Diner Debbie, le garçon snooty, the bitter career waiter--they've probably all served you dinner at one time or another. There are certain types of waiters who work in every type of restaurant, from the college dropout slumming at Chevy's to the single mom pulling in $300 a night at a destination restaurant. Herewith is our tongue-in-cheek guide to identifying the different server sorts, informed as it is by way too many years of working in the business ourselves.
The Artist/Actor/Writer waits tables one or two days a week in order to get out of the house, make contacts and glean fodder for his "real" work. He enjoys the free booze and food that comes with the job. Eating what's known in the restaurant business as the "family meal" only once a week means that it remains a novelty; he's not sick of what is always pasta with chicken and complains less about everything than do full-time waiters.
How to recognize him: Funky, international jewelry topped with either a vacant stare or an extremely intense gaze.
The tip: Ask him what he really thinks about the menu. He's got nothing to lose and is bound to be candid.
Where you'll find him: Meeting nonrestaurant friends after the shift for a joint and a jam session.
The Sweet-Tart is always dressed in the latest fashion and brags about having slept with the waiter who trained her within two days of hire. She works doubles (barely waking up in time to get ready for her lunchtime job) and goes shopping on the break between her lunch and dinner shifts. She's still got youth on her side, but inevitably compensates for her deteriorating health with an overemphasis on clothes that are starting to look too young for her. If she's not careful, she'll turn into the Hellcat (see below).
How to recognize her: Perfect hair and makeup, slight smell of cigarette smoke.
The tip: You won't be able to help throwing all of your money at her; she'll charm the pants off you.
Where you'll find her: At the bar after work, batting her eyelashes at that cute bartender.
The Hellcat has been in the industry for ages. She's probably opened up several four-star restaurants and she can do her job with her eyes closed--and she often does. She's got seniority in whichever restaurant she works because she's such a seasoned pro that she can cover any mistake she makes (they are few and they are denied). She knows how to wrap management around her finger, and the other waiters are terrified of her because they know their tenure at the restaurant she rules could be short-lived should they get on her bad side. She complains about the lack of available men in her demographic and often ends up marrying a bartender some time in her mid-40s. Recognizing the restaurant's true alpha female, the Sweet-Tart sucks up to the Hellcat shamelessly.
How to recognize her: Expensive highlights covering the gray and clothes that make you wonder, "Is she dressing too young for her age, or does she look that much older than she really is?"
The tip: Don't talk down to this waitress. If you spark her wrath, she'll ensure that your food is cold, your wine corked and your check late. However, if you get on her good side, truffles and dessert wine might magically appear at your table.
Where you'll find her: Either getting a manicure or at home with Netflix and a bottle of vodka.
The Lifer is shocked and bitter to still be waiting tables after 25 years and knows how much customers will tip just by sizing up the state of their shoes. He never does his side work (polishing silverware, buffing wineglasses, folding napkins) and despises the younger servers, recognizing in them his wasted youth. Although he's by far the laziest server in the restaurant, he'll never be fired, because he's been in the business for a hundred years though he's only 40.
How to recognize him: Wrinkled shirt, stained tie, bad attitude.
The tip: He hates you and the restaurant he works in, which generally prompts a lavish overtip.
Where you'll find him: Hiding in the bathroom, doing the crossword at the bar or skulking in the kitchen, eating.
The Student is usually a trustafarian who always thought it would be really neat to wait tables, but has never so much as served someone else toast, let alone a foie gras reduction balanced on a bed of Moroccan salt. He's generally preoccupied with himself and sometimes with his studies, and can't wait to regale his law-firm colleagues with tales of how he slummed it while in college. When he's not totally sleep-deprived, he's fun to have a drink with at the postshift watering hole, as he provides a nonrestaurant perspective in a world that can be very tiny.
How to recognize him: Clueless look, charming smile, excessive talking.
The tip: Ask him to send over the sommelier when you're choosing a bottle of wine.
Where you'll find him: Trying to score free shots at the bar, or putting the make on the Sweet-Tart--if he hasn't already.
The Professional may or may not have a college degree, and is one of the very few servers who waits tables for the enjoyment of it. A waiter who takes food and wine seriously, the Professional drifts from restaurant to restaurant every couple of years, finding her niche as she grows. This server can be anywhere from 22 to 62, and you will recognize her when you receive the best service you've ever had.
She is invisible if you want her to be, but will engage in stimulating conversation tableside if that's what's needed. Your food will arrive on time but not too quickly, and the wine she chooses for you (while letting you feel like you chose it) will pair perfectly with each dish.
How to recognize her: Few and far between, you will know the Professional by her food and wine knowledge, and her determination to make everything about your dinner perfect.
The tip: Let her drive. She's tasted everything on the menu and the wine list and know what's good. Tip accordingly. Remember: her income is completely based on what you leave!
Where you'll find her: On the line, asking the chef about every last ingredient in the special and at the bar, swapping dirty jokes with the bartenders.