Columnists Mark my words

Column: Don’t wait to appreciate

by Father Mark Goldasich

If you’re ever looking for my mom or me on  a Wednesday afternoon, head to a Wendy’s. Although which one varies depending on what part of the city we’re running errands in, that we’ll be at Wendy’s is almost a sure bet.

A few months ago, we were at the one on 78th and Tauromee in Kansas City, Kan. We’d gone there a couple of times before, because a Price Chopper where Mom likes to shop is just down the road. As we approached the counter, a worker by the name of Steve flashed a broad smile, held up a hand and said, “Let’s see. I think I can get this. She’ll (my mom) have a #1 plain — just the meat and the bread — with fries and a diet Coke. You’ll have a #6 with a diet . . . and chili instead of fries.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s exactly right! Do you memorize the orders of all your customers?”

“Nope,” replied Steve. “Only the nice ones!”

Well, let me tell you that Mom and I felt great to get such a compliment. We didn’t do anything special for this young man. We just made sure to smile when we came in, call him by name, and maybe ask a question about how his day was going. In other words, we simply treated him with respect and tried to show our gratitude for his service to us.

Mom and I have a special place in our hearts for waiters and waitresses, for fast food workers and caterers. You see, we both worked at one time in the food service industry. Mom was a waitress at the coffee shop in the Huron Building in Kansas City, Kan., and then later worked for many years at Pitko’s Catering. I, too, spent time at Pitko’s — both as a waiter and cashier in the restaurant and as a server on catering jobs. Even my dad got in on the action as a catering job driver and server on weekends.

We’ve seen firsthand the best and the worst sides of customers. We’ve spent long hours on our feet, prayed that the food would last when an unexpectedly large crowd showed up, and carried heavy pans, plates, chafing dishes and tables in blistering heat and in frigid cold. We’ve cleaned up after parties and receptions and tried to be patient and accommodating to even the most irritat- ing people.

Because it’s often such a tough and thankless job, I was excited to learn that there’s actually a special day — May 21 — dedicated to recognizing and appreciating waiters and waitresses. Apparently, this started out in the Michigan area and has steadily spread across the country.

I would imagine that restaurants have taken quite a hit in this economy. When people are looking to cut back on expenses, eating out is likely one of the first items on the list. Fewer customers means fewer tips for those who wait tables. Since most work only for minimum wage (or even less, in some cases), tips are a vital source of income for wait staff. I know; I’ve been there.

Therefore, in honor of National Waitresses/Waiters Day, consider having a meal out this weekend. It doesn’t need to be fancy; just be sure to make the people who wait on you feel valued and appreciated. Be patient, make eye contact with the servers, call them by name, thank them when they refill your water glass, and use the word “please” when making a request. Leaving a generous tip wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

And don’t limit your attention only to those who work in restaurants. Each week, we Catholics gather around another table, the altar. When was the last time you complimented one of the Mass servers or lectors? Have you ever stopped to thank those who provide music at the weekend liturgies? Do you ever notice and express appreciation to all the behind-the-scenes people — the sacristans, the custodians or the art-and-environment folks — who make sure that our churches are attractive and ready for Masses? Please don’t forget those who serve around the family table, either. Take time to acknowledge the grocery shopper, the food preparer, the table setter, etc.

The feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate this weekend, reminds us to take our faith into the streets. One of the most powerful ways to do that is simply to live out that faith in small acts of respect and gratitude toward those whose service is too often taken for granted.

Doing so may make us nice in the eyes of waitresses and waiters; in the eyes of God, though, it can make us holy.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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