Chronicles of trading in Corporate America for a waitress's apron during my very own quarter-life crisis.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Abandoned Kitchen Sink

Work was especially slow today.  I thought business might pick up because the weather was nicer than it's been in over a week, but I think due to some basketball tournament and -- more importantly -- the first race of the IndyCar season, everyone was probably at home, getting drunk and grilling steaks.

Now, grilling out in the backyard.  I can't wait to do that again.  I suppose I could, if I wanted to, but I don't do anything "homey" at home anymore.  I don't even cook for myself, despite my love for cooking (and food).  These days, if I'm not heating up leftover pizza, I get food to go from somewhere.  I rarely cook for my boyfriend now, due to being too tired and sore from serving food to complete strangers instead.  Sometimes when he comes into the restaurant to see me, I actually let myself think that I cooked the meal he ordered.

When I had a roommate, I cooked every night, and we were always throwing dinner parties.  We'd get the house fixed up, invite people over, and I'd orchestrate madness around my kitchen.

Just some examples of entrées from my kitchen for parties, all homemade:
Whole roasted chicken, baked garlic salmon with rémoulade, southwestern spring rolls with cilantro cream salsa, steak fajitas, sausage and potato soup with kale (my take on a certain Italian restaurant chain's "Zuppa Toscana"), steamed crab legs, standing rib roast (or any roast of a slab of red meat, for that matter), spinach dip in a sourdough bread bowl, slow cooker beef stew, my chili and cornbread (I once won a chili cook-off), deviled eggs, Canadian clam chowder.  Always with sides of mashed or roasted potatoes, salad, asparagus, local corn on the cob (can I get a "hell yeah" for Indiana sweet corn?!), broccoli marinara, pan-seared green beans, Italian peas, or whatever else I felt like trying for the first time from the farmer's market.  This list doesn't even begin to cover what I made for just me and my roommate during a weeknight.  I hosted Thanksgiving for a few years, some pretty great Super Bowl parties, and dinner for a bachelorette party of 16 ladies.  I had a lot of fun in those few years, and I never once bought a veggie platter.

Hungry yet?  I'm not boasting, exactly, but I am proud of what I can do in the kitchen and as a hostess.  Those were some great times.

These days, however, I don't put any energy whatsoever into my house or, sadly, my abandoned kitchen.  The reason for this detachment is that... (deep breath)... I'm filing for bankruptcy.  The process began before I left my comfortable cubicle job, actually -- I couldn't afford things even then.

Everything including the kitchen sink is going down with the ship.  The only thing I'm reaffirming in the bankruptcy is my vehicle, and I'm even starting to reconsider that.  The monthly payment for it is the loudest voice in my head about that decision, though it's a decent car.  The bank will definitely, however, foreclose on the house, because I can't even remotely afford to pay to have it fixed up for sale, not to mention pay the mortgage at all in the meantime.

I just couldn't afford to take care of a 90 year old, four bedroom house anymore.  I had a completely different lifestyle when I bought it -- and I'm not talking about just income, either.  And, I tried.  Ever since the person I bought it with moved out, I've been struggling in one way or another.  Losing this house will be, in a way, moving on.  But to what?  Now that I'm paying for a car and my student loans (neither of which I was paying for the last time I was a waitress), I can't even afford a crap apartment in a bad neighborhood.  The "Low Balance Alert" emails are a daily occurrence from the bank that holds my checking account.

Before anyone suggests it, I'll stop you:  My parents are great and all, but I will not be moving back in with them.  Might've been okay at 22.  Definitely not okay now.

So, I've let problems accumulate:  the upstairs toilet is being weird (the technical term, I'm sure), there are some holes in the walls, one bedroom only has drywall up, the plants in the yard are overgrown, and I haven't replaced several dead light bulbs.  I don't even have a bed.  I sleep on my living room sofa, which I'm too tall for.

This is a really depressing post.  It's been a depressing day.  Sorry.  I can't get that old man with the face mask out of my head.  I just wish I could turn back time and cover his ears when that bitch was talking about him.  I wish I would have ripped her a new one when I had the chance.

It's exhausting to be so sensitive about things.  It's exhausting to want to try to protect everyone, like me trying to protect the old man as much as his face mask does, and it's even harder when I fail to do everything I could have.

And I still want to try to protect this house, but I'm so tired from all the other things I try to do/feel/make others feel (and tired from failing myself, every single day), that I can't do homeownership anymore.  The house has to go.  It is no longer a home, a place for parties and dinners, for family and friends; it is now just a burden, and I can't wait to be free from it.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Breathing at the Speed of Sound

For the last two days, the satellite radio station at the restaurant has been messed up.  Just a tiny glitch, the managers assure us.  Well, this cute little "glitch" manifests itself by playing "Breathe" by Collective Soul and "Speed of Sound" by Coldplay every five minutes.  Those two songs just keep repeating, over and over.  My boyfriend came in for lunch today and counted five "Breathe"s in the 45 minutes he was there.  The minute he stepped back out, into the parking lot, it started playing again.

It was playing when I left work today for my scant break between my double shifts, and it was playing when I got back an hour later.

One of my friends on Facebook was wondering to his friends list the other day, "What is hell?  I think it's sitting in administration meetings for eternity."  Nope.  Hell is listening to two songs that you didn't care for to begin with on repeat for 16 of the last 30 hours (not counting the hours outside of work where they're stuck in your head), and in the meantime, you smell like fried pickles.

So now that it's 11 p.m. and I've eaten for the first time today, I feel like writing about something that happened tonight.  Parts of this story may sound like I'm patting myself on the back, but really, most of it just makes me furious and sad at the same time.

It was my first time in a new section, one where a few different servers and I rotate turns on taking tables.  I had three or four tables already, and then someone asked me, "Can you pick up table 95?"  It wasn't my turn, that I knew of, though I was pretty swamped and not used to the system in this section.

"I think no one wants to take 95 because there's an old guy with a mask on there," said another waitress, loudly.  She wasn't even serving in that section tonight, so I'm not sure why she was busting out the commentary.  (There are a couple of people at work who read this blog -- this server was not you!)

I turned and looked at table 95, which was only about five feet away, and there sat two men, one in his 50s or so, and one who was much older and quite frail (I'm guessing they were father and son).  The older man, who had kind but sad eyes, sloped shoulders, and -- sure enough -- an antiviral facial mask, was looking at this waitress.

"I mean, that's fucking sick," she continued, still within earshot of the table.  "It's fucking gross.  You should stay at home if you need a mask.  So nasty."  She shivered dramatically.  I glanced back at table 95, and even from behind the face mask, the old man looked like a puppy that had just been kicked.

I wanted to cry.  Instead, I picked up their table.

They were two of the sweetest guests I had all week.  I answered their questions about the menu, brought them bread and butter, all the normal things.  The old man explained that he couldn't eat or drink a lot at one time, so I brought him a to-go box with his meal and water with no ice in a lowball drinking glass instead of our regular ones.

When they were settling up on their check, I wished them good night and thanked them for coming in.  "No," said the man (as he, I later found, was tipping me 20%).  "Thank you.  You made this experience a good one."  I realized that he must have been looking forward to this evening for a long time.  And again, I could've cried.  But I just said good bye, cleaned their table, and went on to serve my other guests.

Thinking back on it now, a few hours later, I stand my ground.  Thank you gentlemen for being my table tonight, and thank you for giving me an excuse to go on a huge rant!

To the waitress that loudly berated and humiliated an elderly man for wearing a mask in a restaurant:  Fuck you. 

You wanna know why he's wearing a face mask?  It isn't because of him, you dipshit.  It's because of YOU.  It's because of me; it's because of ALL of us.  We are the ones who have germs that his body can't tolerate, not the other way around.  Do you have any idea the kind of cesspools restaurant dining rooms can be?  The children running around, the parents wiping their kids' faces and then throwing the napkins on the ground like Neanderthals, the waiters that party all night and then come to work sick, the very likely chance that the old man's table wasn't exactly disinfected from the table that sat right before him... do you get it, now?  Do you?

That's it.  That's the biggest insult I have to offer you right now, is that you are the reason for that face mask.  He was protecting himself from your germy, rotten mouth.

But one more thing, bitch.

You really want to see something that's "fucking gross"?  I used to work for the medical device industry.  I've seen "gross."  If you think a kind old man with a face mask on is gross, then I wish you buckets of luck in recovering from the trauma of watching yourself give birth to a kid, 'cause that miracle-of-life shit can get disgusting.  And that's even when everything goes to plan!  How about watching a surgery for when childbirth doesn't go well, where a uterine balloon has to be inserted due to postpartum hemorrhage?  Or maybe you could read up on placing fistula plugs in someone's body because there is a urogenital fistula (you know, so the new mommy can care for her infant without constantly urinating herself).  And don't even get me started on catheters.  I'll spare you; you're bound to just faint from the grossness of it all.

Feel free to pass on all your gross tables to me.  I'll treat them how they deserve to be treated, and then I'll get a fucking outstanding night's sleep.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The ABCs of Waitressing

I'm going to link up with Anna's nursing blog here, but with a bit of a twist:  I'm doing an ABC of waitressing.

The ABCs of Waitressing

A is for Alcohol
I try to both suggest an alcoholic beverage and/or upsell an ordered alcoholic beverage within thirty seconds of greeting a table.  That's actually my goal, not the restaurant's requirement.  (Example:  "Coronas are on special tonight; could I get you a bucket for $5?" or "A rum and Coke?  Excellent.  Would you like Captain Morgan, Barcardi, Don Q...?  Want to make this a double?")

I'd also like to list "All Day" under the A section.  If you hear a restaurant worker say, "That's six catfish all day," it means several people have ordered catfish at different times, but an expo manager is clarifying to the chef that it's six, total.  I have to use the "all day" phrase often, mostly with the salad line, when many servers are requesting salads at once.  If the chef looks confused or frustrated, just say, "It's four Caesars all day, thank you," and everything's good.

B is for "Be right back with your change!"
If the customer interrupts you in the middle of this phrase to say, "Oh, no, that's all for you," then you've executed the cash payment process with grace.  You can take that check presenter with all the bills and coins in it, and easily close out the table in the computer system.  Under no circumstances should a server grab a check presenter from a table and ask, "Do you need change?"  It's presumptuous of the server -- no matter how much I promote tipping waitstaff -- to assume that a tip is left in there for them.  I know fellow servers (me included) who will tip way less if their server asks if they need change.

Even if a check presenter has $1 bills sticking out of it, I still say, "I'll be right back with your change."  Then, of course, a "No dear, we're all squared away," from the customer.  "Well, thank you so much!  You folks have a great weekend; come back and see us," I say, with a smile.    

This was almost an exception.  The family left before I picked up the check -- I almost ran after them... but then I realized that this was actually my tip.  Whoever you are:  Thank you so much, and please, please, come back and see me anytime.

I'd also like to acknowledge "Bev Nap" under "B," because where I work, that's how other employees know if a guest has been visited and interacted with -- if the table has beverage napkins in front of each customer.

C is for Coupon
The majority of the time, when you present a coupon to your server, that server has to get a manager to a computer in order to apply it.  We're happy to accommodate your coupon, and I personally am totally "go fight win" for budgeting wisely.  It's just a pain in the ass.  

Another pain in the ass by the name of "C" is "Campers."  These are people that stay hours after they've paid, taking up a table in my section, blocking any further money in my pocket.  You don't need refills, you don't need more bread, you don't need dessert.  You just need to use this table to catch up with someone regarding the last 15 years or so, it seems.  Good on you for reconnecting, but can you do that elsewhere?  There's a park, a sidewalk, some place that doesn't affect my income, etc., that I can recommend.  

I camped for a little while at a table last night, actually, because I had yet to finish my drink.  I tipped an extra $5, on top of what my boyfriend had already tipped, just to make up for the table that our waiter could've had there in the meantime.

D is for Date
Within a few seconds, I can tell if a couple at one of my tables is on a first date.  First date tips are hit or miss; a man who knows what he's doing will treat and tip me well in front of his prospective gal, but a man who feels like he has something to prove will talk down to me (fortunately, the woman in these circumstances will usually whisper "sorry" as she puts a $10 bill on the table).

D is also for "Dead."  This can refer to an embarrassingly empty restaurant, or it can refer to food prepared by mistake that's drying out under the heat lamps on the line.  "The restaurant is dead."  "There's dead food in the kitchen."  The former means you won't make money, but the latter means you can eat for free.

D is also for "Dine & Dash."  The one time I've had this happen to me as a server, the guests were dumb enough to order alcohol and show their IDs.  I remembered not just their faces, but their names as well -- my manager took note.  :)

E is for Eighty-Six
Any time the kitchen runs out of something, that's an "86," so if you hear one server tell another, "hey, 86 coleslaw," that's what that means -- the restaurant is out of coleslaw.  The term "86" has a long history in American slang.  This can also apply to an intoxicated customer, e.g., "We have to 86 the guy at table 42; he's getting too drunk."

F is for Free
Occasionally, guests will come into the restaurant and bitch from that moment on.  They know that, in chain restaurants, where managers have their hands and balls tied to anvils, free food is just beyond the bitching horizon.  This free food, of course, doesn't include tip.  It's understood that the server won't be receiving one.

G is for Gratuity
Common practice in the United States now is to tip about 20% for great service.  The norm is changing from 15%, which is now considered the standard for "adequate" service.  I live in the Midwest, so I'll pretty much accept whatever, even during tax season, where people who have no business eating at a restaurant will order expensive food and then leave me a 5% tip.  As long as they're nice to me.  That's all I ask.

With large groups, however, servers can (in most corporate chains) no longer add automatic gratuity to large parties.  Remember those notes in restaurant menus that said, "An automatic gratuity of 18% will be added to parties of 8 or more"?  Yeah, the assholes at the IRS, who've never waited tables, decided to end that.  So if you're in a large party at a restaurant, please make sure to tip, because "auto-grat" is gone.

H is for House
Most restaurants have a house salad, house dressing, house soup, house sandwich, etc.  The "house" implies that it's made literally "in-house" -- it's made in the building.  When it was made in the building, I can't entirely vouch for.

I is for Iron
Looking homeless is frowned upon by managers and customers alike when you're a server.  I wash and iron my uniform daily, and I take a curling iron to my hair most days to smooth out the frizz and kinks and attempt to make it look like an actual hairstyle.

J is for Jesus
I'll occasionally receive a "tip" in the form of a prayer card.  I don't care how religious you are -- those useless pieces of idiocy have no monetary value.  I can't hand a depiction of Jesus to the electrician/veterinarian/mechanic/etc. and just say, "It's cool, this Biblical allegory is good for it."

Oh, good, you'll be handling all problems today?  Can this card convert itself into cash?

K is for Kill It
Same as "hockey puck," "cremate it," "paddy well," etc.  It means that a guest has ordered meat so well done that the food is beyond hope, as far as food is concerned.  PSA:  If you're in the mood for steak, but you want it well done, why not just order chicken?  

L is for Left-Handed Spatula
These don't exist.  If you're a newbie cook and someone asks you to find a left-handed spatula, you're being fucked with.  On the same plane, if you're a newbie server and your trainer asks you to empty the hot water from the coffee machines...

L can also stand for LTOP, which I pronounce like "ell-top" in my head.  It's just my abbreviation for "lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle" -- the common toppings that come with a burger.

M is for Make-up
I try to take especially good care of my face/skin, now that I'm a server.  Guests want to be greeted with a clean, fresh face that isn't caked in make-up (yet, the server should have just enough make-up to look like she hasn't just crawled out from under her hangover).  The only difference I make in my "work make-up" versus my "going to the drug store/seeing my boyfriend or family/someone's coming to my house make-up" is eyeliner.  My hair takes a bit more time as well.  

N is for No-Show

A staff member that doesn't come to work or a guest with a reservation that never arrives.  Fuck you, either way.  This is universal, whether you're in a restaurant, an office, a relationship, or at a pot-luck.  Fuck you guys, too.

N is also for "nametag."  I'm allergic to mine.

O is for "On the Fly"
When you mess up an order or a table decides out of nowhere that they want an appetizer (when their dinner entrées are five minutes away from coming to the line), the phrase "on the fly" can be your best friend.  If you tell a cook that you need a dish on the fly, that dish will be ready with priority speed.  

P is for Pittsburgh-style
Most of you probably order your steaks "medium rare," "medium," etc., but if you order a steak "Pittsburgh-style," any experienced server and/or line cook will know what you mean.  A steak like this comes to the table with a charred outside and an inside that's still mooing.  This temperature of steak is also called "black and blue," after the colors of the dish.

I'd also like to mention "pre-meal" under "P," but this is called many different things, depending on the restaurant:  alley rally, pre-shift, curtain call, line up, etc.  It's the brief meeting that the managers have with waitstaff, usually in the kitchen, before the shift gets hectic.  This meeting usually involves free food for the servers.  :)

Q is for Questions
I'm happy to answer questions about the menu for my customers.  I once got a $20 tip from a couple because I recommended some entrées after they explained they were on a diet.  

Successfully answering questions about the menu, making the guest's experience everything it could be -- I LOVE that part of my job.  I really, really do.  But if your questions sound like, "Can I get extra lemons with my water?  ... And lots of sugar packets, thanks," which basically tells me you're making yourself a free lemonade, then the person handling your food has just become unhappy.

R is for Re-cook
"Excuse me, but I ordered my steak medium well."  (customer pokes at their steak, which is almost well done... and almost entirely eaten)  "This is not medium well.  First off, it took an hour to get here--" (actually, sir, it was about 15 minutes) "--and now it's all bloody."  Despite the dried up shards of well done meat on your fork?  Sure.

S is for Shorthand
When someone is listing modifications about their food order, there's no way that you can write it down in its entirety.  "I'd like the pretzel burger... cooked medium with pepper jack, with no onions, no pickles, no tomatoes, and with lettuce but on the side -- oh, and mayo and ranch dressing on the side -- and with a baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese, and chives... and a cup of potato soup, no bacon."  People rattle this off in a New York minute and don't consider that someone is transcribing for them the whole time.

Looks normal to me.
T is for Tip-outs
Most servers have to tip their bartenders, hostesses, food runners, bussers, etc., even if those employees didn't do anything to help your service that day.  It's mandatory where I work.  I tip out 1.5% of my sales to hostesses that seat people at tables that they haven't cleaned yet, bartenders that stand around and text, etc.  (Note:  Most days, I'm happy to tip them.  They do a lot of work.  But I notice when they don't.)

The letter "T" has special meaning to me for the phrase "two bites/two minutes," which means that you check on your guests shortly after they receive your food to ensure they're satisfied.  It only has special meaning to me because I would really hate to know that one of my guests has sat there for a long time with a dish that disappointed them.  But, literally, wait about two minutes.  Don't hover around on your guest's first bite.

FYI, "Tips" does not mean "To Insure Prompt Service."  That would be what we linguists call a "backronym."

U is for Uniform
Not just a NATO alphabet reference.  You wouldn't believe how often I have to scrub the food stains off my work uniform.  Where I currently work, I have to wear a black button-down Oxford shirt with one breast pocket, dark blue jeans, black belt, black non-skid shoes, and an issued green apron.  And things, all things -- napkins, slips of paper, bits of cheese -- accumulate in those pockets.   

V is for Vintage
Many guests who think they're food/wine connoisseurs will ask for a "vintage wine."  The "vintage" part, technically, implies that the grapes for the wine are aged beyond a certain year.  For the wine enthusiasts out there, take note:  If you're dining at a TGI O'Chilibees and request a vintage wine, you're probably just going to get the house Merlot, and you might not even know the difference.  It's a win-win. 

W is for What Are Your Soups/Sides/Desserts/etc.?
It's on the menu.  The menu in your fucking hands.

"W" is also for "Weeds."  I could write an entire blog post about being "in the weeds," but it's basically defined as the panic you feel when you've been triple-sat and have a six-top requesting separate checks and all desserts to-go and your party of four has decided to start ordering extremely specific drinks from the bar.  Thankfully, for those of us who know what this is like:  It's just food.  It's just a restaurant.  It'll be over in an hour or two.  It's an hour or two of your life, and you won't remember this five years from now.

X is for Xyloid
There is a serious amount of furniture in the dining room, and the stuff that's made of wood just makes me bruise more.  Can we find a lighter substance, please?  I can't go one day without knocking the shit out of an elbow or knee on these fancy chairs.

Y is for Yield
Every once in a while, I'll get frowns for throwing out half-eaten nachos, when the other servers could have devoured the leftovers like vultures.  The yield for food costs is apparently serious business, and the frustration of seven other broke servers is as well.  

Z is for Zeppelin
A zeppelin is a sausage.  Seriously.  If that zeppelin is "in a fog," that means it's surrounded by mashed potatoes.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Awkward and uncoordinated? You'd be a great waitress.

I'm a little... clumsy.  As I stumble back into restaurant work, I'm reminded of this.

When I was an office drone, I used to joke about how I was a klutz, but the worst thing that happened there was tripping up the stairs once.  Yeah, I tripped up the stairs.  I often hit my knee on parts of my desk.  Papercuts were a daily occurrence.  I dropped files on the floor occasionally, making sure to sigh heavily as I knelt to pick them up, slightly hinting to others, "oh, look at poor helpless me."

Me, trying to be graceful.  It didn't end well.

I'm surprisingly agile when I play softball... well, when I can see.  Honestly, sometimes I can't see a thing when I play softball, particularly during night games.  I'll play especially deep in the infield, resorting to a mild and atheistic version of prayer if I think a line drive might be coming my way.  In the daytime, however, I've accomplished some moves in softball that you might only see during a Cirque du Soleil event.  Or Olympic gymnastics.  A choreographed school of dolphins breaching around ocean waves.

I might be exaggerating.  Truth is, though, I hardly get hurt during softball.  I can think of only a few injuries in the last 25 years.

As a waitress, I can think of a few injuries in the last 25 hours.

Now, I'm not exactly saying that I didn't do anything at my cubicle job, physically.  Most days had me running around all four floors of the building (in high heels, no less), pausing briefly to gulp some soup for lunch or send an email while standing at my desk.  It isn't like I had baby-soft feet held close and dear by atrophied muscles; I was usually sore by the time I came home.  If I hadn't respected my boss so much, I'd compare it to any page from The Devil Wears Prada... except my boss was far from the devil, he probably thought Prada was a mathematical unit of some sort, and he wore sweaters that would make Bill Cosby sweat.

Former Boss, if you're reading this:  You're awesome and hilarious just the way you are.

I'm just kind of corporally unlucky:

  • I cracked a back molar in half because I was eating a piece of bread that had seeds in it, and that molar had to be extracted.
  • Completely sober, I walked straight into a picnic table once, bashing the absolute shit out of my right knee and bruising my patellar tendon (when I already have Osgood-Schlatter disease to begin with, naturally), because I was watching one of my nieces dance on a haystack and not looking where I was going.  
  • A doctor told me, while reviewing X-ray and MRI results, that I have the lumbar (lower back) of a senior citizen.  I was 28 at the time.  
  • I knocked a mirror off my wall one night, trying to feel my way to the bathroom in the dark, and I stumbled onto a broken shard of that, which resulted in 14 stitches to my leg.  
  • Thinking it would be fun to become involved in an MMO RPG, I ended up just developing tendinitis in my right hand, to the point where I could barely turn the key in my car's ignition and had to wear a splint for six weeks.  

So imagine what kind of damage I can do to myself in an industrial kitchen.  There's absolutely no comparison in today's episode of "Cubicle vs. Kitchen" on how sore I get and often I get injured in the expo line of duty, thanks to some entity by the name of Awkward.

There was the time when...

... a fajita skillet burned my hand so badly that I couldn't write properly for a month.  I was a college student at the time, so let's just go ahead and say I was inconvenienced.  I still have a scar.

... I fractured my wrist (again, of my dominant hand) while walking to the back of the kitchen for some ice cream.  I was about to "a la mode" the hell out of some apple pie, but this particular restaurant floor had an incline between the front and the back of the kitchen.  It had been hosed down in a half-assed attempt to clean.  The apple pie, my wrist, and I ended up on the floor -- all broken.

... twice now, I have received a burn on top of an already-existing burn.

... at my current job, though not entirely related to waitressing, I totally face-planted in the parking lot on my first day there, in front of everyone.  I slipped on a huge patch of ice and landed hard, with the contents of my apron and purse flying everywhere.  Everyone inside the restaurant saw it happen.  I had bruises for about a month.  (And actually, when I stood up from the fall, I almost fell again.)

... while prepping my makeup for a waitressing shift, I tore the cornea in my right eye while applying eyeliner.  I could hear the doctor joking about it with the nurses outside my exam room.

... in the last two days, I've burned my arm and my finger (thanks bread oven, ur my bestie!!!11), cracked a toenail, reddened my neck with a wayward broom stick, and bruised my ankle from an aggressive refrigerator door.

The good news is that I've accidentally spilled red nail polish on my hands recently, so when I'm serving you some food this weekend, you get the relaxation of worrying about catching sanguine-transmitted hepatitis.  :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Getting my just desserts

I'm writing this after my dinner shift on Tuesday night and scheduling it to be posted on Wednesday.  Tuesday night was pretty slow at the restaurant, but the money was worth it.

What isn't worth it, however, is that I have the restaurant's satellite radio station that pumps contemporary pop music into the dining room in my head at all times.  Songs such as "This Kiss" (Faith Hill), "Drops of Jupiter" (Train), "3 AM" (Matchbox 20), and "Only Wanna Be With You" (Hootie & the Blowfish) drown out my thoughts even when I'm not at work.  It's even worse when the restaurant is slow, because then I actually start to pay attention to it.  I found myself going along with it today:  "But just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die/You gotta get up and try, try, tryyy-- oh god, what the hell am I singing?!"  It's only slightly better than the Mexican polka music that the kitchen staff plays on repeat.

I can't give in to it.  I must be stronger.

I long to hack into the system and blast out Nirvana's "Rape Me," just to see what happens.  At least with my office job, I could listen to whatever I wanted at my desk.  I'd even plug my earbuds into my phone if I needed to run errands around the building.  That had an added benefit of giving off a "don't talk to me" vibe, but I also got particular enjoyment from walking around and dropping things off at peoples' desks while Zack de la Rocha screamed "FUCK YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME" in my ear.

I tried to wear my earbuds and listen to music while I rolled silverware, because the repetitive act of fold the napkin - two forks - steak knife - wrap - roll technique, 90 times, while standing after a long shift, is torture; however, a manager told me (politely, to his credit) that I wasn't allowed to wear earbuds while doing my sidework.


Anyway, I'm assuming that I won't have time to post on Wednesday, so I'm writing this now.  I'm working a double shift, like most of the waitstaff at the restaurant, because Wednesday is known in my restaurant chain as the day when people get a certain kind of dessert for FREE with the purchase of any entrée.  Customers flock to the restaurant in droves, packing into the lobby and spilling out into the parking lot.  We stay on a wait for hours at a time, and we're still taking tables long after some servers have been on their feet for ten hours.  The first Wednesday I worked there, I was in tears three different times; the same was true for other servers, even those who are more seasoned than I am.

Even on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, penitence, and sacrifice, we gave away dessert after dessert.  Though, to be fair, we had way more orders for fish entrées than usual.

So it's safe to say that if you're reading this, and it's Wednesday, I'm off somewhere getting my ass handed to me right now.

It wouldn't be such a big deal.  It really wouldn't be.  I don't panic at the thought of the restaurant being on a wait, turning over tables, being a little busy, making some cash.  All I'd have to do is concentrate on my section and keep up with my sidework.  However, this free dessert stuff falls almost entirely on the servers' shoulders.  I'm happy to accommodate my customers, but it's pretty time-consuming to put together these desserts and their whipped cream toppings/chocolate shavings/walnuts/chilled forks for multiple people at every table, especially if they're taking the dessert to-go.

We don't even have a simple "Free Dessert" button on the point-of-sale computer system; it takes exactly five taps on the screen to ring it in.  That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're ready to rip out your hair and deliriously sprinkle it around the hostess stand/sacrificial altar, those taps accumulate.  I'm already at the point, after only about a month of Wednesdays at this place, that I wouldn't mind never eating dessert again.

I went to a raffle a few weeks ago, and they had a table of food.  My boyfriend pointed and said, "Oh, look.  Pie."  And I shriveled up and yelled, "NooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Flattery in the workplace

It's common knowledge that employees tend to hook up with one another, and I've been no stranger to that.  I've witnessed it pretty much everywhere I've worked, and it's even happened directly to me a few times:

  1. I dated a man who worked in my office during my internship, but only for a couple months.  When my internship ended, so did the relationship.
  2. One of the other waiters at a family restaurant cornered me in the parking lot when I was 17.  I turned him down because he had a girlfriend, and then he ended up getting another waitress pregnant. (Bullet, consider yourself dodged.)
  3. I may or may not have had a fling with one of the cooks when I worked at a Mexican restaurant.
  4. My favorite example:  My current boyfriend.  We worked in the same building for over two and a half years before getting to know each other through company softball, and now we hold hands.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that dating/"hooking up"/legit romantic relationships pretty much operate on similar levels and with the same behavior no matter how expensive your ink pens are at work.  Stolen glances, wanting to look your best at work because omg we work together today, coming up with reasons to see him, trying and failing (failing so hard) to keep the romance a secret... it's the same in restaurants and offices.  

Only, offices have stricter HR, so I was a bit worried when my current relationship started up and we both worked on the same floor.  The following conversation occurred between me and the HR Associate, who's about my age, shortly after my boyfriend and I had our first date (and I have no idea how she knew about it already):

HR Associate:  Hey!  (whispers)  Are you and Scott going out?  
Me (looks around wildly):  Um, uh... Scott??  Scott who?!?

Turns out she just wanted to congratulate me.  

I told my boyfriend about it, and he said, "Oh god.  Do we have to disclose it to HR?  Do we need to fill out a form?!"  

The pressure of this situation in a restaurant is pretty nonexistent, but it can still be a headache for managers.  I do know that they worry about some of this stuff; in fact, I happen to work with a guy friend at TGI O'Chilibees who I used to date, and the managers asked if it was going to be a problem.  (It hasn't been; he and I have been good friends for years.)

And what about the unwanted advances?  Those happen in restaurants way more often (except for getting groped by my cube neighbor that one time, or the security guy who held entire conversations with my cleavage).  I'm referring to the restaurant customers. 

A couple of memorable stories:  

One customer left me his phone number and a note that said, "Let's go out for coffie sometime :)"  First, yes he spelled "coffee" like that.  Second, he didn't leave a real smiley face; he'd written it sideways like an emoticon.  

Then there was the little boy, around age 10, who would collapse in shy giggles anytime I approached his table.  He and his little sister were adorable.  About halfway through the meal, their mother admitted that the little boy was "gobsmacked" with me.  As they were leaving, I went to clear the table, and I saw that he'd written his phone number down in crayon on a napkin.  I went up to the hostess, and we both "awwww"ed over my new favorite little customer.  The family, who'd been using the restrooms, were then starting to walk out the door; the hostess and I waved to them and thanked them for coming in.  Just then, the little boy broke away from his mother, ran back into the lobby, looked up at me and squeaked, "I might not be Elmo," he said with a shit-eating grin, "But you can still tickle me!"  

Employees with colds: Cubicle vs. Kitchen

As I age (gracefully, shut up), I've learned that I may be prone to some seasonal allergies.  Not all seasonal allergies, as I'm still in my 20s and damned if I get all of old age in one go, but some sniffles.  It seems that this "allergy" hooplah presents itself as a cold that doesn't go away.

(Thank you, "cold," for being a constant companion.)

However, this tends to be a problem at work.  I'm lethargic at times now, my eyes are blurry, and my near constant "<wheeze, hack>... so the prime rib comes with two sides... excuse me<cough>" in front of customers isn't exactly appetizing.

Managers in most chain restaurants, such as mine -- which, for the purposes of this blog, I will refer to as TGI O'Chilibees -- will require a doctor's note for when you miss work due to illness, upon which I call immediate bullshit, because:

(1)  We can't afford to see a doctor.  Any doctor.  We can barely afford to see Doctor Krieger on Netflix.  (Uh, that's an Archer reference.  Prepare for those.)

(2)  The one time in my many years of food service that I called out sick and was required to bring in a doctor's note, the manager didn't even look at it.  She just said, "Oh.  Yeah, just hold onto that."

(3)  Some servers don't even show up to work, come back with nothing to justify it, and then they have a go at bartending for a few hours and make $200.  The rest of us that don't get away with that kind of lazy assholishness have to not only miss out on shift money but also pony up $50 to get a doctor to say, "Yeah, you're kinda sick.  Here's a note."

(4)  I used to call out of work two or three times a week at my office job, at my worst.  No one even noticed I was gone.

So for #4 there, if I did show up to work with a cold, I'd just blow my nose discreetly in my cubicle, no questions asked.  If my boss noticed that I was substantially under the weather and contagious, he would suggest that I'd go home.  But I'd stick it out.  Be A Team Player.  Go The Distance.  Deliver Inspiration.  ... with conjunctivitis.  Because, the thing is, if you're sick and alone in your cubicle, and you stay in your cubicle, you're a hero.  "Gosh, look at that trooper,"  "She sure is committed," etc.  If you're sick but don't stay in your cubicle, I've learned that people will go to your boss and say, "Are you an idiot?  Send her home; she's going to get us sick."

At a restaurant, it's never suggested that you go home.  You're stuck.  You can't afford a sick day.  You try to hide your runny nose while you're taking a customer's salmon order; the carefully applied makeup on your face is ruined from rubbing your eyes; you stifle coughs as you roll silverware; your hands are cracked from washing your hands after every wheezing fit in the kitchen.

I would say that it beats looking at a computer screen all day when you're sick, but in my case, I'm looking at hungry customers.  Hungry customers that don't want to catch a cold from TGI O'Chilibees.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It all started with dental fricatives

Dental fricatives, in the English language, are just known as "th."  They can be voiced or voiceless, meaning that you are either pushing air through your vocal cords or not when you pronounce them.

If you aren't following me, hold one hand up to your throat.

Just do it, come on.

Now say this word out loud:  "thy."  Pay attention to when your throat vibrates with your voice.  Now, say the word "thigh."  Your throat only starts to vibrate when the vowel passes through your mouth with this one.

More on that later.

My first job in the food industry was dumped on me when I was 14.  I worked in a university residence hall for women, delivering cereal and oatmeal in their freezing dining room on Saturday mornings and torching pots and pans with the hanging water spigot in the kitchen, my peace sign necklace dangling dangerously close to the garbage disposal.  I quit the job when my parents told me as delicately as possible that waking up at 6 a.m. on weekends to drive me onto a Big Ten campus was not worth the $5.15 an hour that I was making.

I waited tables throughout high school and college, a blur that I now refer to as my "formative years" but is really just another time that I didn't know any better.  I pushed myself far beyond what's considered healthy, taking 18-21 credit hours and maxing out at 40-50 hours of food service.  But that was relatively normal for me; to this day, I can't remember much about life without a job of some sort.

As you'll hear from many servers, there are stories.  I have some, like when I asked a woman if she wanted soup or salad, and she responded, "Yes, I'd like a Super Salad."  Or when the kid at table 53 decided to climb up a section of window treatments, and his nonchalant mother continued to eat chips and salsa until those window treatments broke and her kid (and salsa) spilled on top of her, so that was her cue to bitch for a free meal.  Or how many times I've greeted a table with, "Hi, how are you all doing tonight?" and one person in the group (it's hard to tell when their faces are buried in menus, none of them bothering to look at me) responds with, "Diet Coke."  Or even just last night, when I was waiting on a table of three teenage-looking girls, and one of them said, while fiddling with her phone, "Um, I'll have like, water?  And a side salad?  With ranch?" and then she stiffed me on the tip.

However, this blog is not all about waitressing.  Before I came back to work in a restaurant, I had a "real" job.  I called it my Big Girl Job at times.

I was a technical writer, internal auditor, and board administrator for the quality system department at a company that did research and development for an internationally respected medical device manufacturer.  Try saying that five times fast.  Hell, try saying it at all; I had to, for five years.

I can't entirely explain why I left that job to go back to waitressing.  The politics, maybe... how people refused to change even though we weren't a company of 25 employees anymore... perhaps when, a few years ago, the VP of the clinical studies team told me, "If I had your job, I'd kill myself"... or when my boss, who I absolutely adored, told me that he'd be joining forces with the one person there I couldn't stand -- a micromanager, universally hated in the building.

The biggest factor in getting that job was the little internship on my resume.  The internship was for work study when I was in college.  I was a training intern for the information technology department, which meant any time the university went live with new software (say, Office 2007 at the time, or a new purchasing system), I was on the front lines to train faculty and staff on the basics.  Part of the interview process for this internship was to deliver a presentation to my hiring managers.  My presentation was on linguistics.

I had these tough-as-nails women hold their hands to their throats, pronouncing the words "thy" and "thigh," feeling when their voices made their skin rattle, and I watched their surprised expressions when they could tell the difference between the dental fricatives.  They saw I was a good trainer and hired me.  I quit my waitressing job (at that time, I was at Outback Steakhouse) the next day.  I was officially an Office Worker, typing away in an anonymous cubicle and letting my life revolve around Outlook.  During my internship, I did manage to sneak a tiny peace sign sticker next to my cubicle nameplate.  During my Big Girl Job as a technical writer, I stuck magnetic finger puppets on the dry erase board in my cube.  I suppose that was a way to tell people, "I don't belong here.  I'm an individual.  I have a personality."

If only I could've learned to just suck it up.

At any rate, I traded in my $40K a year salary, 401(k), benefits, profit sharing, PTO, roomy cubicle, etc. for this, and damn it, I'm going to chronicle the shit out of it.  My advice is to brace yourself, because I sure didn't.