Thirteen-year-old Boston Kensington knows what it takes to be a good waitress.
Be patient. Be flexible. But most of all, smile.
“People don’t want to see a grouchy waitress,” she said knowingly.
Boston was one of about a dozen Cocopah Middle School students who tried their skills as servers at a special event Saturday at Outback Steakhouse in Paradise Valley.
The students, part of the After School Lunch Bunch club, have been practicing taking orders, filling drinks and counting money for weeks.
The club is a joint effort between the Scottsdale middle school and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Program that partners peer mentors with special needs students.
Saturday’s event allowed the students to work together building real-world skills while also raising money for the autism research program. The $20 tickets, sold to friends and family, included authentic Outback cuisine — drinks, an appetizer, a choice of fish, steak or chicken, and dessert.
The students had their work cut out for them as a crowd of about 50 people scattered throughout the restaurant.
“I haven’t messed up one order,” Boston said.
Seventh-grader Meghan Hales, 13, worked as a hostess during the lunch. She said she found some unlikely friendships as she participated in the club.
“Before you wouldn’t think they would be somebody you could talk to, now you talk to them more often,” Meghan said.
Denise Resnik, a spokeswoman for the autism program, said she has been amazed at the sensitivity demonstrated by the students.
“It inspires me to see that young people could be so intuitive and kind and willing to help others,” she said. “And our kids have been teaching them valuable lessons.”
Tim Turner, Outback Steakhouse proprietor, said nine of his employees volunteered to help the event run smoothly.
“They wanted to get involved,” he said. “And it helps us put some of the fun back into work.”
The students had eagerly anticipated the lunch and they all love the idea of having a real job, said Cocopah teacher’s assistant Keri Jhaveri.
“We all want to contribute,” she said. “We all need to contribute.”