Peter Jargowsky didn’t get started waiting tables until he was laid off from his previous job. But unlike me, he took to his new line of work almost immediately. “I was working to get my real estate license in New Jersey in the late ’70s, and I got laid off. I needed a job, and so I started busing tables at one of the casino coffee shops in Atlantic City. I was 20 years old. Took to it like a duck to water. I love hospitality. People think I’m crazy. I’ll spend four or five nights here, and then I’ll have a dinner party on one of my nights off, because I just love to entertain people. I like to have people in my home. I like to cook for them and serve them. I get a big kick out of the dining experience, both going out to dinner and being on the other end of it. So I’m pretty much a natural.”
Does a natural have to give up any dreams to become a career waiter?
“I’m not sure that I let go of something, but I definitely discovered that I love waiting tables, that I love the restaurant business. Besides waiting tables I’ve also managed restaurants along the way, and now I’ve come back to waiting tables. And I’ve been fortunate to work at really nice, successful restaurants. I do think that waiting tables while you’re going to school, or while you’re training to do something else, is really not a bad way to go. But no one should ever think that the job isn’t a real job. You know, it’s like anything. If you’re going to wait tables, then be the best waiter you can. If you’re going to be a cocktail server, then be the best cocktail server you can. Don’t have the attitude that this is beneath me, and I’m really an actor, or I’m really a doctor, or I’m really whatever it is I want to be when I’m done waiting tables. Because right now you’re a waiter, right now you’re serving people, and you should carry the pride while serving people that you can carry with you into your career ambition, whatever, but if you’re waiting tables, then be a really good waiter.”
Kim Harper would seem to agree. “I waited tables off and on through college and then I worked as a bartender in Cincinnati, and I left the job I had there to go into the clothing retail business, which I did for about five years. And then I moved out here, and I came to the Broken Yolk, and I’ve been here for about six years. I have a master’s in journalism, from Ohio University, and I got my undergraduate degree from Ohio State. I lived in LA for a few years. But I’ve stayed here for six years at the Broken Yolk because I really enjoy it. I really like our customers. I like the hours: up early, out pretty early, I still have my whole day. And when I leave, I don’t have profit-and-loss statements to deal with, no stress, no headaches, and every day’s, like, a new day, you know, nothing carries over from each day.”
Harper goes on. “You know, I know this is going to sound really strange, but I still like being around all the people; it’s the people, it’s getting to talk to so many people from so many different places. And I do enjoy…maybe that’s it, I’m a talker. And all the things you learn… And I like the freedom, the freedom of this lifestyle, absolutely. You know, I’m pretty happy. I would leave if I weren’t happy.”
Of all the abilities that are essential to being a good waiter, the people skills strike me as the most important.
Peter Jargowsky says it this way. “I think that a lot of the public thinks that waiters make a lot of money for waiters. You know, this guy waits tables and he makes $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 a year, waiting tables. Like there’s some kind of problem with that. Like you shouldn’t be able to wait tables and make that kind of money or something. But it’s not an easy job, by any means. It’s not easy to read a situation, to read people. But reading people is definitely part of the job. And so, I guess I apply a principle that I adhere to: sometimes it’s a challenge to turn the other cheek. The thing is to try to approach every table such that: these people are happy, great, I’m going to keep them that way, and these people are not happy, can I turn them around before they leave? And sometimes you have to keep bringing yourself back to that, and bringing yourself back to that, to re-create your service personality every single time, because, you know, we’re human beings and we could have had a bad day before we got here. But you have to shake that off, and you have to be resilient to the people who are also having a bad day who can just be such jerks.”
Could he recall any specific jerks?
“At one point in my career I worked in a restaurant that had regular guests, guests who could be difficult, and there was this one particular gentleman who was very demanding and treated you like you really weren’t there and spoke down to you, and he would call you over to the table, and then he’d continue to talk to his guests while you’d stand there. He was oblivious to the fact that you might have two or three other tables that also should have some of your attention, and this particular gentleman had a reputation among the rest of the waitstaff. And the way I dealt with that man was, I acted like he was my best friend. I acted like I was so happy to take care of him. And he would always tip me well. He never stopped being a condescending jerk, but I like to think that he tempered it a little bit at least when I was taking care of him. And so it goes: kill ’em with kindness.”