By MATT CRANE
While preparing meals at home can provide an intimate, personal experience for family and friends, dining out at the restaurants Starkville has to offer is never a bad alternative. Although going out to eat allows home chefs to take the night off, there are still plenty of people working very hard to make sure that meal-away-from-home is enjoyable, and the time spent around a different kind of dining table is meaningful and pleasant.
Working in the food service industry since 2007, Alexa Pearson has seen it all. For over six years, Pearson has experienced the ups and downs that come with worker as a server, a job she said remains enjoyable.
“I love waiting tables and being in the food industry,” she said. “I have such a rapport with the patrons who come in.”
Pearson said the personal touch she and other local servers bring to a diner’s time away from home is what makes the job satisfying.
“I like knowing what is going on with people’s lives and being able to keep up with them,” she said. “When they come in, I want to make it an experience for them — whether it’s a first date, celebrating an engagement or congratulating them on a graduation, I want them to remember the great time they had at the restaurant.”
While Pearson said she and others are happy to provide their services for patrons, servers often do not feel treated with a respect they deserve.
“We work a job the way anyone else does and we enjoy what we do, but on the flip side, it is easy to run us over and not treat us with the same respect you would someone in another field of work,” she said. “I think it’s really important to remember that we are servers, not servants.”
One of the most pressing issues for servers, Pearson said, is that of tipping and the often-used term of “bad service.”
“Bad service is a broad term because sometimes people blame things on the server that we have no control over like long ticket times, people having to wait or their food coming out incorrectly,” she said. “I think it’s all about the server’s attitude and how they handle that particular situation that should make or break a tip.”
Making the serving standard minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, Pearson said servers see tips as not only a way to make money, but to receive validation of a job well done as well.
“I think 20 percent is something that, no matter what, we would be happy with, but anything over 15 percent is fair and that makes us feel cared about,” she said. “You take pride in your job and that’s definitely a way to validate that we are good at what we do.”
Pearson said in dealing with 20-30 tables during any given shift, she tries to make sure every customer is cared for equally and looks for cooperation and consideration when the restaurant gets busy.
“Although I’m not designated to one table specifically, it’s important that I give everyone equal attention,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember that you will be remembered for the way you treat your servers, because at the end of the day, we want to fell like you care about us too.”
Pearson said when customers feel as though their time out has not been as pleasant as expected, talking with a manager is always the best bet for taking care of a problem instead of taking out any frustration with the serving staff.
“If people have a problem, be it bad service, food taking to long to come out or something is wrong with the dish, it’s always more appropriate to talk to a manger because there’s only so much a server can do,” she said. “We have feelings too, and no one wants to be made to feel bad when they care about their job.”
Pearson said as a cocktail waitress, certain restaurant etiquette has a tendency to go out of the window, especially when alcohol may be involved.
“When people have a night out, they might get carried away and get their tab, but if it’s not they expected it to be, don’t compensate for that by not tipping,” she said. “People should be mindful of that and if you can’t afford to pay for your good time, you probably don’t need to be having one.”
All in all, Pearson, a student working her way through school, said she takes pride in her job and cares about those who come and dine with her.
“I come ready to work and interact with people and make it a good experience for them,” she said. “I care about my job, and I care about the people I wait on.”