From Sit-Ins to Put-Downs: Black Folk and Restaurants (prologue)

with the inadvertent urging of Christina, I will be spending the remainder of my 16 days of the 32 Days of Black History Month addressing the relationship between Black folk and Restaurants.  Consider this Day 17.
I am a waiter.

A DAMN good one.

Good enough to go dollar for dollar with the average American and trump them on most days.

About 85% of the time, I am at peace with how I make my money.  For a man with an ample serving of God-given talent, I am often considered by others what is popularly referred to as under-employed.

My Take:  I am a master craftsman in a Skilled service profession who performs at an elite level and is compensated at the 90th percentile of those in my field.

At the end of the day, the Money is pretty good, and I genuinely love what i do.

I am going on 20 years in an apron.  From random spots no one ever heard of, to 4-star spots under award-winning/book-writing/national tv-show appearing,/reality show winning culinary geniuses, to well established regional and national chains, to strip joints, to music awards after parties, to national campaign fundraisers, to more lobbyist dinners than you can shake a W-2 at.

I have broken up fights over bills and run down folk trying to skate on bills and got robbed for some of my bills.
waited on such Bills as Duke, Cosby, and Bennett

Waited on John Mayer, Kerry,  and Lewis

Never waited on Denzel or Michael, but I waited on BOTH of their wives.

Waited on Tom Hanks AND the guy he portrayed in Apollo 13

I waited on Bill Gates (mind you this was more than a few Billion Dollars ago…Think right after Windows 95) and slipped food out of the restaurant to hit off the homeless dude who lived down by the parking lot where I parked.

I walked up to a table of 4 where the shortest person was 6’10”. (Thompson,Mourning,Ewing,Mutombo)

If I never wait tables again in LIFE…I got enough stories, theories, and experiences for 10 full movies.

But what is MOST important to me is the peculiar relationship between Black People and the restaurant industry.

(caution: there will be generalizations….bear in mind this is not ALLLLL Black people, but a significant number…perhaps a majority, perhaps not, but always a significant portion)

I have almost always worked in places that have a significant Black clientele.  Usually that clientele exists because of the cuisine that is served.

Black folk LOVE to eat, but they love to eat what THEY want, the WAY they want, HOW they want.

The Restaurant industry thrives on the APPEARANCE of “the customer is always right” but LIVES AND DIES on getting as much as they can while giving as little as they can.

Restaurants have service and hospitality as their foundation.

Short of having someone wash your ass, or getting hair or nails done there is no more intimate act than the act of serving someone food.

There is an inherent subordination that takes place when your job revolves around putting on an apron and running to and fro for strangers.

Add in the dynamic of race and privilege and you have an intriguing sociological dynamic.

Toss in on top of that a compensation structure that is 95% VOLUNTARY and hinges almost entirely cultural expectations, the whim of the person who receives the service and their perception of said service, and you REALLY have something to talk about.

As someone who loves Black people with the passion of his own Kin, I am very protective and watchful of how it is that Black People are treated and served where I work.  As the senior server on my staff and the head trainer,  I am in the prime position to affect how my coworkers handle themselves when dealing with customers.  For the rest of the week, I will be addressing the challenges that have affected the restaurant industry and the Black Folk who work in and patronize said establishments.

IF you have particular questions or comments that you would like for me to address in this series Kindly hit me on email @ Inkognegro07 @ gmail.com

8 comments

  1. Jonzee

    As you know, I retired. And although I miss the peculiar advanced pych class that is the restaurant industry (particularly behind the bar), I do not miss the hours, the drama, and the sometimes terrible tips.

    We’ve talked about this a million times. I’m waiting to see you break it down to the lay folk.

  2. Random Whiteboy

    I too worked in the service industry. I too have seen the difference in the way servers (even black servers) will treat black guests.

    Sometimes, my black co-workers were especially harsh on the black guests. I guess familiarity breeds contempt.

    Personally I had just as many a-hole white customers as I did black or asian or mexican. My favorite is the old white guy who insisted on calling all servers “Servants”. He did this even after repeated corrections by the management.

    Mostly all of the servers, regardless of race, were generally professional and didnt treat folks differently (maybe it was where I worked). The worst thing I heard was a hispanic server talking about all the “Canadians” to another server. It took me 2 days to figure out that “Canadians” was her code word for black folks.

    I guess she didnt want anyone to know that she was making fun of black people behind their backs. She sure did get offended when I asked her “So, did you notice how many “Jalapenos” we have tonight?. She didnt appreciate the irony.

    It was a fun job, but I don’t miss it. Now I do marketing. We have to make sure that for every 2 white people we use, we need to include at least one “Latino” one Asian and one Black person.

    Why doesn’t anyone see the racism in that? Why aren’t we all “People” yet? Why are we “Ethnic Ratios”? Why aren’t we all Americans yet? Why are we still hyphens?

    My mom used to tell me that there was only one race…

    The human race.

  3. Christina Springer

    I really appreciated this post. I’m looking forward to more. As much as I love Waiter Rant, http://www.waiterrant.net/ you’ll notice that dude has …umm…issues. A few years ago, I began to notice fewer and fewer Black folks in the restaurant industry. I was wondering what that meant. Are we just not getting hired anymore? (Now that their are white people with law degrees and MBA’s who need these jobs brothers used to have.) Or was it that we were just getting more opportunities elsewhere. I always suspected it was the former.

  4. Good

    Hey, I googled this page up after talking to my roomie who is a sever. He told me there was a code to refer to black customers as “Canadian”. I asked around and at the local Red Lobster they are referred to as “tall”.

    Server #1 “Man, I just got stiffed at a table”
    Server #2 “Where they tall?”

    The implied need for this code is pretty obvious. Going to do more research.

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