Tales from the Restaurant

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

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.