2012 is here! But four days a week, I leave the 21st century for a bit, step into a world fashioned from another era and play the part of a 50’s waitress. It is a world complete with juke boxes, bar stools and classic American diner food. I wear a mini skirt. I refill 1,000 cups of coffee. But there is a skull and cross bones on my t-shirt, and sometimes I make up rap songs on the spot about french fries and apple pie to pass the time. The modern influences are clearly everywhere, (my future rap stardom included), but in some ways, not much has changed. Continue reading
If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to be a server in a high volume restaurant (I’m sure it’s all you think about), I would tell you to look no further than any Sunday brunch at my diner. Sunday brunch is more appropriately described as Hell on Earth, but we’re not supposed to tell customers that. While I average about a good amount in tips, at least once per shift I bargain with the devil and offer him a piece of my soul in the hopes nobody utterly psychotic sits in my section. This past Sunday, however, my bargain with the devil failed.
My shift started out something like this and got progressively worse with each passing minute:
Me: “How would you like your eggs cooked?”
German tourist: “All the way.”
“How would you like your eggs cooked?”
Japanese tourist: “Up over easy well.”
“How would you like your eggs cooked?”
Hungover guy: “Yes.”
It goes without saying that by the first hour of my shift I was completely in the weeds.
Being in the “weeds” is a restaurant term used to describe what happens to a server when he or she has about 5000 things to do at once and is totally screwed. It’s like that scene in Sleeping Beauty, where the prince is trying to reach the castle to save his beloved future princess, and is unable to see ahead of him because hundreds of thorny branches keep popping up in his path. Even once he cuts down every single branch and finally reaches the castle, he is then confronted by a large, fiery dragon who is intent on killing him.
That’s pretty much how I felt.
When a restaurant gets slammed with customers, especially very demanding or incompetent ones, it’s not unusual for even the most seasoned of servers to be in the weeds and encounter one if not multiple metaphorical fiery dragons over the course of the shift. For example, this morning, when I was serving 18 tables, including a party of ten and a birthday party of 15 screaming 7 year olds, I still had 4 orders to give to the kitchen, 3 people complaining their food was taking a REALLY LONG TIME, and a partridge in a pear tree nesting in my hair at the same moment my bladder was about to burst because I hadn’t been able to make it to the bathroom in over 3 hours, I was definitely, unequivocally in the weeds.
This is what it looks like when a server is in the weeds:
When you’re in the weeds, it can feel like the weeds are taking over every part of you.
I got in at 9am and was not able to fend off the weeds until six hours later. Three tables left without tipping (dragons) and one guy tried to ditch his bill all together (head dragon). I saw him as he was leaving the restaurant and knew he hadn’t paid. One time a couple years ago we were informed during the “safety portion” of a staff meeting that we weren’t allowed to chase customers for payment because it was “dangerous”. But after three people not tipping me, I really didn’t really care how “dangerous” this was and I chased the guy two solid blocks and demanded he pay me. Service may have been shit, but hell if I was going to pay for this stupid guy’s bill out of my already dwindling tips. I think he was so shocked I had chased him that far, that he fumbled for his wallet, handed me a ten and said “keep the change.” The change amounted to 25 cents, so I threw a quarter at him and told him he could keep it himself. Ok, I actually just threw a quarter at him in my mind, but still, it was just as dramatic.
My only consolation today was the weed dance. This is something I do after a particularly harrowing shift that has been full of weeds. It is a dance I made up a with one of my co-workers after an insane brunch shift last year where one of the servers hadn’t shown up, and the supervisor (a loose term in this case) was having a nervous breakdown and had locked herself in the office. The weed dance is only allowed to be danced at the end of a grueling shift. It is a time when you reclaim every above mentioned part of you that has been taken over by weeds and channel it into dance. The primary move of the weed dance involves holding your hands over your head, pretending you are hacking weeds with a knife while shaking your ass and walking like a zombie across the restaurant. It’s really quite an art form.
The weed dance, although completely ridiculous, is one of the few things that boosts my morale after the end of another horrible hell on earth day. I have learned the hard way, however, that we have to wait to dance until most of the customers have cleared out so nobody thinks we’re mentally ill.
That being said, my friends, readers and customers both liked and despised: If I forget to bring you extra napkins, or look disheveled, or do anything in anyway that makes me look like I’m about to lose my mind, I’m probably in the weeds, or have just emerged from them. Thanks for bearing with me.
Sincerely, Twenty Something Waitress
There are two types of crazy people.
The crazy kind who are endearing, and the crazy kind who aren’t.
This past Tuesday I waited on the “endearing crazy” kind.
My interaction with a woman I’ll call Martha started out simple enough. I approached her table and asked her if she’d like something to drink. She exclaimed more enthusiastically than needed, “I’ll have a coke!”, perhaps as if she expected it might have gold inside. When I returned with her drink, she reached out for my arm, as if we were old friends, and told me “I had to get off the bus and check this place out!” I knew Martha and I were in for an interesting ride after that. You see, there is no bus line anywhere near my restaurant.
I wanted to know what apparent bus Martha had traveled on, and what apparent plans she had interrupted to “get off the bus!” and check this place out, but Martha had other conversation topics in mind.
“She got the body I ordered!” she exclaimed, as she perused the menu.
I had no idea what Martha was referring to until she pointed at a picture of a thin pin up girl gracing the side of the entree selections.
“You ordered her body?” I asked. This seemed like the most appropriate response, but I realized I didn’t sound any more logical than she did in the moment. To Martha’s credit, there are a lot of wild pictures that decorate our menu, and maybe it was sending her into a crazy frenzy.
“I sure did, looks like she got it though. I just didn’t order fast enough!” She flashed a partially toothless grin at me. “Aren’t you a pretty little thing. Now, tell me, you guys got some turkey here?!”
Thank god, I thought, a question based in reality. I informed her we did have turkey, both a turkey club and a hot turkey sandwich. She promptly ordered the hot turkey sandwich and seemed incredibly pleased with her selection. When I brought it out about 5 minutes later, she applauded as if I had just set down a birthday cake in front of her. Despite asking for 3 extra sides of gravy, Martha was harmless and non demanding.
I admit, there are times when even the endearing crazies are more than I can handle. But as a waitress who starts off my shifts in the quiet calm of afternoon and progresses into the wild storm of the nightly dinner rush, I often welcome the endearing crazies as a way to ease me into the impending night of insanity. People like Martha provide a good deal of entertainment, interesting conversation, and if I’m lucky, they often tip generously.
Martha thanked me profusely when she left, convinced that I had cooked the hot turkey sandwich myself, and showered me with several extra dollars in tips. I told her to come back and visit soon, and in that moment I genuinely meant it. I haven’t seen Martha since, but I hope she feels compelled to “get off the bus” again sometime, whatever or wherever bus that may be.