Waitpersons: Biological and Transactive Memory

A number of years ago a friend of my told me this story about an experienced cocktail waitress he knew in Las Vegas. She did everything from memory. She never wrote down drink orders. Moreover, when serving drinks she never “auctioned them.” “Auctioning” is the term waitpersons use when they need to ask which person ordered which drink. She was able to do this completely from memory, and she pulled it off without a hitch. Her complaint regarded new waitpersons. The new waitpersons could not do this. They continually botched drink orders so that the cocktail lounge developed a policy of writing down all drink orders. In other words, there was a requirement to use transactive memory, an external memory source. The experienced waitress was also forced to write down drink orders. She was livid.

A recent article in the Washington Post (Hendrix, “The old-school way of memorizing diners’ orders is fried,” January 12, 2010:A01, also search the “Transactive Memory” tags on delicious.com) relates a story about Richard Weber, a 20-year professional waiter. Until recently he never needed to take recourse to notes, to rely upon transactive memory. He did not use specific mnemonic techniques, but paid a great deal of attention to his customers, their orders, and where they sat. He did have a system for memorizing his customers at a table. The one sitting closest to the entrance was #1, with subsequent customers at a table being ordered with respect to how far theny where away from the entrance. Using this system he never needed to “auction” specific orders or drinks. He took great pride in being able to work purely from his own biological memory. Besides professional pride he does this to maintain his sharpness. He believes these activities provide mental exercise contribute to a healthy brain.

Perhaps it is ironic that it is technology that is forcing him occasionally to take notes, to take recourse to transactive memory. Apparently the Food Channel Cable has made many patrons aware of new dishes or ways of preparing food. Another waitperson, Timothy Glynn put it this way, “Whoever invented the Food Network should be shot. Everyone’s a chef now. Everyone wants something special done with their meal. It is getting so that you have to write it down.”

Let me make it clear that the Healthymemory does not want anyone shot. Rather, the Food Channel does provide a means, a source of transactive memory, that fosters new learning experiences that can promote brain health. Healthymemory advocates both exercising your biological brain through selective memorization and mnemonic techniques, and using transactive memory, external sources of information, to explore and acquire new knowledge.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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