Served: Every Night Waiting Tables

I blog by day and wait tables by night. I'm excited to bring you Served, dispatches from the front of the house. Enjoy!

20080616-servedbug.jpgAs a cook, I learned that you only cut yourself when there really isn't time, when you're deep in the shits. Never mind that it hurts—the point is, you need your finger to stop oozing blood (why won't it stop?) so that you can plate the four risottos, get the potatoes in the fryer, run to the walk-in for more chervil, and get started on those asparaguses. Right now. None of this can be accomplished while spurting blood.

While waiting tables, I break a glass maybe weekly. A glass gets shattered every night—sometimes, a cup or a plate will drop and smatter, too. With such little space and so much commotion, stemware casualties are inevitable.

Like knife accidents, glasses tend to fall to the floor when the timing is impossibly inopportune. In the sliver of space behind the cheese case, someone is trying to get wine from the fridge, someone is trying to pass dirty plates to the dishwasher, someone to plate cheese, to put a food order into the computer, to answer the phone. There is neither space nor time for everyone to drop everything and jump out of the way to avoid an onslaught of glass shards. But we do. It happens. Every night.

There are some things that I've come to expect. They happen nightly, without fail:

1. The Celeb Look-Alike Game

"You look exactly like Neve Campbell!" someone will tell me. This is something I never heard until I started working at my place. If consensus correlates with truth, then it seems I do resemble Neve. "Has anyone ever told you that before?" people often ask. Yes.

People tell P. that she is the spitting image of Anne Hathaway. Sometimes, a guest will inform me that I look like some '80s B-list star I have never heard of. This makes me nervous. I try to remember so I can Google my duplicate later, but I always forget her name.

2. Ordering as a Painful Endeavor

I will have a table or two where taking an order is like pulling teeth. I love talking about our menu. I am happy to answer questions. But people find a way to take our exchange to a whole new, ridiculous level.

"Can you just go through all the wines on your list, and tell us about each one?" someone asks. Are they serious? We have many dozens of wines. Is this a test? How much time do they think I have?

"What should we get?" people inquire all the time.

"Help me out a little," I am forced to retort. Is this dinner, or a snack? What do you like? What do you want? We just met. I am no psychic.

3. Someone Will Say Something So Uncool

An example from last night:

"How do the cheeses work?" a man asks me. He is with a woman, his arm slung around her chair, his feet kicked out so as to take up maximum space.

I have the cheese spiel nailed. We have about 40 cheeses, the majority of which most people have not heard of. You can select specific cheeses. Or you can leave the job in the very capable fromager's hands, and she will compose a plate for you. We will happily abide by your requests—there are lovers and haters of stinky cheese, of runny cheese, of blue.

"Well," I start, "as you can see, our list is long and eclectic…"

"Like my schlong!" he interjects.

I continue, "…you are welcome to let the fromager put together a flight for you."

"Like my schlong! I said! Like my schlong!"

I give him the sternest look I can muster. "I heard you. I was, and still am, going to pretend you didn't say that."

The poor woman looked horrified.

4. The Wildcard That Is Tipping

Diners come in and make their way to a table. They eat, they drink, a good time is had by all. Now it's time to look at their credit card receipt (or sometimes, to count their cash).

Why did the super nice couple who professed their love for me, the wine, the cheese, and the place, leave nary a tip? Why did the angry man who grumpily guzzled his wine tip fifty percent of the bill?

I'll ever know. People are endlessly mysterious in their tipping ways.

In waiter lexicon, a verbal tip is the practice of compensating for a measly actual tip with exorbitant niceness. I used to find this uncomfortable, kind of insulting—like flirting effusively with someone you're not the least bit interested in. But it happens all the time. I've learned to not take it too personally.

Hopefully, by the end of the night, the bad tippers will be balanced out by generous tippers.

5. You Never Know

A slow night will end in the biggest rush of all time.

The biggest jerks will turn out to be wonderful people. You might meet your soul mate. Or your favorite celebrity ever. Pretty much anything might unfold over the course of a night.

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