We’re not in the food-business. We’re in the people-business, serving food.

I’m a career waitress, a fair share of my life has been spent observing a ridiculous range of personalities and listening to bizarre words exchanging between them. Thankfully, the days of slinging half-price appetizers to seven high school juniors are over and I’ve moved onto something more age-appropriate for a 32 year old waitress.

I wine and dine folks inside a cozy Wisconsin supper club, where the conversations and company are consistently mild, regulars come in the through the back door that we go all Cheers on and our cooks prepare a mean steak. The owner of this quaint restaurant has this saying he loves, not only because I think he probably made it up himself but also because it’s true.

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“We’re not in the food business, we’re in the people business – serving food.”

The other day I experienced this first hand and while I hope you can take something from it, I’m writing mostly so I do not forget the feeling this experience gave me.


A3 is yours and it’s a 62nd wedding anniversary, the hostess spit out zipping past me. Note taken. Swiftly I glimpsed around the corner to decide how I wanted to approach their table. It varies depending on how happy, grumpy, or hangry people appear to be in the .52 seconds I take to assess the situation.

Happy Anniversary. 62 years, wow,  that is really something to be proud of!

You must really like each other.

I wasn’t sure about the last line I delivered – it wasn’t really planned but with a big toothy smile this lovely woman with white curly hair laughs while her husband holds not more than a simple grin. Mentally I jotted down that this was a pair of pleasant people, which happen to be my favorite kind. They ordered two Tom & Jerrys and an order of calamari to start their celebrating and I excused myself from their table by the window.

Sitting nearby, three pretty ladies –  a young grandma, a young mom and an adorable little girl over heard that it was a special occasion and insisted on picking up table A3s dinner bill.

I love it when that happens.

We discussed all the important details and I was instructed to let the anniversary couple know it was all paid for after the ladies had left – not before. As they wrapped up their dinner, I observed the gals make a quick stop and wish the couple a happy anniversary.  I’ve never been good at keeping secrets but always pretty amazing at delivering good news.

I carried over a big homemade cupcake with a candle, forks, and a little coffee. Who celebrates without cake? I told them they were welcome to stay as long as they’d like, I’d keep an eye on their coffees but not to worry about the bill. Confused, I explained that the table right next door had already taken care of it.

The gentleman, with the same simple grin he had earlier in the evening thanked me and his bride sat speechless. Selflessly, she asked if I had been tipped on their tables portion of the bill. I tilted my head to the side and thanked her for asking because, let’s be real, I make $2.68/hour. In this instance, the tip was the last thing I was concerned with and told her that I was taken care of in the process and they do not need to leave a dime.

Another table nearby had been sat and before I even had their water glasses filled, we were talking about how adorable table A3 is. I let them in on the secret that another table had picked up their tab and I gushed over what a great night they were having.

On my way to deliver the new diners cocktails, table A3 was getting ready to leave. The bride with the toothy smile and curly white hair approached me and while it’s not unusual for patrons to give an additional thank you as they exit, she had tears in her eyes.

Not only did she thank me, she hugged me and held onto my shoulders so tight. In a low voice she expressed sincere gratitude while telling me that her husband has dementia and this might be the last time they dine in our restaurant together. Her chin quivering,  I reached back out and wrapped my arms around her while quiet tears rolled down her aged cheeks.

Thank you for making tonight so special.

I told her that I’ll see her next time, and with that she walked over to her husband who was waiting by the coat rack. While delivering the newcomers cocktails, they pointed out how romantic it is that he still helps her with her jacket. Turning around, I watched them walk out the door hand-in-hand.

That is the night I realized that we are indeed in the people business – simply serving food.

3 thoughts on “We’re not in the food-business. We’re in the people-business, serving food.

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