I have been working as a food server off and on since I was fourteen and it never gets any less interesting. This is not about fine dining, its about the flip side of the industry working in the trenches of the massive national restaurant chains. Laugh or cry, people!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Anonymous Postings

Sorry everyone - the anonymous postings are by me but I was having a little trouble making sure my real name doesn't show up on any posts. I have it figured out now and you can contact me by posting comments or emailing me at pancakegrrrl@gmail.com

Got Grrrl Trouble?

MOD:   Do you know you forgot the French dressing for table #23?
Me:      Can you get it?  I’m in the weeds.
MOD:   Sure, but… is everything ok?  You only have two tables.
MOD:   Uh…
Me:      I’m having a really shitty period, ok?  I’ve had the same monster cramp for ten minutes and I can barely feel my left leg, so can you take out the fucking French dressing for the fucking salad at the fuckface table OR NOT?!?!
MOD:   Ok, but after that outburst I’m not sure I believe this red-looking sauce is actually salad dressing.  Should I just pretend I know for sure?
Me:      You should buy some fucking Luminol and come play hide-n-seek in the parking lot.  I’m going outside to smoke.

You Almost Got to Keep Those

Today I had a four-top order dessert during a busy lunch. That is not a problem.  I don’t mind getting desserts for my guests.  I want to.  It makes my guest check higher, increases the amount of service I have provided, makes the dining out experience more rewarding, etc,. It generally means a larger tip because the guest is not in a hurry to get back to work – they are enjoying themselves.

Today, I came back to a four-top with meticulously prepared desserts – a strawberry malt, a caramel sundae, and two slices of warm pie ala-mode to find a grumpy businessman halfway out of his booth with a shitty attitude.  “You almost got to keep those,” he said. 

I was stunned.  Things had been going so well.  They were witty, charming, and polite all through lunch.  I didn’t understand why he seemed so irritated.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

“You almost got to keep those,” he said.  “We thought you weren’t coming back.”

FYI not all restaurants have the kitchen make or plate desserts. Where I work, the servers make the deserts including the hand-dipped shakes.  So if your four-top all orders different desserts during a busy lunch rush, I will probably not be back with those in less than ten minutes. 

When I do show up with dessert, it’s pretty shitty to tell me, “You almost got to keep those.  We thought you were never coming back.” 

Really, that’s what you thought?  You thought I just took your order with a smile and never intended on coming back to your table?  Where would I go?  Did you think my private helicopter picked me up to whisk me away to my private island?  Or did you actually see me delivering food to other tables, getting refills, bringing people their checks, entering orders into the computer system, seating new people, and running the cash register?

I diplomatically replied, “I’m sorry you thought I wasn’t coming back.  The servers prepare the desserts here and I brought them as soon as I could. I apologize for any inconvenience.”

He grudgingly settled back into his booth and ate all of his $4 dessert.  He left me a grand total of 10%, which was probably a write-off as a business expense.  I wonder what he does for a living.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do You Have a Red Straw?

All of the chains like the one I work at are family-friendly.  We all have high chairs, booster seats, kid menus, kid cups… and in our case, different colored straws for the kids to fight over.  I’ve seen kids actually hit each other to get the blue straw.  Sometimes they lunge at me to get the handful of straws so they can choose their own color.  Sometimes they scream at each other (You know red is MY favorite color, not yours!).  Sometimes they cry when they have to drink out of the wrong color. 

Sometimes their parents leave the table to come request a different colored straw for them.

I personally don’t think this kind of indulgent bullshit makes it any easier to eat out with your children.  I’m actually used to it now, so when parents leave the table to come talk to me while I’m trying to enter their order, I assume it’s about changing straw colors.  So when I saw this strange one approaching, I automatically checked my pocket to ensure my assortment was there.

Her:     Do you have any other straws?  (She’s holding a yellow straw)

Me:      Yes.  Do you need a different color?

Her:     Well… Do you have any red straws?

Me:      Yes I do.  Here you go! (I hand her a red straw)

Her:     Well…  I’m actually looking for a straw exactly like this one (she holds up the red straw to show me), except its smaller and thinner and slanted on the end and bendy.  (She makes intense eye contact to make sure I understand her description and that I am taking her request seriously).

Me:      That sounds like a juice box straw.

Her:     Sort of.  Do you have any straws like that?

Me:      As far as I know, those only come on juice boxes.

Her:     Well, usually.  I just thought you might have some…

Me:      I’m sorry; we don’t have juice boxes or juice box straws.

Her:     (Dejected) Um… ok then. 

She heads back to her table of screaming heathens with her shoulders slumped.

  I turn to the server next to me and say, “Do you have any of those bionic straws that drink the beverage for you?  Or could you maybe clock out on break and go to the grocery store to buy me a juice box?  Or maybe you could just steal the straw off one and bring it to me?”

Other Server:   Maybe you could just offer to BREAST FEED her son and save yourself a trip.


Monday, February 21, 2011

We're Going to Share That

One of my favorite couples was in tonight.  And when I say “favorite,” I mean they really are not.  These people are seriously crazy.  I started waiting on them about six months ago and I remember everything about them.

With many of my regulars, this is a compliment.  They are pleasant to be around, specific about what they would like, I reciprocate accordingly, and they leave me tips in the 30% range because I remember the details.  It works well for all of us.

These are not they type of regular I am referring to.  These people are seriously strange and I remember them for being strange.  They are an older couple and the first time I waited on them, they brought in two teenagers who were obviously their grandsons.  They made them order water and then split 2 breakfasts between the four of them. 

I’m not saying its bad to be frugal, but its embarrassing in a public dining situation when its obviously the main thing you care about.  I have never seen those kids with them again and I understand their viewpoint.  Why offer to take your grandkids out to eat and then put them through that?

Well, of course there is more to it.

They always share.  Sometimes it takes them 15 minutes to agree on what single item they will share.  They question me about these menu items extensively and seriously.  I answer in the exact same spirit, when I have time.  I understand it is their money to spend how they choose and with the restaurant they choose.  We do not charge for splitting plates but I always have the cook split and plate their entrée right down the middle so they will enjoy their meal without having to spoon half of their food onto the extra plate we provide free of charge.

They have questions about coupons. 
  1. Can they use a coupon and still get a senior discount?  (No, this is considered two discounts and you can only use one). 
  2. Can they use an expired coupon? (No, we do not accept expired coupons.)
  3. Can they use a coupon on a special we are running? (No, this is already a discounted item).

In the end, if they have coupons, they choose to use them even if another discount would be more advantageous.  Every time, no matter how I explain it to them.  So I don’t explain price differences to them anymore, I simply tell them if their coupon applies or not accordingly.  When it comes to coupons, they are not strange for using them, but for being obsessive about using them.

And again, of course there is still more to the story.

They always order water.  Lots of people just ask for water.  That’s OK.  Plenty of people just drink water when they eat out.  I do it too and I don’t really have a problem with it.  They want their water in a large glass with a slice of lemon and no ice, no straw.  OK, but aren’t we getting pretty specific for a free beverage I can’t even put on your bill?  It’s difficult to convey, but the way they say it when they order, I feel like I might mess up something right from the get-go.  And we’re still on water.

When they finally come to a consensus about the entrée they will be sharing, the gentleman always gives me a meaningful look and says, “We need extra napkins.”  Again, its difficult to convey, but he says it accusingly, as if I have already neglected him in some way.

Here’s the super-weird thing.  If a guest has good table manners, they often place the napkin in their lap or on their knee.  If they know they’ve ordered something messy or know they are usually messy, they might ask for another.

This couple spreads their first napkin (the one their flatware is rolled in) out on the table where their plate will go.  Like a placemat, only it unfolds into a giant square shape instead of the traditional rectangular placemat most of us are used to seeing.  They sit across from one another and their giant, paper-thin napkin-placemats overlap.  I can think of no reason to do this. 

As far as I can tell, and believe me I have thought about this, the placemat napkin serves no purpose other than to set their plate on while they eat and use the extra napkins I’ve brought to wipe their fingers/faces on.  I’m not kidding.  They seem to want extraneous napkins to rest the plates on.  And before you say it, they are not resting their flatware on this extra placemat napkin to prevent it from touching the table… I’ve checked.  And by the way, if you are so worried about the germs in the establishment where you are eating that you cannot allow the flatware to touch the table, you might be in the wrong place.

But again, that’s not what this couple is doing.  They seem to not want their plates to touch the table… I have met plenty of obsessive-compulsives, but a couple completely in-synch about this kind of weird shit…. Only one.

I Love Mexican Line Cooks

You might hear a lot of people complain about illegal immigrants in this country, but you won’t hear a lot of that from the wait staff in a busy restaurant.

I really love the Mexican line cooks where I work.  I am completely blown away by their ability to work two jobs and have families and hold up under pressure.  I have seen them come in for their shift and hit the ground running after working a complete shift at their other job.  They are rarely mean-spirited no matter how exhausted they must be.

These guys blow me away with their work ethic.  They try to come to work no matter what.  If they can’t come to work, they get one of their buddies to cover for them without being asked.  One time, one of our best guys had to go out of town for a family emergency and a Mexican we had never met showed up with his apron and hat to cover his shift.

I once had another server come get me because the Mexican working on the line wouldn’t respond to her request.  When I went to try, I couldn’t get his attention either.  I stepped around the line to get her extra sauce myself and discovered he was standing over the grill flipping pancakes while perfectly asleep. I had to shake his shoulder to wake him up. How tired does a man have to be before he cooks in his sleep?  Amazing.

Some of them speak English beautifully and understand the language better than a lot of us.  Some of them barely understand anything we say and seem to have been taught to memorize how to read the tickets rather than comprehend the intricacies of the English language.  I have acted out pantomimes to explain complicated tickets and more often than not gotten exactly what I ordered.

I come from a working class family in an era when America still manufactured our own goods.  I remember my father coming home from work filthy and red-eyed and barely able to stay awake to wash up for dinner.  He used to fall asleep in his chair while I unlaced his boots. 

I don’t know a lot of guys who work like that anymore.  Guys who work as many hours as they can no matter the hourly rate.  Uneducated men who appreciate the opportunity to work in whatever capacity they can.  People can say a lot of things about illegal immigrants but you can’t question their work ethic. 

Who among you would risk your life walking through a desert for three days with no food or water to make minimum wage working 18 hour days six days a week?

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Meant to Order my Salad Without Tomato

You are not going to like this.  This is one of the things I’m truly an asshole about.

If you order a salad from me and you are already a picky asshole or just an asshole to me in general and you don’t think to ask me what comes on our dinner salads, you might just be shit out of luck.

I have eaten at a lot of restaurants and I’ve never encountered one where the salad was simply lettuce drowned in the dressing of my choice.

If you ask me for a dinner salad, I will gladly make and bring you one however you ask me to (to the best of my ability).

If you intended to have your dressing on the side… but forgot to say that, or if there are specific ingredients you intended to omit… but forgot to tell me.  Well, I just hope you didn’t catch me on one of those nights.

If your idea of a salad is iceberg lettuce drowned in ranch dressing and nothing else and you expect me to pick through the lettuce mix for you and make this happen… You might be fucked.

If you don’t like cucumbers and you didn’t tell me, you might have to touch them.

For anything else you don’t like but didn’t specify, see above.

If you have made me very angry on a very irritating shift where nothing is going right and it seems to be mostly your fault, I will respond in a cheerful manner that you will have difficulty finding fault with.  This will hopefully irritate you as much as you have irritated me.

YOU:        I meant to order my salad without (insert ingredient).
ME:           Oh, that’s never a problem here.  You can order your salad however you like. Just let us know ahead of time and we’ll prepare it exactly as you prefer!

And then I walk away, leaving you with IT.  Sorry about your communication skills and your assholishness (a word I invented for you).

Why Did You Say You Were Ready?

Why did you say you were ready?
There is absolutely nothing like having a guest tell you they are ready to order and then leaving you standing there with your pen poised above the paper while they continue to silently read the menu.  It’s different if you have questions about the menu or you need help finding where the salad section is. 

It’s just strange to tell another person you are ready for them to do their job and then not allowing them to.  Servers are hopefully busy with other things – and even if they were not, I can’t imagine one of them enjoying watching you read your menu while simply standing there.  I also can’t imagine why you would enjoy that, but apparently some of you do. 

What if you told a doctor you were ready for your pelvic exam and then stood there with your hand of the button of your pants and then stood there some more.  I think they would assume you were not ready.  Or crazy, which is a real possibility. 

If you’re not ready, I really will come back.  It’s my job to come back.  It’s also my job to come back to the other tables I promised I would be back but instead I’m standing here watching you read your menu.

You have no idea the kind of random shit that runs through my mind watching you read your menu.

I can hear other tables being seated in my section.  Hopefully they are not crazy.

I wonder if the food is ready for my table where the baby is crying.  Hopefully they are not crazy.

I need to make salads for the table that ordered the grilled chicken breast.  I know it doesn’t take very long but I thought I had time to get the salad out first before I knew you were crazy.

I know the table that is halfway done with their food needs refills.  I told them I would be right back before I knew you were crazy.

I know the table that is almost done should be pre-bussed and offered dessert.  I thought I had time to do this before I knew you were crazy.

Bottom line:    I don’t want to watch you read your menu.  You are ready or not. I can take your order or do eight other things.  I hope you can read by yourself.  Help me.  Help me to help you.

Did You Really Think it was Just a Glass of Water?

Did you really think it was just a glass of water?

They check percentages at my restaurant to see how many beverages I’m actually selling.  We don’t have a bar, so I say a lot of things like…Would you like some fresh coffee?  Fresh-brewed iced tea? A cold Coke?  Lemonade?  It doesn’t always work and I really don’t think it’s my fault.  Some people come in with the intention of saving money on beverages, and I can’t control that.  You would not believe how specific water can be…

  1. I’ll have a very small glass of water with no ice.
  2. I’ll have a large glass of water with no ice.
  3. I’ll have an iced tea with no lemon and a large glass of ice water with four slices of lemon.
  4. I’ll have ice water with as many lemons as you’re allowed to bring me.
    1. Can you bring more sugar packets for the lemonade… errr…water?  
  5. I’ll have a small glass of water with only a few ice cubes.
  6. I’ll have a pot of hot water with lemon.
    1. Because I have my own tea bag
    2. Because I have Folgers singles and I don’t want to pay for coffee
  7. I’ll have ice water with lots of ice and an extra glass of ice.
    1. I’ll ad my own Crystal Lite
  8. I’ll have room-temperature water.
  9. I’ll have tap water mixed with hot water 50-50.
  10. I’ll have an ice water with lots of fruit in it.  Do you have any strawberries?

By the way, my restaurant’s policy is to serve water in the smallest glass we have with no lemon and no straw unless requested by the guest.  If management sees us serving up tall icy lemon waters with fancy straws, they sometimes question us like criminals.  I can’t believe they haven’t added some type of up-charge for fruit because of the amount of lemons we go through. 

I think the idea is that you’ll see all the delectable glasses of soda and iced tea at other tables and change your mind about your crappy small glass of water.  What actually usually happens is the server makes another trip to the table with a taller glass of water, lemon, and the expensive straw. Same price, same tip, extra time at a table with guests who are trying to save a little money on beverages.

I guess the moral of the story for me is, if you just want water, drink water.  Why are you being so specific about a free beverage?  Or if you want to be that specific, can you at least tip as if you’ve ordered a dry martini?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Your Kid Belongs in a Psych Ward

Mister, you and your child should have adjoining rooms reserved at the Sands Ward at Broadlawns Hospital just in case it ever gets worse than this.  Is that possible?

Last night, a child got under one of my tables and rolled around SCREAMING and kicking during our dinner rush.  And when I say child, I mean she was at least ten.  When I went to take their table’s order, I got as far as hello and she started barking orders at me.


Dad was on the phone and didn’t respond when I asked him if he was ready to order.  So, OK.  The sooner I get some food to this crazy kid, the sooner she can eat and exit my world.  I put their order in and brought the kid’s drinks and asked again if the dad was ready. 

He gave me an impatient look (I had interrupted his conversation) and asked the very important person on the other end of the line if he could call them back.  This takes longer than you might think.  “Mmm…OK, well the waitress is here and we were gonna have dinner and she wants to take my order, so….Yeah, no, I really want to talk to you about that, it’s definitely important, I just have to do this thing…Yeah, I’m gonna call you back…MmmHmm…Ok, Yeah, I’ll call you back.

 He had a lot of questions about the menu and kept me at his table for long minutes with questions about the turkey we put on our sandwiches, what kind of bread we use, if it’s toasted, if it has mayo, what we put on the salads and if we have fat-free salad dressing. 

While I tried to retain my composure and be professional, his kid was shouting her order at me again as loud as she could.  “I WANT A KID’S CHEESEBURGER WITH NOTHING ON IT, WITH FRENCH FRIES AND MY BROTHER WANTS A KID’S GRILLED CHEESE WITH FRUIT BUT HE ONLY WANTS GRAPES, AND WE BOTH WANT A SPRITE AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT MY DAD WANTS!!!”

We finally agreed on a turkey sandwich on wheat (from the senior menu) and a salad with fat-free dressing on the side and no tomato or croutons.  This is a $6 item for seniors only but I decide to let the manager fight with him about it.  I want them to leave.  While I’ve been trying to help him choose his fancy dinner, my entire section has filled up with new customers who will probably tip me if I can ever get away from this guy. 

I bring the attentive father an iced tea and all of the food for their table because it’s all ready by the time I go to the cooler to wash and prepare my own side of grapes-only fruit and make a dinner salad to his specifications and get beverages for the 9 new guests seated in my section whom would also like some service. 

When I get to their table, Crazy Child is now SCREAMING into the cell phone about what she does and doesn’t want to do and when she will or won’t do it.  I carefully set my tray where she can’t knock it over because she’s wildly waving her arms around while she “talks.” 

Father of the Year has a giant stack of mail and a picked-over ratty newspaper on the table in front of him.  Where the plates generally go.  Instead of moving his shit so I can deliver their food and be one step closer to being done with these people, he starts an argument with his daughter about getting off the phone so she can eat. 

I finally decide he intends for me to set his meal on the paper pile and do so.  And here is where the fun really starts.  “NO,” she screams, “YOU NEVER LET ME TALK!”  Then she chucks the phone at his head.  It bounces off and knocks his iced tea onto his pile of newspaper and mail and spills some on his sandwich plate while she crawls under the table and continues SCREAMING and trying to kick him.  I stand there with my most neutral face pasted on and wait to see what I’ll have to do to fix this. 

Incredibly, he calmly opens his phone and calls someone, pins the phone to his ear with one shoulder, stands and plucks his wet turkey sandwich off his plate and starts eating while standing next to the table.  Which she is under.  SCREAMING.  I definitely can’t fix this, mostly because I’m not a mental health professional or a police officer. 

Every guest in the dining room is staring at this table where the father is standing up eating a wet sandwich and talking on the phone while his crazy kid loses her fucking mind.  I notice the little brother, who is about four, is eating his grapes and quietly humming to himself while he plays with a toy car. Clearly, he must be autistic, completely traumatized, or from an entirely different gene pool, in order to be able to ignore this  

I decide to cut my losses.  I tell the father, loudly so he can hear me over the SCREAMING, his concerted chewing, and his phone conversation, “I will bring you a trash can and a towel so you can clean this up. 

He nods, no eye contact, murmuring into the phone and digs through the wet pile of paper to hand me a coupon for one free kid’s meal.

Is it over?  My new friends, it most decidedly is not.

Daddy was so distracted by all of the excitement that he forgot to pay his bill (less than $15).  The Manager on duty had to go out to their car in the parking lot (where they were arguing), and remind them.  He did not have his wallet.  And then…

They all three came back in the building and waited in the lobby for someone to bring his wallet.  It took about twenty minutes.  Little brother did his quiet humming and playing.  Daddy talked on his cell phone.  Crazy Child almost tipped over the Claw Machine.

Mister, you are so fucked.  We need a new work for fucked.