Saturday Market Theory of Waiting Tables


by Paul C. Paz

It's my morning opening shift for the restaurant and I have a new server trainee following me. We are going through the scheduled routine of opening and cleaning (including waxing tabletops and picking gum off the bottoms). My trainee says, "For such a big company why don't they have a cleaning company do this?

They're probably just trying to save a buck."


I looked at him and said, "Have you ever been to Portland's Saturday Market?" (I should explain that the Saturday Market is familiar to many across the country. You know... the craft fairs and flea markets. Where entrepreneurs gather to sell their crafts and services.)


"Yep", he answers in a quizzical tone.


Well, here in my restaurant, I'm in the same boat at the entrepreneurs at the Saturday Market. You see my "booth" is my five-table section and my success is completely determined by what I am willing to do with it. Ok, yes I am an employee. But, when I encounter my customers they only see me... I am the owner. I am everything they expect to happen. In my customer's eyes I am responsible for everything that happens to them during their visit... at my Saturday Market booth.


Now on a practical basis that's a ridiculous concept. But, the reality of my being "in charge" of my opportunity to stage myself for professional and financial success is to understand and appreciate what an entrepreneurial opportunity I have handed to me as a professional waiter. I dream of having my own business, but on the immediate, I don't have the resources to make that happen. I worked another career for ten years that was based on the concept of using other people's money to get ahead... insurance. (A dignified profession I might add.)


Well, I got hired as a waiter (not so dignified in some eyes) by a restaurateur who handed to me a facility (a clean facility with polished table tops and no sticky "gak" on the bottoms) that cost over $1,000,000. They also gave a food and beverage inventory exceeding $70,000 to offer my customers. They also provided an accounting department to calculate my business costs (to save a buck) such as taxes, health insurance, vacation pay, and even retirement. Plus, an executive division to plan my future profitable expansion (and managers to execute effective daily operations, staffing levels, guidance, and personal support to satisfy my customers). They even hired and trained a professional in-house support staff (other waitstaff, hosts, bartenders, cocktail servers, cooks, and dishwashers) so I could focus on my customers' needs and requests. Why, they even paid thousand of dollars for advertising to bring in customers for me. All of this for my own personal use!


You know what's crazy? The first day I showed up they paid me an hourly wage... without ever selling a thing for them! But you know what is really, I mean REALLY NUTS? I get all this opportunity handed to me... for nothing. I didn't have to pay a dime for any of it. All I have to do is show up and invest creative professional effort using the resources given to me. I am responsible for my future. My challenge is how am I going to maximize all this opportunity given to me at no cost?


Who says I'm not an entrepreneur? All I have to do is think like a businessperson. I have my own business as a waiter...


A dignified profession, I must add!!



(Paz wrote this in 1986 for Restaurants and Institutions Magazine’s “Year of the Waiter” contest. It was published October 1987 in Restaurants and Institutions)

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  • Hi Paul, the waiters in the old days were Gentlens, Gentlemen, then went on as Butlers, waiters we always treated the diners like ladies and Sir, and received all the respect and knowledge that was expected from waiters. That is why people went out to dine, this was an era when tipping was not compulsary, yet we trebled our wages, the wages were always the minimal, which was the same as all minimum wages. Time has changed. Giouseppe
  • Thanks Steven.

    I'm gonna chase down that Ritz concept...


  • Excellent concept - empowering the staff to do a) what you hired them to and b) how to empower them in a way that helps them recognize their role in the overall success of their endeavor.  Another way I;ve heard this might be that the role of the staff of the Ritz is not to 'serve' but to be 'a lady and gentleman who can be of service to other ladies and gentlemen'.  I'm always amazed at how far a Ritz staffer is allowed to go to assure an extraordinary guest experience.
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