Best Waitress balances school, breakfast plates

Spinnaker

By Katie Gile

For most UNF students, 6 a.m. means rolling out of — or into — bed, smacking the snooze alarm or enjoying blissful unconsciousness.

But for Candice Mullins, it means tying on her apron, starting the coffee pots, rolling the silverware and tucking chairs under the tables at San Marco’s Metro Diner.

At 6:30, the first customers arrive outside the old French doors and peek in the massive picture windows — hungry for fresh eggs, toast and good conversation to shake out the morning cobwebs.

Mullins, a UNF psychology sophomore, welcomes them graciously into her second home of sorts. After offering a comfortable seat, a cup of coffee and a smile, she hustles to greet her next customer.

Mullins isn’t your run-of-the-mill server — she was voted Folio Weekly’s Best Waitress of 2011.

With less than a year of serving experience under her 19-year-old belt, Mullins couldn’t have been more surprised. Folio gave her the news two months ahead of the Oct. 11-17 issue’s release, but it was still a shock, she said.

“All the names [on the ballot] are fill-ins, which means someone had to write in my name,” Mullins said. “It just blows my mind that people remember my name. Then to have enough people vote for me. Just one person voting for me would have been really cool, so this is something else.”

When it comes to the deciding factor of the best waitress, Mullins doesn’t see much difference between herself and others, but believes involvement is key.

“I just like to talk. Some customers may see me as annoying because they just want to finish their breakfast,” she said. “But it’s my job to be nice to them and make sure they’re completely happy with everything they have.”

While Mullins appreciates the win, she emphasized that good service is a family affair.

“I’m at school and work more than I’m at home,” she said. “The people I work with are like my family. I like every single person at my job. I’ve never had a problem with any of them, and they’ve never had problems with each other.”

In the frantic world of the diner, each server only has three tables to attend to at a time. Mullins said that allows her to treat every customer, many of them regulars, like family.

“Seeing them every day gives you a connection,” she said. “They’re strangers, but yet they’re not. Just for the little half an hour or hour that they’re with us at the diner, we talk about what’s going on in our lives. It helps us be better servers when we have great customers.”

Mullins said having this close-knit environment makes her job second nature.

“When I’ve bonded with someone, I treat them like family. I know their order, and I can anticipate what they need,” she said. “I want to make sure they’re as happy as I’d want to be.”

As a full-time student and part-time employee, Mullins said organization is key. But being close to the people she works with makes her social life a little easier to manage.

“[They’re] not just work friends. These are my real friends, too,” she said. “That’s my life: work and school.”

Above all, Mullins makes it a point to do what she enjoys and enjoy what she does.

“I love it. It’s easy to be nice to people when they’re nice to me and to help them when they help me. I like coming to work, and that affects my performance.”

Email Katie Gile at [email protected]