Thursday, 31 January 2013

Waitressplaining: Waiting for a table

"Thirty minute wait? What LIES."
Oh, customers! You have always been so helpful and kind to me, that I am determined to return the favour. In particular, you are always teaching me so many new and wonderful things that I, a mere waitress, could never in my wildest ladybrain dreams could ever have hoped to figure out on my own. Like when you big strong men see me approach the table with a wine bottle and a corkscrew and bravely snatch the bottle off me to explain how to open it (and when you subsequently struggle with the bottle until I have to take it off you and fix the cork you just mangled – why, I assume you did this just to show me what NOT to do. I AM SO GRATEFUL!).  Or when that very kind lady informed me that “people always have their coffee WITH dessert”. Even in the Republic of Congo or Burkina Faso, I presume! And the amount of times a helpful customer has suggested I “tilt the glass” I was already tilting when pouring beer, why, I just couldn’t possibly express my gratitude.

Allow me to humbly return the favour, friends. Many customers express confusion or distress about certain aspects of the hospitality industry; in this small series of Waitressplaining, I may be able to be of some assistance. Today’s big question:

“Why is there a wait time for this hip new eatery? And why is it taking so long to get a table?”

So you’re in line for a restaurant/bar/café. You don’t like lining up for things, but longing glances through the restaurant windows reveal shiny décor and laughing young people having fun of an unspecified type like on Strongbow ads, and you want in on that. The queue isn’t moving quickly like the one at Hoyts, though. After five minutes of inaction, you leave your companion to guard your position, and stride to the front of the line to enquire how long it will be. The host gives you an approximation of say, thirty minutes, and directs you to the bar to wait.

To your astonishment, it actually takes an hour to get a table. You bristle quietly as your date drops passive-aggressive hints about standing around in high heels. How has the sacred concept of exact time been thwarted thus by some dude in an ironic fedora?

I couldn’t help but wonder,” you write anonymously the next day on Urbanspoon, tendrils of cigarette smoke curling leisurely about your perm, “Why did they lie about the wait time? They could at least be honest about it!”

Why, nobody’s lying to you, sweet customer. Well, maybe a little, but it was at the “Enjoy the rest of your night!” part, not the wait time part. Let’s break down the maths behind the hospitality wait time, shall we?

The equation, if y represents wait time, is this:

y = (number of customers currently occupying tables) + (which stage of their meal they are at) + (current kitchen capacity) + (speed of current wait staff)

When you are given a wait time, it’s an educated guess based on these factors.

Now as you enquire about how long a table for two will be, we scan the floor, and think, Ok, the table that is most likely to leave first is the couple who are waiting for dessert. But, the apprentice chef normally lumped with dessert orders is swamped doing sharing platters for that table of eight. Assuming that desserts take ten-fifteen minutes, it takes another ten-fifteen to eat them, plus afterwards the couple want to chill out before asking for the bill, and if Janine clears and resets the table ASAP, that’s about a 35-minute wait.

If the table in that equation decides to shake things up by ordering a cheese platter as well, or if their order was messed up, or if they want to keep drinking after dessert, or if they just simply take their sweet time and spend another hour chatting over a forkful of cheesecake*, or if the waiter assigned to that section suddenly storms out… That we can’t control, and so the wait time increases.

Good hospo staff can predict wait times fairly accurately, while allowing for the variables above, and still fall within a twenty minute margin of error. That does not mean they are lying to you. It means the place is FUCKING BUSY, DICKHEAD.

My advice, my darlings, is don’t waste your precious energy (and the staff’s precious time) throwing a hissy fit over the wait period when there are fifty other places within walking distance you can choose from. Don’t start pointing out that this joint “needs a better system” when you don’t know the first thing about running a busy restaurant, let alone turning over or making a profit. They will not listen to you, even if you think you and you alone hold the key to abolishing wait times at restaurants worldwide. (You don’t.)

Basically, wait times for restaurants/bars/cafés exist for the same reason there are wait times for any old thing. And while losing your shit at the staff over wait times successfully demonstrates your ignorance and penchant for violent outbursts, it achieves little else. This is Melbourne for fuck’s sake: if you can’t wait, or can’t tolerate the walk-in system, or whatever else is getting your goat, go somewhere else. The offending establishment will lose your business and you will get fed more quickly – win-win, right? Or is that too logical for you to comprehend? I will stand here quietly and wait for you to catch up, if you like. After all, you’ve always been so kind to me, customer.

*Fun fact! Have you ever felt rushed out of a restaurant/bar/café by “rude” staff while you were happily gasbagging with your companions? Given the bill as soon as your latte was finished, et cetera? Revelation: the reason this happened was because this situation came full circle! That is, there were Whine Lovers like yourself – perhaps your evil alternate universe twin who is hell-bent on destroying your life – hanging around the door like bad smells waiting for your table. The staff were sick of being yapped at every time they walked past the queue, and gave the bill to the nearest-to-available table. Chat outside, motherfuckers.


  1. For customers to make this connection, they would have to have a certain level of maturity. Unfortunately when most people step into a restaurant environment, hungry and confused as to how the system works, they regress back to being five years old again. Restaurants should hand breadsticks out at the door to quell hypoglycemic outbursts and general dumbfuckery

    1. Like getting happy face stickers and lollipops at the doctor? I like it.


      "Have a sticker." (sticker says: "I was a BRAVE BOY for waiting in line at [Restaurant Name] today!")


  2. Great post, can't help thinking your maths is a little off, should be:

    y = ('number of customers currently occupying tables' + 'which stage of their meal they are at') / ('current kitchen capacity' + 'speed of current wait staff')

    Maybe you should hand whingers a blackboard with this equation and some chalk and let the pricks work it out for themselves. Would probably give them something else to be self-satisfied about!