CHENNAI: It is 9.15 a.m. The restaurant bustles with customers, each calling out waiters to get his or her orders taken. Kannappa attends to customers on half-a-dozen tables, jotting down their orders on a palm-sized notebook.
He rips a bunch of pages from the notebook, hands it over to a cook and heads back to the dining hall to greet another set of customers.
By the time he sits back for a cup of coffee, another batch of customers roll out their orders for lunch. Mr.Kannappa and scores of other waiters in the city sweat it out for nearly 12 hours a day to serve the customers with good food at a quick pace. “People visiting our hotel want the service to be fast. So there is no time for even a quick talk with other waiters,” says Mr. Kannappa, who works in a hotel on Anna Salai.
While time is a crucial factor for waiters like him working in small restaurants, those working in hotels frequented by the rich say that most customers are finicky about table manners. “ It is understandable because they carry their work tensions and are most likely to vent it out while dining. We gauge their mood and make sure they have a comfortable dinner,” says T.Manikandan, a waiter at Breeze Hotel on Poonamalle High Road.
Waiters at star hotels are trained to handle short-tempered clients with a smile. At smaller eateries, the first lesson for waiters is to memorise the dishes. “If the food is not tasty, the customers hold us responsible as we are the face of the hotel,” says ‘Karur’ Murugan, a waiter at a hotel in K.K.Nagar.
Many customers never call out the waiters but wait for them to make an eye contact. “After we attend a table, we have to keep casting eyes in that direction waiting for their next order,” he says.
Receiving tips remain an embarrassing experience for many waiters. Despite serving 30 years as a waiter, P.Rajarathinam still feels discomfited when he waits for tips. “It feels awkward to pick the money even after the customers leave. But we have no choice,” says the 52-year-old working at a vegetarian food joint in Vadapalani.
The dreams and aspirations for many of them are modest.
“I always want to spend one evening with my family at the other side of the table,” Mr.Rajarathinam says with a wry smile.
“But so far it has never happened.”