasant jokes, or a genuine compliment to a customer about a piece of jewelry or an article of clothing he or she wears can do wonders to transform me from a frumpy gray haired lady into a human being, which is the key to obtaining tips in a restaurant. And tips, after all, are the mainstay for servers. Wages seldom pass the minimum required by law, so tips will make or break a waiter or waitress, and tips provide the bulk of the income for those who work in this service industry.

Comparing myself to the youngsters brings to light the unfortunate changes I see in myself which become obvious when the Café begins to bustle with people wanting something to eat. The physical aspect of the job poses no problem. I can easily keep up with the youngsters when it comes to hustling and getting the job accomplished, although I admit that when shift ends, I go home and crash, while the kids have themselves geared up to party. I do get an edge on them in this respect, however, as I at least do not come to work the next day with a hangover.

The distressing change I notice in me has absolutely nothing to do with the physical aspect of the job, and everything to do with retention span and the ability to recall which patron ordered what entrée. Customers like it when their server remembers which one of them ordered what particular sandwich or beverage, and now I find this aspect of the job really hinders me. When I worked this job fifty years ago, I had a phenomenal memory. I would have multiple tables but with the aid of a few brief notes scratched on individual tickets, I usually placed the correct order in front of the person who ordered it. Now I am lucky if I get an entire order correct, even with the aid of a few notes and reminders jotted on the tab. If I am not rushed and I have multiple tables of two or three to serve, I do OK, but toss in a large group, increase the number of tables I serve, and chaos ensues. I can just forget about it as far as serving the proper meal to the customer who ordered it. I don't even have time to check my cheat sheet, and who ordered what often becomes a huge mystery. I hate to ask, but I have to swallow my pride and do just that.

I told my good friend this saga of short retention abilities, and she laughed. She too used to have a prodigious memory; in fact she never had to write down orders. She would serve multiple tables, and know exactly who got what. She can no longer perform this feat, either (which makes me feel a tiny bit better about my own memory lack, but not much.) She figures as we age, we have filled our brains with so much trivia collected throughout our lifetimes that there is no room for such mundane information as who ordered the bacon cheeseburger and who ordered the Reuben.

I have turned this unfortunate memory problem into an asset however. I tell my customers that I have a great memory, it is just really short. This comment usually produces a laugh, especially among the older patrons, and they then forgive me of my memory deficiencies. This little ploy also turns me into an individual, not just a grey haired grandma bringing them their food.

For the most part, I have enjoyed the people, both locals and the tourists who come on vacation and who choose to eat at the café. Most of them do not mind if we get busy and they have to wait for their meal. Occasionally, however, customers can act like the devil's spawn, which would explain why in 2012 a survey concluded that waitressing held the number 6 spot on the worst job list. I believe it, especially when people feel free to behave like boors, make rude infuriating comments, or have children with no discipline and who run wild in the café, wreaking havoc as they go.

When these situations occur, I understand why by the end of August, locals in VC have had about enough of tourists. It becomes time for this bustling town to return to its winter persona of ghost town, where one can walk down the middle of the main street from one end to the other without fear of any vehicle passing by.

I don't have too many weeks left at this job. Will I do it again next summer? You bet. It provides additional income and helps me get to better know the locals as well as meet interesting visitors from other areas My memory won't be any better, but I have proved to myself that this small insufficiency really doesn't matter at the Virginia City Café.


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