Tales from the Restaurant

Tales from the Restaurant
Where you'll find all the restaurant dirt you'll ever need.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Transition from Waiter to Salesman

Every successful waiter knows what it's like to be under-appreciated.

That feeling of knowing that you'd do anything to please a total stranger is something that a career waiter can't just extract from his psyche like a skilled neurosurgeon. Many waiters find that they are able to make their living selling, but what is it that keeps a skilled waiter from making a respectable stipend as an actual salesman?

Salesmanship is a logical next step up from the base floor of "Occupational Order Taker." It seems that anyone who can establish him or herself as a waiter could have potential as a salesman, and what waiters do (if they enjoy being tipped) is make alluring recommendations to enhance their guests' experiences. If you suck at recommending dishes and beverages, you become an order taker. So in essence, what makes the occupations of seller and salesman different?

I've taken a long hiatus from regular restaurant work to actually DO sales, and I've since found it relatively unrewarding. The fact that family men, scholars, public servants, and circus folk can serve people and make a menial living and be treated similarly is both fantastic and comforting, but completely sucks balls. We all keep doing it however, because we find enough comfort in providing strangers dinner because it seems preferable to any other time-consuming, emotionally limiting professional endeavor.

That's why people with decent jobs still keep a couple shifts waiting tables on the weekends.
When a guest sits down at your table, he or she kind of understands that you are there because you HAVE to be, and that servitude isn't ever glamorous. When a person complains about a dish you didn't cook for them, they're generally innocuous about it because in essence it's not your fault.

I once knew a great lawyer who studied and worked hard to dominate her profession. She kept five shifts a week waiting tables because it was good money, and because it was comforting and equally tormenting. It ended up ruining her social life because the effort she put into selling was dominating her life as a good person in the legal profession. When an implacable ass-clown at one of her tables yelled at her on a busy night for messing up a slightly intricate order, she broke down in the back of the restaurant and swore she'd never come back. I remember asking her why she never cried in a courtroom for defending a family from the crazy heart-breaking rantings of a drunken father lying to save his shitty life, and to this day never got a comprehensive answer. Having left the waiting profession for good, she is doing much better.

Life sucks as a middleman. The true power of it is that you find a way to make your customer's experience worthwhile. When a customer complains, you tend to establish yourself as a professional when you empathize with them and work to fix their every trouble. Either that mentality drags you into a deep dark hole, or it lets you believe that eventually you will find redemption as a "good person."

Sales contains none of those ideologies. When you're selling a product, you're promoting value, gaining trust, and easing someone's mind. If you're falling short of any of these tasks, you're probably just a waiter.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stuff I Drew at Work (Vol. 2)

Here's the next installment of "Stuff I Drew at Work."

I have a morbid fascination with lobsters. Because I find that they resemble giant undersea cockroaches that have mouths that look like vaginas, I find them quite terrifying. Despite that, they seem pretty defenseless. Their claws aren't that hard to get a rubber band onto, and they just sort of flop about until their undeserved fate as someone's dinner. Watching people eat them is another story--their shells and limbs are cracked and shattered while people suck the meat from inside their steaming carapaces.

All I'm saying is that if lobsters can't really defend themselves by means of having some sort of evolved ability to fire laser beams out of their antennae, they should at least grow large enough in size to be able to wield firearms and combat armor, stand on their tails, and stroll up onto our beaches to kick a little ass.

At least then I wouldn't feel so badly about eating them. It's this mindset that inspired my picture of the "Lobster Commandos."

Text; "Did someone order the surf n' turf?"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stuff I Drew at Work

So I decided that when things get slow at work and I find myself standing around with my whole fist up my own ass, I'll do something productive for my awesome blog. Every so often, I'll be doing installments of "Stuff I Drew at Work."

Here's the first one!

Lobster - "No, YOU get in the pot."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Long Time Coming

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted any new restaurant tales in the last three weeks, you are probably reading this now for one of three reasons. Either you;

A) Think I’m a fantastic writer who deserves the leniency and undying devotion of an anonymous audience in order to support his craft
B) Live with your parents, are unemployed, and really have nothing else to do
C) Really hate me and are wondering whether or not this next post is a device being used to announce or predict my own untimely death (such as a suicide note)

Great news, everyone!

I’ve just been injured and unable to work. I’m not dead after all!

I returned to work in the restaurant after ALMOST dying, and almost immediately found myself able to pick up where I last left off!

Here’s the next installment. Oh, and for those who picked letter ‘C,’ I’m really sorry to have disappointed you.

Disgusting, Unsanitary Vermin

If you’re a regular human being, you probably have a restaurant or bar (or even two or three of them, if you‘re me) that you really enjoy going to. These places are typically somewhere where you go to relax; you trust the cuisine, the atmosphere is ideal, and you are probably on a first-name basis with the people getting you loaded.

That said, there are certain things you may see when you are there which you are more likely to overlook.

Depending on your tolerance for the locale, you may adjust this particular preference to taste.

If you’re an established regular at that place, you probably wouldn’t send the whole meal back. After all, you’re on a first name basis with Hugo the owner, and his feelings would be pretty hurt if he knew you weren’t happy with your croque monsieur.

The situation changes however, when you’re not a regular patron of a particular restaurant. Not only will you look at everything under a microscope, you’ll be more encouraged to be critical (especially if you’re at a function on someone else’s dime).

In one particular instance, I was helping a fellow waiter of mine clear the tables at which his party was sitting. One of the patrons abruptly grabbed me by the arm.

Oh boy, here it comes...

Mice are nothing new to me. Mice tend to sneak into homes and restaurants all the time. They whiz around at lightning speed, constantly terrified to be discovered by humans. They’re the very reason why all restaurants are required to store their food at least six inches off of the ground at all times.

But most folks don’t know that.

Most people will see a mouse and then immediately classify the restaurant they’re currently in as a dilapidated cesspool of rank filth, unworthy to even be judged by 3rd ½ world standards.

So I decided to ease this woman into the realm of restaurant reality. Our conversation ensued as follows;

Woman: “Aren’t you going to do anything about it?!”
Me: “I don’t think so. That mouse is way too fast for me to even attempt to catch it. Best we can hope for is to let management know, set out a few more traps, and hopefully we’ll catch it by morning.”
Woman: “That’s not good enough. Do you pass health inspections here?”
Me: “Ma’am, not only do we pass government health inspections, we ace our monthly company inspections, which are much more rigorous than the FDA requires. I suppose if you had to wonder about the occasional mouse, let’s just assume that the mice conveniently hide when the inspectors show up.”
Woman: “That’s ridiculous.”

At this point, I decided that I should at least make the faux play at placating her. So I feigned concern.

Me: “Did you happen to see where the mouse went?”
Woman: “Yes! It ran that way.” (Points somewhere)
Me: “So you’re saying it ran away from you?”
Woman: “Yeah…”
Me: “So in that case, we’ve got nothing to worry about.”

With that, I turned and walked away with my stack of dirty dishes. I had a feeling this lady was infuriated with me and my color commentary, and that my incendiary words had inspired her to take her complaints to the next level. To my surprise, she didn’t mention the mouse to anyone else. The managers never caught wind, the server at her table was never told and as far as I know, the secret stayed between us.

This outcome could have been for several reasons. The first one that jumps to mind is that restaurant guests are fairly used to being placated. If they complain about something, restaurant staff are all pre-programmed to make sure that person gets whatever they need to buy their silence. When that doesn’t happen, the fragile illusion the customer has comes crashing down. When the realization surfaces that his or her complaints are falling on deaf ears, the customer will begin to take a tally of what they like about that establishment, knowing that the restaurant staff are not necessarily motivated to bend to the whims of the customer’s grievance terrorism.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Stanley Cup Story

I've been putting off telling this tale for some time, so I figured I'd better publish it before it got too late/I forgot it.

A friend of mine who works in the kitchen at an undisclosed restaurant told me about some relatively inhumane conditions he once experienced. He regaled me with the intricacies of slaving away in the unfurnished armpit of "Satan's Ass, Indiana" where the Fahrenheit temperature rivals Stephen Hawking's IQ.

In the restaurant business, food is typically required to be cooked. As a restaurant owner, you would do well to understand that factor and then take care of your kitchen employees...unless the nearest air conditioner was further away than the nearest alternative form of employment. If that was the case, you’d have nothing at all to worry about.

But if your employees were melting (And you hadn’t happen to have Frosty the Snowman working the grill or the Wicked Witch of the West on the steamer), you’d take action to ensure your kitchen’s steady success. As a kitchen supervisor, you would do this by granting your kitchen prospects their minor wishes!

One of the line cooks at my place of employment had caught wind of a rare and secretive moment; the Stanley Cup was being presented for a private party in the next building over.

Because the local hockey team had recently won this highly coveted trophy (and being the die-hard hockey fan that my cook friend was), there was simply no way in this plane of existence or the next that he was going to let this opportunity slide right by him.

So he nonchalantly asked for a ten-minute break.

So my cook friend left on his pilgrimage. He would not fail.

Now I can’t really imagine what lengths someone would go to in order to get the one thing he or she wants more than anything. I wasn’t particularly clear on the details of how my cook friend was able to gain entry to a private event and lay his hands on something that less than 1% of the population of the Unites States and Canada get to ever be in an enclosed room with. So I decided to fabricate everything after this sentence.

My cook friend approached the door man in his greasy apron and told him flat out he was here for the event. The doorman asked for his name so that he could look it up on the guest list. My cook friend gave him a fake name, and when the doorman looked down at the list to search for it, my friend whipped out a concealed frying pan and bonked him upside the head.

As soon as the doorman fell to the floor unconscious, my cook friend proceeded to step over his body and make his way into the room.

Upon entry, my cook friend spied a foreign dignitary with a monocle and holding a fancy cocktail, chatting with other well-to-dos about how barbaric hockey was. My cook friend walked up to the dignified gentleman and made a wildly inappropriate comment about his grandmother’s cleavage, causing not only several old-timey exclamation such as “well I never!” and “I do say, good sir!” but also for the gentleman’s monocle to fall dramatically into his drinking glass. In the ensuing confusion, my friend grabbed a bottle of exorbitantly expensive champagne which had been displayed prominently at the small table’s center and made a wild dash toward the Stanley Cup.

After roundhouse kicking a security guard out of the way, my friend uncorked the champagne with his right eyelid and without haste, emptied it into the Stanley Cup. In one smooth motion, he hoisted the cup over his head and dumped its contents directly into his face.

And that is how my cook friend was able to hang out with the Stanley Cup and somehow not get arrested and fired.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Waiter Test

So it’s been a while since I decided to update this blog. I’m not okay with that. But here it is.

I've got some news, however;

Recently, the management at the restaurant where I work decided to implement a thorough test for all of its current employees. For many of the new hires, the test was significantly difficult.

For the rest of us, the test was incredibly easy.

Although it broke my heart to watch the newer portion of the staff racking their brains to find the complete compendium of ingredients in the lobster melt, I was infinitely appreciative that nobody actually asked me to take the test yet. Whether that was intentional or not, I was ultimately grateful that the management didn’t need to have documented proof that I had the ability and the know-how to sell a shitty bottle of wine to a throng of old ladies.

The saddest part of all of this was that someone eventually found out that I never took the test. So they sat me down and put one in front of me.

How bad could it be?

I was determined to bang the test out at quickly and exit the restaurant at my earliest opportunity. I trained dozens of employees throughout my tenure. I showed plenty of waiters how to operate terminals and serve food. I taught countless men and women about the inner workings of kitchen etiquette. How hard could this test have possibly been?

I was shit out of luck. I didn’t know the majority of the answers. The information would have come more easily to me if I had slept in that day and dreamt the answers up. So I scribbled in a bunch of subtly fictitious answers.

As if on 3-day cue, my manager approached me to screen the answers to my test.

I was so definitely boned.

…Or so I thought.

What the hell...

...They believed me.

And I'm still employed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beringer - White Zinfandel

In many instances, there's a wine on every restaurant's list that doesn't really deserve to be there. It's like warning someone that the knife you're about to hand them is sharp. You know it could cut you if you misuse it, but that's the only thing its meant to do.

In this case, I have spared you all a decent post because I've been attempting to start the newest ongoing joke in the restaurant/service business.

In case you're curious, take a look for yourself and invite your happy self on down to the facebook group I've created to tout this new mockery of culinary libation.

...if you have the guts.

The jokes begin with "Beringer - White Zinfandel" and end in a slogan that you, as the potential VP of marketing, have designed. The catch - you know your product is mediocre. Have fun!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Meal Schedule

While in any given restaurant’s employ, your dietary schedule will inevitably change. When your job consists of either cooking food for thousands of strangers or carrying meals to people at times when society suggests meals should be taken, you tend to become immune to the callings of traditional human hunger.

According to the undisputable law of Wikipedia being right 100 % of the time, most Americans typically have breakfast between 7-8 AM.

In direct comparison, restaurant work has convinced me that the first meal I should have every day should be no earlier than 2:30 PM. A solid craving for a full dinner usually hits me at about midnight.

So in some restaurants, there’s something like a bowl of candy or a some fruit or mints for the customers near the entrance that the host staff and servers usually snack on when nobody is looking.

My restaurant doesn’t have that.

It’s actually for this very reason that I had such disdain for this random drunk lady leaving my restaurant at standard dinner hours this evening.

My nearby host friend placated her by attempting to rummage through the desk drawer looking for someone else’s Altoids. After he encountered mild difficulty (and by mild I mean major), I decided to cut in briefly.

In an effort to placate her by offering an alternative something-for-nothing deal, I asked her this;

“Would you like a free toothpick instead?”

She seemed unmoved by my offer.

I tried to make the toothpicks seem more candy-like.

This woman then looked at me as if I had just told her I was planning on raping her grandmother.

I laid the sarcasm on thick, as I imagined that any sane person would do when confronted with a preposterous request.

Ultimately, I got away with it. Using sarcasm or subtle shaming of the target is a great way to get people in the restaurant setting to leave you alone. I’m proud of myself for being able to delicately pull lines like that off. It can get you out of something, or in my next post, IN to something. Like a room with the Stanley Cup in it.

…But that’s a story for another time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Would THIS Surprise You?

On a regular busy Wednesday in the city, not too many requests fly over your head. Customers making absurd inquiries is pretty much par for the course, but this one request in particular actually caught me off guard.

I had a table of four, and the guest of honor had just finished being nominated as a Nobel Laureate in economics. He himself was in good humor, but one of his female counterparts (after her meal’s completion of course) had asked me to do something rather unorthodox.

Being a seasoned server, I pondered her request as I brought her wine bottle back to the kitchen.

Should I have;

A) Attempted to remove the label and presented it to her through the application of my own talents?
B) Brought the bottle to the kitchen and hoped they had the time/patience to remove the label with expensive kitchen equipment?
C) Lied to her about our restaurant’s inability to fulfill her request and sent her home with the original bottle and a polite single-handed birdie?
D) Bludgeoned her in the face repeatedly until she stopped moving?

For those of you who selected D, you’re the worst two dozen people I’ve ever met. Please consider a job at your local post office.

For those of you who selected A, imagine you don’t have fingernails.

For those who chose B? You might have to figure out how far you’d need to cram said wine bottle the rest of the way up your pussy. That lady just told you how to do your job. And you let her get away with being ridiculous.

For everyone who chose C, you’re normal. You’ve selected the outcome that required not only the most tact, but the least amount of effort necessary to satisfy both involved parties. You are an ambassador to the restaurant community.

For the B squad, you clearly have no idea what it is to approach the kitchen with a ludicrous burden. Cue the absurd request;

Here’s what line cooks typically think of your request.

So let’s make sure we have the right answer.

I pretended like I brought the bottle back into the kitchen and argued with the staff for fifteen solid minutes. The truth is, any waiter who isn’t hated by 100% of his or her coworkers would know better than to ask an absurdly lofty favor of people who are like family. So I came out with the wine bottle and handed it back to her.

…and just as I was bringing the full arsenal of reasons I thought her request was ridiculous, I realized that none of it was necessary.

I could have ended this 20 minutes ago.

It made me realize that for even considering this ridiculous request, I was being as dumb as she was.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Waiter's Passion

Most waiters aren’t career servers. It’s a duality ever present in the service business--the money is instant and just good enough so that you can spare a little cash to fund your true passion. But the fact is that the longer you lean on that crutch, the more dependent you become at the waiter’s job. In a perfect world, the more time you spend honing your craft becomes inversely proportionate to your dependence on your waiter identity.

…which makes you very vulnerable to the whims of various clueless assholes.

A good friend of mine (who is a very good waiter, but a much better musician) was taking diligent care of a party of 5 middle-aged business types.

These five were having the kind of inebriated fun normally reserved for those who feel they’ve earned it.

My friend resigned himself to cleaning up their drunken mess, housing the same dignity he put forth since the beginning of their interaction. Suddenly the apparent leader of the group, at the peak of his hedonistic tirade, decided to indulge himself just a little further. He asked my friend what he did for a hobby outside of his waiting career.

So the patron did what he thought would keep a dominant sway over his cronies. He mocked him.

To someone who has tasted the fruits of his own labor, nothing could have been more insulting. My waiter friend just then was prompted to show the kind of restraint that would have blown Job’s soul out of his chest.

He took a deep breath and let him know as tastefully as he could, what he felt.

It’s easy to mock someone who looks like a pepper shaker who brings you your free refills. If you think you’re in a better place then someone who is starting from the bottom, then you’ve forgotten where you’ve surely started. Some servers are the kinds of people who chase pipe dreams for our amusement. Others of us are the kinds of waiters and waitresses who take that kind of off-the-cuff smarmy comment and use it as fuel for the rest of our lives.

I personally can’t wait to see what kind of road trip my friend will fuel with that one comment alone.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Rapture Approaches

Throughout the neighborhood, plenty of people have been rather adamant about the notion that the rapture is a real thing that will destroy us all, we sinner scum. But has that stopped people from coming out to eat and being compassionate?

It did not.

At every table I purposefully introduced myself thus;

“Welcome. I am Devon. As opposed to what you may have heard, we will be serving dinner throughout the duration of the rapture.”

If further silence pursued;

“…want to get lit up?”

Oddly enough, people bit. Old ladies got cocktails, young men got draft beers, and middle-aged people drained the reserves of Campari and soda water. With their parents in tow.

It led me to wonder--do religious deadlines make an important enough sales opportunity for hard working service staff?

It probably helped when Y2K was a huge deal. It probably will help me for the coming 2012 debacle.

The rapture became a point of humor at every opportunity.

The amount of impious mockery I was making on a day when the earth was predicted to end probably wasn’t smart. If for some reason the rapture were to happen, I was doing enough damage to say to the powers that be “please strike me down first.”

I was actually a bit relieved when the power didn’t fail and the earth didn’t start quaking at my feet at 6pm.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Greener Pastures

In the service industry, there are one of two paths - You can remain in its throes and ultimately try to improve it, or you can quit and get a ‘real’ job.

I spoke with one of my bartender friends tonight who dropped a 900 megaton bombshell on me.

After I sat in awkward shock for a few minutes, I began returning to life proper by using things like adjectives to express my emotional disposition. I was taken aback by the notion that someone in the service industry that I knew, trusted, and formed a relationship with was suddenly not going to be there anymore. Although I tried to sound as not gay as possible, I let him know that he was the only reason I came to his bar in the first place.

It got me thinking about how my shift went that evening.

The first table I waited on was a thug date. In my heart, I knew that assuming how patrons were going to tip me based on their outward appearances was how one ends up reserving a space in hell. But I did it anyway. As servers, we all do. I reacted from afar accordingly.

As a rule, I don’t let it affect my service, but the sad truth is that stereotypes wouldn’t exist if they weren’t fueled by some sort of truth. I felt myself giving up inside as I brought over their tap water.

They got a whole lot of food and amassed a significant check. It totaled perhaps 80 dollars.

After his meal, the gentleman grabbed my arm and handed me the book containing his payment. He shook my hand and said “I left you a 20 dollar tip. You’ve been great, player.”

It floored me. I had had no premonition of this situation, but I continued my shift as usual. It was actually by percentage one of the best tips I had all night.

My last guest was an older, well-dressed black gentleman who looked very familiar. He was by himself, and was generally in good spirits. I put in his order for dinner and chatted with him for the last hour the restaurant was open. Turns out he was a World War 2 veteran who on D-Day charged up the beaches of Normandy. He went on in his life to work several low-paying jobs scrubbing floors and serving people. After that, he quit it all and moved on to establish the first syndicated African American bank chain in the country. He developed real estate and became a developer for some of the most prestigious office buildings and high rises around. I googled him after my shift, and it completely checked out.

The one thing he wanted to impart upon me as my last customer of the night was that there was nothing you couldn’t do if you simply worked hard. After seeing my bartender friend that evening telling me about his hard work paying off, I began to wonder when my time would be.

It gave me a small epiphany. Since people can get stuck in the service routine doing the same thing for years, the hard work that you do isn’t entirely without advantage; you gain the knowledge it takes to transcend where you are and perhaps apply that knowledge to a higher pursuit. It might be towards opening your own restaurant, or it might be so that you take sales knowledge to a different line of work. You might even leave altogether and go into real estate or piƱata manufacturing because you’ve learned that you can no longer tolerate serving.

I recently took on another full-time job, and will be applying myself on multiple fronts until I completely burn out. Or get super rich.

Time and hard work. Seems fitting that those two concepts came together for TFTR’s 50th post. Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Good Waiters Become Cats

Any good waiter has spent time developing a sharpened instinct and a way of moving that comes into play often enough in the daily grind. I was talking to a bartender I know recently, and she told me a story about how she was carrying glassware and managed to drop one of her easily-breakable objects while in transit. Instead of being able to catch it or somehow lessen the fall of her glassware, it simply bounced off of the floor and landed unharmed.

That could have been a one-in-a-million circumstance, but most service staffers usually muster a snap-second “Oh-shit-something-is-going-terribly-wrong” coping mechanism which prompts us to react in a very particular way before we even know what we’ve done.

In any restaurant, your trip through the dining room will have customers throwing out their chairs suddenly to go to the restroom, small children tearing around without looking where they’re going, people swinging coats on in grandiose manners, other servers racing around corners, people gesticulating wildly, and all other sorts of wild, unpredictable nonsense. And you’ll usually be holding plates of food and trays of drinks. And you’ll be making that trip forty or fifty times in an evening.

In this environment, you’ll eventually become what I refer to as a “Cat.”

You can tell when someone is new to the service industry. He will look like there is nothing more terrifying than carrying multiple plates. He will pace through the dining room at 3 feet per hour until reaching the table. And his eyes will have never left his payload.

Taking the story from the beginning a step further, I was carrying six pint glasses in a 6-rack formation back to the dish room. The middle glass slipped out from the bunch and hurtled perilously to the floor.

Without even thinking, I scrunched the remaining 5 glasses in my hands together for safekeeping and used my right toe to kick the glass back into the air.

I hopped about 6 inches off of the floor, and snatched the glass midair between my ankles.

After I landed, my brain caught me up on what I had just done on adrenaline-fueled instinct. Immediately after that, my first reaction was to look around frantically and say;


It was an immensely satisfying moment. Probably made more intense by the fact that I had just prior been on the verge of failure.

Another cat I know had the pleasure of serving a mean, senile old man. I don’t know what it is about old people, but after a certain age most of them tend to want to interact through awkward close-range grapples.

When your server is carrying a tray of iced teas, you as a customer would probably think to get his attention with a wave or an “excuse-me” if the situation is somewhat urgent. If you need another beverage, any of the above methods may apply. This is a picture of the standard hand-wave.

This gentleman, who had been ill-mannered since his arrival, saw his server (who I will remind you was at the time carrying a tray of iced teas), and grabbed him by his tray-carrying arm.

My friend almost lost his beverages but because of his sharp reflexes, he was able to release himself from the death-grip and counter-swing his arm to stabilize the tray. Many of my server friends might have suggested that he accidentally “lost” the drinks all over this grouchy old man and let him get what he deserved. What was so urgent that he had to physically grab my friend and nearly caused a big accident? He just wanted to begrudgingly demand his check.

You can always tell when someone works in this business if they say "Behind you" whenever they walk by outside of your field of vision. It's because he or she is a trained cat.