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Baumgarten: Lessons from a former waitress

When I was in college, I worked in the service industry. It’s one of those jobs that most people don’t want to do, but they sign up either because they need extra cash, have no experience in other places or they simply have to do it to live.

For three years of my life, I stood behind the register and waited tables. I cleaned up after children and sometimes adults. I even put on a sombrero and sang happy birthday for a family, despite the fact that the company stopped doing it long before I got there.

I can’t complain too much. After all, it was a job that paid — sometimes it paid very well and other times not so much. Looking back, I didn’t have to work my butt off. Probably the best part was meeting new friends and feeling like I was a part of something.

One thing that I did learn is that if you can survive being in the service industry, you can survive handling people. As a server, you have to put up with a lot. A businessman can come in and tell you his food is cold, despite the apparent steam rolling off his steak. Anyone can walk through the doors five minutes to close and order the most complicated thing on the menu. And you may get a customer that falls in love with you, almost too much.

Like it or not, if you are a waitress you can’t simply blow up on them. You have to serve them, be nice and smile.

Because at the end of the day your paycheck comes from their pocket and feelings toward you. You see, in the restaurant industry, your boss isn’t the general manager. Your boss is every person that walks through the door and sits in your section, whether it is one person or a party of 20.

That’s why I think everyone should be required to be a server at least once in their lives. They realize what they have to do to make a buck. They have to please the unpleasable. Waiters and waitresses have to be suck-ups when they don’t want to. And they have to know how to handle a customer that wants the impossible.

The lessons I learned come in handy as an editor and reporter. Believe it or not, not everyone likes what is reported. Then again, if I was in this business to make friends, then I would have quit a long time ago.

With that said, I still want to listen to what my readers have to say, whether it is nice or mean. In this line of business I have had people state their grievances in a respectable manner, and some have told me they are going to sue me for slander.

By the way, slander is defamation through hand gestures and verbal words that are not recorded. Libel is using print to intentionally damage a person’s reputation. But that is another column for another time.

I don’t mind listening to people complain. It’s part of my job and I can’t learn or teach without readers telling me what we should improve on as a newspaper. After all, I don’t just have one boss. I have thousands, the readers.

The thought made me think of the time I was in a restaurant. A customer demanded that the bartender sell him beer to go. She told him she could not do off-sale. He begged and even got nasty with her. I finally told him there was a liquor store down the street, or the cops could settle this matter if he desired.

He scoffed and left.

I bring this up for one reason. It’s OK to express frustrations to people, whether it is to a waitress or the CEO of a big company. But sometimes we forget that the people we are talking to are human, that they also go to restaurants and order food, just like us.

I’m not telling you to tip your next waitress 20 percent next time you go out. I’m not even asking that you like what The Press prints.

It is our job to print what the public needs to know, just like a waitress must bring a person food. That information we print may be good, bad, loved and even hated. Everyone has a right to an opinion and I respect that.

But I do challenge you to do this. Before you throw a fit, or decide to chew someone out because the cooks put pickles on your burger you didn’t want, take a breath. There is no reason to get upset. Please correct them in a respectful manner. Your server wants that tip and will do what they can to get it.

Because when you come back, that waitress will remember you. And they may come find you at your job.

So how do you want to be treated? I would suggest you treat others like that too, especially when they have control over your food.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at Like her on Facebook at Follow her at

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.