opinion

"You can tell an awful lot about a person by how they treat a waitress."

It was J. K. Rowling who said, “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

And waitstaff know this better than most.

I worked at a golf club for five years. One night, after I’d already completed an eight-hour day at my internship, I turned up to work barely able to keep my eyes open. At about 9pm, I made a mistake.

A bad mistake.

As I was serving dessert to a table, balancing three plates on my abnormally small hands, feeling the weight on my abnormally weak wrists, a dessert slowly slid into a woman’s lap.

I was horrified.

Before she’d even realised, I began profusely apologising. I told her I would go and get a cloth and clean it right up – but I was interrupted before I finished my sentence.

The woman, who appeared to have been dragged to this event by her husband, stood up and started yelling. She called me incompetent. She told me the stains would never come out. She said that what I had done was inexcusable, and she wanted to speak to my boss about what I’d done.

I nodded, before running off to the kitchen and crying my tired eyes out.

She was right, of course. I shouldn’t have lost control of the dessert. But it was the tone with which she addressed me that hurt the most. It was as though I was an idiot, a bumbling fool who couldn’t do something as simple as put a plate on a table. I felt like a naughty six-year-old who had intentionally incited chaos.

You can tell A LOT about a person, based on how they treat waitstaff. Image via Getty.
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It was then I realised that something of your true self is revealed when you find yourself in a position of power. How do you speak to those who sit 'beneath' you within an arbitrary hierarchy? How do your treat those who serve you? How do you behave when there is a clear power differential - and suddenly you're on top?

How someone treats waitstaff is, unequivocally, a testament to their character.

Take Harvey Weinstein as an example. Treating waitstaff poorly is hardly the most damning allegation made against him in recent weeks, but it is consistent with the portrait of a man who treats his subordinates like disposable playthings.

Weinstein is said to have frequented a restaurant below his office, where he would meet with young actresses. He would then take them upstairs for hours at a time, before returning and complaining that his food was cold.

His tantrums were said to be legendary in the restaurant.

"He would get angry over little details like if the wrong drink was brought over," a former server said.

"In fact, if things didn't go the way he wanted he wasn't above taking the lemons out of his drink and throwing it at the servers. We would put a lemon or lime on a glass of water or a drink and he would take it off the drink and chuck it at the servers to get their attention and make sure he hit them."

Listen: What you need to know about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein. (Post continues below...)

Another former employee said: "The entire staff would cringe when he would come in. One specific time he came into the kitchen and began yelling at a girlfriend of mine who was a server and began calling her 'stupid' because she wasn't getting his food quick enough."

For Harvey Weinstein, it would seem, kindness was very much conditional.

I have no doubt he was charming to his colleagues and his close friends. He couldn't have achieved what he did if he treated everyone like an irritating leaf stuck to the bottom of his shoe.

Indeed, if a man - or a woman - is kind to those sitting opposite them, but not to the service staff who pour their glass of water, they are not a kind person. 

It wasn't just when I made mistakes that I saw the worst in people.

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Men tapped me on the bum as I delivered them their coffees. There were people I served for years that never said 'please' or 'thank you'. Some left dirty nappies under their chairs at weddings, or if they wanted my attention, would click their fingers with an air of irritation.

I was yelled at for taking too long to make a coffee. Customers would tell me to 'smile' because my face mustn't have been up to their standards. I wasn't scowling or even frowning. I was concentrating.

When I brought out canapes at events,  I was pushed from group to group, which was only slightly more uncomfortable than being summoned by someone yelling, "OI, come here."

I had platters snatched from my hands, and people throw their napkins on their floor. I had people complain about my service within earshot.

When you are a waitress, you can be made to feel subhuman. Like a slave who is always failing. But there is another side to the job that we don't talk about enough.

And that's what it feels like when someone treats you kindly.

There were people who went beyond the pleases and thank yous - who asked how your studying was going - and told you how lovely their coffee was that morning.

There were the people who bought us Christmas presents every year, and wrote cards about how hard we worked.

There were guests who insisted we have some of the wedding cake, or take home a lolly bag, and made a point of thanking us all individually.

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There were people who were patient, and gave us the benefit of the doubt if the queue was irritatingly long. If their food wasn't quite right, they let us know, but thanked us when we replaced it.

How someone treats waitstaff is the clearest indication of how they value people.

Is a waitress a waitress? Or is a waitress a human being - capable of making mistakes - and eager to fix them when they do?

As the age-old adage goes, if you want to know if someone is kind, watch what they do when they have power.

And that doesn't necessarily mean being the CEO of a multinational business.

It's as simple as watching how they behave when you go out to a restaurant.