Like a bartender who identifies regular patrons by what they drink, a waitress does the same with what customers order to eat.
That's just one of the things Kate Robertson has learned from waitressing at a regional restaurant (she prefers not to name the restaurant or location, though by now she knows that secret is likely out).
"You'll have your Honey Weiss and hot wings couple and the broiled fish couple," she said.
A blog she's kept of her experiences has turned into a book: "Tips for Earning Tip$: A Humorous How-to on Serving Meat, Mojitos & 'Minnesota Nice.'"
"It's creative non-fiction,' she said. "It's about my experience of coming to Minnesota, falling in love and entering the world of waitressing, and how different that actually is (from others' perceptions). It's about how funny you can make it if you choose to see that side of things."
The 128-page book is available through Amazon.com's eBook Kindle division.
"It's available for 99 cents through March. It's cheaper than a pop and lasts longer," she said.
And readers don't have to have a Kindle to read the book.
"You can get a Kindle app and read it on a Smartphone or tablet," she said.
Robertson is a South Sioux City, Neb., native and a senior professional writing and communication major. She became familiar with the area because her parents own a lake home nearby. She decided to try her hand at waitressing in the summer of 2011. Her initial training was of the throw-her-off-the-end-of-the-dock variety, she said.
"They gave me an apron, a note pad and said 'Here you go,'" she recalled. "The first day I came home and cried. The cook was screaming at me. I had fallen down, hit a rack of glasses and as I was lying on the floor, physically in pain, he asked 'How are the glasses?'
"I'd come home and call my parents and friends and tell them about work. People think that waitressing is about going in, doing your job, making tips and going home. There's so much more to it."
They suggested that she write about her experiences as a form of therapy, "so I wrote down my thoughts," she said. That started as a blog (www.katherinejanerobertson.com), which turned into the book.
Where Robertson works, she gets a base pay and tips are combined and divided up between waitresses. Cooks, dishwashers and hostesses also get a cut.
She talks about people and situations in the book and offers a tip at the end of each chapter.
"Some are serious, some are sarcastic," said Robertson, who is very much her own person.
Customers come in all shapes and sizes and bring with them different temperaments.
"Every customer is different," she said. "Some are on the higher end and think it's your job to just cater to their needs, even if you have 10 other tables. Others might say, 'Whenever you have time.'"
And tips? Her weekend take average between $90 and $120, she said.
"On Sunday you can make $12, and that's good (for a Sunday)," she said. "It picks up in the summer." As for what she expects as a percentage of the bill, "it's 20 percent. I think most people understand that,"?she said.
The ideal customer is a family.
"You can do anything and get at least a 25 percent tip," she said. "Not that I know that from experience."
The characters are identified by such names as Bossman, Dishwasher and Bartender in the book.
"The only person I super rag on is the cook, who doesn't work there anymore," she said. "There's so much drama that goes on in small towns and small work environments that I didn't know about."
It was at work that Robertson fell in love, and today she lives with one of those book characters.
Another thing she learned is that behind-the-scenes workers make her job a lot easier. If you have a fast bartender or cook, they make her life easier.
And if someone wants to get into waitressing?
"Buy a push-up bra, befriend the cook and don't go home with the dishwasher," she said.
She found SMSU when she helped bring a boat to Marshall that needed fixing.
"I found out they have a college, and looked it up online. My favorite color is brown, so it was meant to be," she said.
Her easy-to-read style is in contrast to the writing in her major, professional writing and communication.
"(The major) is one of the reasons I'm here. At most schools it's just journalism, and I'm more focused on the writing aspect of it. Plus, I only had to take one math class, and that helped," she said with a chuckle.
Assistant Professor of English Marianne Zarzana has been a big influence on her college career.
"The first writing class in college I took from her and she wrote 'Believe' on the board. I really took that to heart. That class has made it clear that this is where I'm supposed to be," she said.
Robertson has done four years of college in three and is also close to becoming a certified yoga instructor as well, which may be the topic of a second book.
As for the future, "I'm going to play it by ear and go with the flow," she said.
A year from now she likely won't be a waitress, but she's certainly enjoyed the experience and the inspiration it has provided.