You’re All the Same to Me

“Why is she sending all the black people to this area of the restaurant?” asked one of two women I had just sent to be seated from our other host podium.

My counterpart–a black male who is usually a man of many words and sage sayings–was rendered speechless.

“Excuse me?” he asked the two women.

“All the black people–why is she sending us here?” the one lady asked again.

As my counterpart is telling me this story, I am as dumbfounded as he must have felt at the time: She actually asked why I was sending them to be seated in the part of the restaurant, where everyone wants to be seated in? All the black people? Huh?

“We have to watch out for this kind of thing, you know,” she explained. Her friend nodded.

My counterpart escorted the ladies around the section in question–the section with the most windows, most booths, most art, and best plants. There, before them, sat two large groups–both predominantly white. Scattered about the remaining tables were one Hispanic family, an Asian couple, and several tables of office workers representing everyone else on the planet.

“Hmm. Okay. Good,” said the lady who was first offended. “We can sit here. We just wanted to be sure.”

Sure of what?

I don’t notice or care about the race of my customers. I see hungry people who want to be fed.

Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, or any other ethnicity or cultural background: I don’t care! Gay, lesbian, straight, old, young, family, or singles: I don’t care, either!

Here’s what I do care about: Do you have a reservation? How many are in your party? Are you expecting someone else to join you? Do you want smoking or nonsmoking? Do you prefer a bar scene? Do you want to be able to watch live sports on TV? Would you like a booth? Do you prefer a window? Is this a special occasion?

Here’s what else I care about: Is a particular server in the weeds and needs a break from being seated? Is a particular section understaffed? Is a server new on the floor and I’d like to go easy on him/her with a few deuces? Is a section of booths and tables reserved for a large group?

I constantly have to adjust how I plan for seating–most of the time in a matter of seconds–as my foyer fills during the peak lunch hour.

Since that incident happened, a niggling second guess often pops up in my mind, when it never used to.

Does the gay couple think I am stereotyping them when I mention they should check out all the original art in our restaurant? Actually, I point out the art to all the customers who are new to our restaurant.

Does the family with young children think I seated them in one of our smaller dining rooms simply because they have children with them? No, that dining room happens to have several tables that best accommodate high chairs.

Does the teenage couple think the deuce on the terrace is a way to stash them off to the side because they’re just teenagers and their check won’t be too high and they won’t tip? I actually thought it was a nice table with a view–for anyone.

Do the two elderly men fret that I am discriminatory toward them because I assigned them a table and not a booth? Sorry, I just thought the closer the place to sit and the fewest steps to it, the better, since one man used a cane and walked very slowly.

Does the solo woman wishing to have lunch and read think I gave her a rookie waiter and terrible table? Nope, I just chose a section that has a small corner booth perfect for one–where I’d want to eat if I was dining by myself.

Please, everyone, it’s just you and me in a restaurant I happen to work in, and I am working hard to get you a table at which you’ll be comfortable, maybe get to know you for a moment or two, and wish you bon appetit.

Really, it’s just you and me.






13 responses to “You’re All the Same to Me”

  1. kate Avatar

    Just so you know – this EXACT same thing happened to me one day at a restaurant I used to work at. I was waiting tables and happened to have an entirely non-Caucasian section (hey, it happens, and it’s fine with me). One of my tables asked for the manager, and when I asked why, he said he wanted an explanation for the “racial bias” in the seating of the restaurant! I was so shocked I didn’t have an answer (a rarity for me) and got the manager, who was also completely dumbfounded. How crazy – I thought I was the only one this happened to!

  2. Restaurant Gal Avatar

    I know. I talked to another host at another restaurant who was really upset by a similar experience. She thought it had only happened to her, too. I have to tell you, this really got to me.

    Thanks for the comment.

    –The Gal

  3. C Avatar

    There is a large segment of African-American society, and you’d be amazed at how large it really is, that constantly obsesses about race and sees every encounter with non-blacks as just another example of discrimination. I call it race psychosis. It’s most common in the lower socioeconomic groups but as people’s income rises they bring the psychosis along.

  4. Zazzy Avatar

    I use a cane and I can tell you I’m very appreciative of the host who recognizes that means I cannot easily walk as far. I have issues with those who don’t appear to notice and take off running to the farthest reaches of the restaurant. It seems to me you are trying to be helpful when you can be.

  5. haru Avatar

    the thing is– all of those people may think those things, they just might not speak out against it. when something does occur to you constantly in a subversive way, which racism does, you do start to grow paranoid about it. then you start to see it where it isn’t– and that only compounds people’s beliefs that people of that minority group are just being oversensetive. it’s always interesting to see people be utterly dumbfounded by these accusations that seem out of the blue. kind of brings the pervasiveness of racism home. when you’ve experienced it so much that you’d assume that’s the simple explanation than something, it’s unnerving.

  6. jenni Avatar

    i am in my early 20’s. i wish i could come to your restaurant. Every one i go to here seats me next to the bathroom/kitchen. i assume i don’t look incontinent, so it must be because they feel i won’t spend much money or leave a decent tip. i personally consider the seats by the bathroom(and frequently the kitchen) are the worst in the house. any advice to keep this from happening?

  7. Mukta Avatar

    I really want to eat at your restaurant now. Of course, I’ll need to make quite a long trip, considering I’m in India but…You come across as very considerate. And as for the couple, well, that is just their way…Who knows, right about now, they may be strongly recommending your restaurant to their friends and family. 🙂

  8. Kevin Avatar

    Middle daughter works in the industry. She tells many tales of exactly this same thing happening.

    I call it the Chip On Shoulder Syndrome.

    They REALLY need to get over themselves!

  9. LB Avatar

    Unfortunately, I think this sort of thing has become commonplace these days. Everyone is so afraid of discriminating, yet they are paranoid about being discriminated against at the same time. I think you’ve been doing it right and you just have to let the nagging doubts go and continue to be your wonderful, considerate self. You can’t please all the people all the time, but it seems that you do a dang good job of coming close.

  10. Natalie Avatar

    Well, YOU know you’re just trying to be a good and considerate host. Try not to worry so much about what people might be thinking. If someone wants to get their feathers all ruffled over some perceived insult, it’s not your fault. Personally, I think it must be a sucky w\ay to live, to always have to be on your gaurd like that, when in fact the vast majority of people aren’t even giving you a second look.

  11. saltymissjill Avatar

    People are going to be treated based on their appearances and mannerisms (sometimes percieved) as long as we live in a society that outwardly DOES make judgements– based on a long history of race-, sex-, class- and every other ‘ism’.
    Living in the society we do, it has become part of our collective subconcious. Continuing to re-examine our beliefs, perceptions and actions towards others is what brings these notions to the surface, and only then can we begin to overcome stereotypes. Those people who complain about others having ‘a chip on their shoulder’ probably haven’t been outwardly discriminated against…or if they have, it is in reaction to their perceived status in society.

    Anyways, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Thanks for being concious and a thoughtful person, Restaurant Gal! xoxo

  12. Lisa Avatar

    I’ve never understood what the big deal about seating in a restaurant is all about. When I go out to eat, it’s usually with my son, or with friends… people I enjoy the company of and will spend the next hour or so eating and talking and paying very little attention to anything going on around me in the restaurant. The only time I think I tend to notice my surrounding is when I’m seated near a table with screaming children. Even then, I don’t blame the hostess or anyone associated with the restaurant for this… I blame the parents who either can’t (or won’t) control their children. Seems some people just aren’t happy about anything. Where they sit for dinner should be the least of their worries.

  13. Carla Avatar

    It’s nice that you don’t discriminate, but read some of the posts by your fellow restaurant server bloggers. Many admit to instantly “sizing up” customers based on race or ethnicity. I doubt that means they put ’em in the crappiest seats in the house, but it does indicate that some restaurant workers immediately stereotype based on physical characteristics.