Petrus Spronk

A while ago I had a coffee with Tina from the Convent. She reminded me of an article I wrote many years ago for the then local paper and said this would be ready for another reading especially by today’s waiters. So here an updated copy, but without the names, because those waiters aren’t waiting around anymore!

In a town which has cafés and restaurants galore, I thought I would look at the job that involves more waiting than any other activity.

The very ‘art of waiting’ lies in one of the concepts it contains -the concept of patience. Since the greatest reward of the practice of patience is Patience, the art of the great waiter lies in being ‘patient’.

The concept of waiting well, whether it is for a bus, a dinner date or a play, to start, has always intrigued me. This is probably because I, like most other beings, spend far too much time waiting.

Being impatient, I used to get annoyed when I had to wait. Consequently I became punctual, believing that if I did not let people wait they would return the favour. Fat chance. I now realise that to wait well, to turn the negative aspects of waiting into the positive, is to use the time waiting in a positive way, rather than getting upset, which is the negative version, and uses far too much energy.

The easiest way to wait well is to be grateful for the respite, the momentary rest, the possibility of a moment of quiet, or of de-stressing in general. Then waiting becomes easy.

Come to think of it, it is quite incredible to realise that there is an actual profession which is called “Waiting”. This means there are people who wait for a living. This seems a most incredible concept, although I believe the reality of it is quite different.

What do these professional waiters spend their time waiting for? One of my waiter friends thinks that in the main the bulk of waiters wait for many things. They wait for the weather to improve, they wait to be discovered, they wait to finish university, they wait for better job opportunities and most probably they wait for that generous tip they think they deserve.

As an artist, I have done my share of waiting, mainly for payment of my art work, but also on other people in a café environment. And, although, this is not my profession, I like to do it well. Therefore I question it. What does it take to be a good waiter, to wait well? The basis of this is the same as any other profession.

Probably the best thing is to order a coffee and put the question to a few of the professional waiters I know and respect. The question is not why they wait, but how they wait well. What, in other words, makes a good waiter?

Welcome to Customer’s Heaven.

The same friend (a very professional waiter) again: “a harmonious cacophony of spirit, mind and body with a definite liking for the follies of the human species and the capability to deal with the breast feeding neurosis of the average person.”  Onya mate, I don’t want to wait, you can make and serve me a coffee right now!

How do we experience a waiter? First we see him or her, then we interact, then we learn. One waitress who waits in a wonderful way, and who also employs waiters, looks for a waiter who presents well first of all, secondly has a personality which is compatible with the task at hand and, finally, has excellent product knowledge. That’s the bones of it. Additionally, the waiter must be alert to the customer’s needs.

Another special (employer) waitress looks for initiative in a waiter. She dislikes moody waiters and prefers an even temper, waiters who can handle stress, are team players and can take care. She particularly dislikes arrogant or patronising waiters. So far so good and even better.

Waitress R, besides some of the above considerations, believes that a good waiter is able to look ahead and understands, or develops, the finer points of waiting. The ‘art’ of waiting.

Another waiting artist, believes that good waiting has a ‘common sense’ approach. He feels it important to have a twelfth gear and he aims ‘to serve how he likes to be served’. That’s ‘Common Sense’

Waitress D feels that if you enjoy the work in the first place the rest will follow. The rest, being the ability to adjust to anyone’s personality and mood (big ask), being able to read the customer, understanding their body language and signals. It is important, she feels, that waiters see their work as a profession.

Waitress N is a waitress with attitude who doesn’t wait. Wait till you see her on her red bike, an extraordinary sculptural machine. Her movements are as purposeful off her bike as on it and in this lies her idea of waiting. Intuition is mentioned first, followed by timing. The ability to scan the room and, without invading the privacy of the diner, observe their needs, and be of service.

My first waiting teacher told me that people know they have had a good waiter when they haven’t realised they have been waited upon. The Zen of waiting well.

Last word to he who waits well: “Ah… to wait or not to wait, from Hamlet to Prince Charles, that is the question”.

There are many more waiters around town I could have asked. However, I can’t wait around – I am going to have a coffee because I’d rather be waited upon, than wait.



Petrus Spronk is a local artist and philosopher who contributes a regular column to The Wombat Post.