Restaurant workers all over the world will be stuck serving you during the holidays. This time of the year is the scourge of the service industry—an endless loop, stuck on repeat, where we forfeit the ability to celebrate with our loved ones so you and your loved ones can have somewhere to eat. Sadly for us, as long as restaurants are open, someone has to cook and serve the food. As if this isn’t all bad enough, we have to listen to the same shitty Christmas music playing every night. In the restaurant business, we dread the holiday season and often lament amongst ourselves about “just trying to get through it.” But, year after year, we take it for the team, flashing you our best “service smile” while we dole out generous servings of holiday cheer. January 2nd is when we celebrate—the end of it all.
The holidays are not only the most frenetic time of the year in the hospitality industry but also the time when people get the most fussy. Special occasions bring out the worst in people, especially among dysfunctional families whose issues often get stirred up at the dinner table. Without fail, people’s hidden demons rise to the surface during the holidays and the restaurant becomes the amphitheater for the tragedy to unfold. Waiters have front row tickets to the show and often—against their will—play an unwanted role in the drama. Your mother has always hated your husband but wont let you know until her fourth dirty Ketel 1 martini when she decides to tell everyone at the table (and the rest of Ruby Tuesdays) that you should have married your ex-boyfriend.
Effacing ourselves so that others can celebrate is a noble act—though you wouldn’t know it from how most guests behave. You rarely notice any change in the way customers treat staff during the holidays—with the increased pressure of making the experience extra special diners often demand more and are less forgiving of service mistakes. It often creates the perfect storm: Customers with bloated expectations being served by people whose sacrifices are under-appreciated. We don’t have any hard data, but we would guess that complaints by restaurant patrons go up during the holiday season when you’d expect them to be a little more lenient. Any delusions that people are more compassionate toward those who serve them during the holidays are misguided.
It’s also a misconception that working on holidays is guaranteed to be lucrative. Contrary to common belief, people don’t always spend as freely eating and drinking this time of year so check averages tend to drop. Some restaurants are ghost towns on some holiday nights like Christmas Eve—notoriously the worst night to work—when people prefer to spend time at home with their families. But someone has to take those shifts. The week between Christmas and New Years can be a crapshoot, too. People are often traveling or need to recover from the financial damage done by holiday shopping so they reign in extravagant dining experiences. For those of us who work for tips, not only are we deprived of celebrating the holidays with our loved ones but we may often be poorly compensated for the inconvenience.
If you want to show the waitstaff appreciation when you dine out during the holidays—do something nice. Share a glass of your wine with the waiter. If you have someone who regularly takes care of you, bring them a token of your appreciation. A gift card from somewhere, preferably a liquor store. We also accept cash. Bring a six-pack of good beer or a bottle of whiskey for the kitchen. (Industry folk do this all the time as a way of showing their appreciation of each other.) Bringing the kitchen booze is a total gangster move. Alcohol numbs the pain.
Tip more than you normally would. Your servers will notice and it will help make their holidays that much more tolerable. It might even help restore their faith in mankind—restaurant work can make even the most cheerful people misanthropic. We need to buy gifts for our loved ones too and a bigger tip during the holiday season might result in our being under less financial strain—which is the greatest gift of all. Whatever you choose to do, it need not involve material things—simply acknowledging the sacrifice is enough. Say thank you to everyone on your way out—all the way down to the busboy or the bathroom attendant. And this time say it like you mean it.