Fast food, healthy food and fancy food are bountiful here in Richmond, and as a customer, you’ve got numerous choices that can appear before you in the blink of an eye. However, there are people behind it all, tucked away in this food equation: your wait staff. Sometimes we love them, sometimes we abuse them, and most always, we don’t know them.
While the term “waiter” can feel like a temporary label that’s code for a student working a side job or for an unemployed actor during rough times, “server” is the more correct professional term. There are numerous servers in Richmond who are excellent at what they do, who know what you want before you ask for it and who deliver just the right degree of familiarity. They chose the food industry as a career, and they put up with all of us. Here are just a few of Richmond’s lifelong servers and what they wish we’d know.
You may recognize Devonya Anderson from Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken & Strips, where she’s been dishing out the fried Richmond favorite for the last 18 years, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
While she loves her job at Lee’s, Anderson worked in children’s day care until 1986, and confesses she misses the smiling faces of the children because it seems many customers, “come in rude and abrupt,” and she has to smile through the abuse. But it’s not all bad: Anderson remembers the nicest customers as those who tip even though Lee’s is more of a fast-food establishment. To her, this signals that she is still a server and if she does a good job, she’s recognized for it.
Fidel Villasenor, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, has worked as a server since he moved to the United States 28 years ago. In 1992, he traveled from the West Coast to help open his cousin’s restaurant, the Original Mexican Restaurant on Horsepen Road, where he’s been serving eager University of Richmond students since. They’re the happiest customers because they don’t care where they sit as long as a margarita (or two) sits in front of them. Of course, Villasenor says, not all guests are happy, regardless of the margaritas: “You always find those customers who aren’t pleased with anything that you have, but I work to bring them what they want.” He wishes we’d all take it easy on the staff, and think before we reorder something or give servers a food complaint. “If I forgot your cheese, please don’t order a whole new burrito.”
Pasture’s Sarah Gaskin took a server position while completing her VCUArts degree, but she’s happy that what began as a part-time role has become her career for 30 years and counting.
In terms of customers, most people seem genuine, and she knows her regulars’ orders by heart. But, she says, there are a few “summoners,” which she could do without. Note to guests: Your server does not appreciate passive-aggressive hand waves while they’re juggling 10 plates.
Beyond that, she says, it’s a perfect job. Well, almost perfect.
“I like talking to people, meeting people and, of course, food and wine,” she says. “If I could have dogs with me, it would be the perfect job.”