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Ask The Salty Waitress: Do I Have To Smile While I'm Waiting Tables?

Dear Salty Waitress: Okay, I get that "smile more" is creepy when a guy says it to a lady, but I'm a dude and I get this so often from customers when I'm waiting on them. Sometimes I'm just tired or hungover or really not into it. Do I really have to put on a show for these people full-time? Isn't it enough that I'm just giving them a service? I mean I know I want to make tips, and when I want to or need to sell it, I can, but mostly I feel like I'm providing the service, and at baseline that should be enough and that my emotional state is none their concern. Thoughts?

Still Hungover in Boulder

Dear Hungover,

Show the email you wrote me to your boss. What do you think she'd say?

I can't believe I'm the first one to break it to you, kid, but having a good attitude is part of hospitality. Sometimes, you even have to fake it!

I have come to work—and smiled—the day my cat died.

I have come to work—and smiled—while I had a painful UTI.

I have come to work—and smiled—the morning after a shitty break-up.

It's crappy, but that's our job. Hospitality is about attitude, and being welcoming, and not sucking as much as the rest of the world does. So yes, you have to do your job—which might include smiling!—even when you're in a bad mood. Doctors don't get to be bad at surgery because they're tired. Firefighters don't get to ignore 9-1-1 calls because they're in a bad mood. Servers don't get to pout because they're hungover. If you can't manage to not to get hammered the night before your shift and you can't suck it up and work through it, then you're in the wrong line of work.

Your question has made me think pretty deeply about what hospitality means, and what a server's job is. You should do the same.

If a server's job was just to bring food to tables and take orders—what you called "providing the service"—then robots or computers or well-trained monkeys could do it. You now see some fast-food places now using tablets and screens to take your order, but that's not hospitality. Sushi restaurants are delivering California rolls via conveyer belt, but that's not hospitality either.

I'm not trying to get all mushy and deep here, but if you just think that waiting tables is about writing orders and dropping off food, you're missing the bigger picture. We're a part of our customers' meal. It's about serving people, in the broader sense of the word, you know? Yeah, I don't always remember that in the moments when the kitchen bell is ringing and I'm deep in the weeds, but you have to believe that deep down if you're going to be good at your job and not let it crush you.

I've had those bad, sick, tired days. I hope customers cut me a little slack—we're all human, and deserve a little compassion. There are going to be days when I'm just a little less of a happy goddamn beam of sunshine, and serving can take be hard, emotional work. That's why we have our coworkers and friends to help us get past the rough days.

But if you don't think that it's your job to at least try to put on a positive attitude, then you're in the wrong business, kid. Going out to eat is an experience, even at McDonald's or a Chuck E. Cheese's or a mall food court, and you're part of that experience for people. Hell, any kind of job that involves interacting with the public is about customer service—supermarket clerks, retail workers, the guy who takes your ticket at the movies. I don't want some surly, frowning sad sack doing those jobs, either.

So yeah, you have to try to smile, or generally act positive and welcoming. Now go read a Danny Meyer book and call me in the morning, ya dope.

Got a question about dining out etiquette? Or just a general question about life we can help you with? Email us: salty@thetakeout.com