Money is a sensitive issue, outside of a restaurant, that is. But in the world of restaurants, the whole mentality about money is different.

apronThis comes up a lot, especially lately. Indeed, last night, chatting about this blog, a friend said to me, “I know you like your coworkers, but you wouldn’t pass your entire night’s earnings over to them. There’s trust, and then there’s trust, Jody.”

And while I saw his point, I still said, “Of course I’d hand it over. I do it all the time.”

He stared at me, like I’d grown a second head. He probably thought I was kidding–especially since I just sat there over a plate of French fries and smiled about it. Different.

We do indeed hand our entire books of cash over to a coworker to tally while the rest of us finish cleaning up. We hand our aprons full of money to the host any time we go to the restroom. And many nights after we lock up, there’s a pile of money aprons on the corner of the bar or on the lounge couches while we finish putting the restaurant back together again. We’ve never recounted the money after doing any of this, which made me wonder, yet again: Perhaps servers are a different breed of people? 

moneyCase in point: Last month, one of my coworkers found $15 in server locker room. He returned to the main floor and asked me if I dropped it. I told him I hadn’t been in the locker room that day. So he put a note on the money and left it in the office where it sat in plain sight for over a week. No one touched it.

Now, this isn’t blind trust. I would never leave money lying out in the open–outside of the restaurant, I mean. But these are my fellow coworkers, people with whom I share food and beverages—literally, eating from the same fork and drinking from the same glass. I trust them. With money, the overriding sense is always, “That’s not mine.”

I’m not saying we’re model citizens. We don’t wear halos–except for fun. We drive too fast and we’re always running late (the server mentality makes us believe we can accomplish ten things every two minutes, and if we just move faster, we can add an eleventh). But money is just part of the job. We extend trust and don’t think twice. Ask me about personal food or pens, however, and that trust will go right out the window. If a server orders their own food from the kitchen, we all turn into sharks and start circling around. And as for pens, we tend to pocket them without even knowing we’re doing it. While money is everywhere in a restaurant, our own food and pens seem to be rationed. Perhaps that’s a clue: Our needs are simply skewed.

I’ve waited tables in five states across this great land of ours, and I’ve seen all sorts of things. If you’ve read Upside Down Kingdom you know the things I’m talking about. I know there are people who get down in life and resort to stealing. I know some people just steal for stealing’s sake. Still, incidents of missing money tend to be few and far between, and simply don’t happen where I am now with a crew of longterm servers. Money can sit out in the open—we spot it immediately; we know it’s there; but more importantly, who took the blue pen?

The owners where I work certainly know this. They knew what they were looking for, and hand-chose us for this very reason. Brilliance at the helm.

So while our priorities certainly dictate what’s important, I do believe that long-term servers are a different breed of people–one that happens to gravitate toward restaurant work. Or perhaps any length of time in restaurantland simply makes us different. We’re a family, from the top down. Sid’s line from Ice Age comes to mind, “We’re the weirdest herd I’ve ever seen.”

That we are, Sid. That we are.

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Upside Down Kingdom is available at Amazon.

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