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franklin county times

Waitrons: Future of the restaurant
industry?

By By Robert St. John / Food Columnist
August 11, 2004
I spent seven years as a waiter. The savvy reader will quickly note that I used the term "waiter" in the previous sentence, not "waitron." Has there ever been a word whose taillights were more welcome in the rearview mirror of the restaurant industry vernacular than "waitron"?
In the early 1980s, the dawning days' political correctness, a corporate suit at one of the chain-restaurant headquarters decided he could save the company 1 cent of ink per corporate training manual if he deleted the repeated words "waiter" and "waitress," and substituted the more non-gender specific term "waitron." This is probably the same corporate idiot who invented ribs without the rib and New Coke.
I was a waiter during the waitron era. I hated the term. It made everyone sound so mechanical. I always pictured the robot from "Lost in Space" walking out to booth 17 with a tea pitcher, "Danger, Will Robinson! We're almost out of Sweet and Low!"
At the time, it seemed the future of the restaurant business would be a cold, stainless steel chain restaurant full of waitrons, stiff and robotic, moving mindlessly through the dining room, "There's a substandard tipper on table nine, crush, kill, destroy!"
For the boob-tubally challenged, "Lost in Space" was the 1960s low-fi, sci-fi series that actually aired an episode titled "The Great Vegetable Rebellion," in which a giant talking carrot tried to take over the Robinson Family's rocket ship after Dr. Smith (the spacecraft's diabolical doctor) picked a flower from a space plant. It was set in the intergalactic space traveling, plant-talking, robot-laden future: 1997.
What's with the titles?
Waitron, schmaitron. Why do we have to keep changing perfectly good titles? I never resented being called a waiter. In my opinion, it was never a degrading label.
Had I been a woman, I am sure I wouldn't have minded being called a waitress, either. Although, if I had actually been a woman, I would have had an extremely hairy chest, and probably couldn't have been hired as a waitress. Instead, I would have joined a circus sideshow at an early age as the world's hairiest women.
I once worked at a restaurant where they called their servers waitrons. The head waitron was a militant feminist who despised and resented the term "waitress," along with anything that had to do with men. This was around the same time computer systems were becoming prominent in the restaurant industry.
On the other end of the restaurant galaxy, I was also employed by a restaurant whose manager was a real life waiter hater. He took the waitron/robot thing way too serious. Every day before a shift, he would inform his lowly minions that computers would one day replace waitrons.
Present-day terminology
Today, we call waiters and waitresses "servers," a nice title, still non-gender specific, and a tad classier than "waitress."
Although I'm sure, someday soon, someone will be offended by it and, before long, owners will be chastised again. Someone will demand to be called a waitperson, not a server, and a cause celebre group will stage an uprising demanding that we call all front-of-the-house employees "servatrons" or "servadroids."
The 21st century is here, folks. We aren't driving flying cars and we are still eating food with a knife and fork. The only daily pills we take are for diet, depression and erectile dysfunction.
Somewhere out there is my former supervisor, still in the trenches, still calling servers waitrons, denying the existence of computers and hiring a staff of hairy-chested women. She works side-by-side with her co-assistant manager, the Trekkie, who spends his time dog-cussing servers, and arguing with the head waitron about which was better the original "Star Trek"or "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Actually, I go for the classics like "Lost in Space," where robots were robots, and vegetables talked.
Robert St. John is an author, chef, restaurateur and world-class eater. He is the owner/executive chef of the Purple Parrot Caf, Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at robert@nsrg.com.

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