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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Short hiatus, perhaps -- lots going on

If I don't post on the blog or comment on other blogs in the next few days, it's because I got in a car accident yesterday and have a bunch of aftermath to deal with, not to mention lots of restaurant hours.  Everyone is okay; the other driver and I are fine, and we both declined medical attention.  I am, however, reeeeally sore in my neck, wrists, and seatbelt area.  I've never been in a car accident before, but people I've talked to said the soreness should go away in a couple days.

The accident was my fault completely -- I rear-ended a pick-up truck.  I know you're not supposed to admit fault in an accident, but I can't kid a kidder.  I hit him, plain and simple.  I just assumed traffic was moving at a certain pace, but the truck in front of me stopped suddenly while I was glancing at the dash (not my phone, and I have the bill to prove it!), and I didn't react in time.  My tires didn't even get a chance to leave skid marks on the road.  I know now not to get too comfortable with traffic when it's 4:55 on a Friday afternoon.

I had been driving to work at the time, ready and caffeinated for what I hoped was a busy night.  It took two hours to go through the police stuff, file an insurance claim, clean up the wreck, and wait for the tow truck.  Then, I made another stupid decision:  I went to work.  The restaurant let me go home after just a couple of hours, because I was a freaking mess... spilling and dropping things, tripping, randomly getting really upset, forgetting small stuff for my tables... it didn't really help that they put me in a very busy, fast-paced section, but it isn't their fault.  I'm not blaming them; I shouldn't have been at work.  I was in no condition.  I took five or so tables and then my fiancé picked me up.

Speaking of my fiancé (plus my dad and my cousin David, both of whom came to the site of the accident to check on me or offer to drive me somewhere), he's been a saint.  He took me to get a rental car this morning, and with all the questions the rental place asked me about insurance that I didn't know any answers to (and no real way to find out those answers), the possibility of being late for work, realizing how sore I was, and being overwhelmed in general, I was probably a nightmare to deal with.  My hands were trembling, I was short-tempered, and I'd end up in tears at a sideways glance.  But through everything, he just calmly said, "I'm just happy you're okay."

My car is not okay.  I haven't gotten a call from the collision repair shop yet, but my Camry is undrive-able.  The driver of the pick-up had the evil forethought to have a hitch on the back of his vehicle, and that little fucker went about a quarter of the way through the contents of my hood.  So when the accident happened, my radiator went "screw this" and leaked all kinds of copper-colored fluid.  That was an insult to injury:  My car looked like it was bleeding out onto the street.  And I'm the one who cut it.

In keeping with an effective apology strategy that I recently read about and posted on Facebook, I'd like to apologize to my car.

I'm sorry, car.  It was wrong of me to take you and Friday rush hour traffic for granted.  I will never do that again, I vow to always pay attention while driving, and I still want to be friends.  Will you forgive me?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Language and Behavior: Cubicle vs. Kitchen

I've had some time to think about how my professional environment has changed, and here's my take, in a nice little table as an homage to my former office job:

Out of coffee
Waits for the administrative assistant to make coffee.
Makes coffee while loudly complaining about someone taking the last of it.
Project is taking too long
“Have you… followed up on those reports?  Okay.  No, that’s okay.  So how’s the family?”
“Where are we on that salmon?!” or “Table 53 won’t fucking leave.”
A mistake is made
Performs and documents remedial action(s); fills out paperwork in an attempt to implement further preventive measures.  Gets manager to sign forms.
“My table said the steak is too spicy or whatever.”  Gets manager to comp a meal.
Busy day
“I know you scheduled this meeting with me three weeks ago, but I am just sooo, sooooo swamped...”… leans back to check company iPhone that has no notifications on it.  Then, “Can we… hmm… can we mayyyyybe table this discussion until next Thursday?”
“I am in the fucking weeds, can someone help me?!”  Seven servers and two managers rush to assist.
Friend gets promoted
“Oh!  Oh.  Well, that’s great.  Congrats.  So will you be taking an office and everything?  Oh!  Oh.  Well, that’s great.  Will you still be assisting on the Anderson draft with me?  Oh!  Oh… Well, that’s great.”  Rinse and repeat. 
“You’re gonna be a fuckin’ manager?!  Holy shit!  So can you get us free drinks and stuff?  Do you have to wear, like, real clothes?!  Ew, gawd, and you have to be here like 14 hours a day?!  Ohhhhh my god, that sucks for you, dude!  Oh, but, you know, congrats or whatever.  Hey, Jenna!  JENNA!  Omigawd, Jenna -- Ashley’s gonna be a fuckin’ MANAGER!!  Hahaha, sorry girl, it’ll be okay…”
Pandora, elevator music, and whatever your apparently deaf cubicle neighbor listens to on their headphones.
Dining room:  Contemporary pop that makes you want to shoot yourself and Faith Hill.

Kitchen:  Mexican polka that makes you want to shoot yourself and music in general.
Bring a sweater
Bring deodorant
Manager wants to talk to you
“It sounds like the company is undergoing some changes.  Is there a procedure in place or in process?  I can help guide the department in a certain direction.”  Or, “Oh, there’s a fire drill today?”
“So… I’m just cutting up a bunch of limes, then.”  Or, “Oh, I didn’t know Table 80 was ‘VIP.’  Guess I shouldn’t have waited ten minutes to put in their order.  Why didn’t you fuckin’ tell me?”
Getting engaged
“Great, HR wants me to fill out some ‘Change of Name’ form.  For every…single…thing I do here.”
“Thanks, girl!!  Yeah, here’s the ring.  Thanks!!  Yeah, he’s awesome; we’re excited.  Oh shit, my apron has a huge stain on it.”
If you don’t have an amazing cafeteria that serves you a meal at a subsidized price of steak, asparagus, and roasted potatoes with a choice of salad, soup, and dessert… all of it for about $5… don’t fret – you have an entire hour to find (and eat, in peace, with friends if you want) whatever you fancy outside the office.
A kid’s meal at a 50% discount that you Hoover while standing next to the walk-in freezer and a mountain of trash bags.  In the meantime, you were just double-sat.
Control freaks
“I think we should note that this action item has been flagged as priority for the North Carolina location, so perhaps I should get my team on this to ensure prompt facilitation regarding the requirements.”  Also see:  throwing people under the bus, stealing projects, not comfortable with someone volunteering their work because the control freak is afraid that the person will start to look good (hi, Maggie).
“Uh, did you just take that money off my fucking table?”  Or, “Why should I tip out the hostesses?  They didn’t do shit tonight.”

As for customer control freaks:  DO NOT try to take things off my serving tray to mimic a “helping hand,” because it really just tells me that you've never held a tray in your life; plus, that tray and its contents will end up in your lap, because physics.
You’re late to work
“I was looking over areas that may be systematically problematic for the global implementation of this process and trying to think of a diplomatic approach.  … Yes, while I was driving here.  Why?”
“Couldn’t find my fuckin’ car keys, sorry.  Is my section clean, at least?”
“I’m becoming a paralegal,” “I’m getting a Masters in biomechanical engineering,” “I’m getting certified to be an auditor for the FDA,” “That’s Dr. Hager to you, herherhehrehrhehrehrhrh”
“Omigawwwwd, you guys, I’m so fuckin’ tired.  I had a class today at like, 1:30.  Suuuuuuckssss… you wanna close for me?”

(Yes, the stereotype is mean, and I’m one of those waitresses who wouldn’t mind a post-grad degree, but this is the majority of the co-workers I’ve experienced in the last 50,000 years.) 
“Did you see the game last night?”  “Which one?”  (Thinking of The Office here.)  Lean against the water cooler and discuss March Madness until your next meeting or Windows update.
… what?  Sorry, I couldn’t hear anything sports-related because a customer was just bleating “More chicken wings!” as his mouth spat chipotle sauce, beer, and blue cheese all over my fucking table.
Physical appearance
A combination of “like-I-could-give-a-rat’s-ass” and “I enjoy wearing sweater sets.”  No make-up, business attire, the occasional fun shoes. 
Clean, composed, contoured.  I usually go full-on with makeup at TGI O’Chilibees, unless it’s like, lunch on a Tuesday.  Sorry, Tuesday lunch crowd, but I didn’t use an eyelash curler.
Problem with a manager
“I’m gathering that the company is putting a lot of pressure from up-on-high on this project, and I’m concerned about the exposure that the resistance is receiving on your end.  Furthermore, can we please schedule some time to hammer out some of the details?”
“Would you finally fire that fucking hostess?!”
Staff meeting description
Quality System Administrative Management Associate Review Board
Happy hour

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Deep Thoughts

Just gonna jot down some random things during the break in my free-dessert double shift:

  • Rude tables really are just entertainment and fodder for my blog at this point. As my cousin David says, getting a bad table is like a grounder taking a bad hop in baseball. You get hit in the face, spin it for the media, and move on. 
  • Different shades of color may hold meaning for people like interior designers and fashion consultants, but not as much for kitchen staff.  Let's use pink as an example:  Apricot, coral, dusty rose.  But there is absolutely no shade of pink that can be defined as "medium to medium well."  Honestly, there's really no such thing -- there's medium or there's medium well -- and the cooks hate it when we tell them that someone wants "medium to medium well."  That's based on temperature, so if you want your steak at exactly 160° Fahrenheit, say so.  And P.S., if you insist on asking for "medium to medium well," what the cook might do is just cook your steak medium and then let it dry out under the heat lamps for five minutes.
Learn it, love it, and stop trying to deviate.
  • Speaking of steak, I've noticed that the temperature of steak a guest orders is indirectly proportionate to my tip.  That is, the more well done the steak, the shittier the tip.
  • I learned today that popular music from my high school years isn't lost on the 25-and-under crowd. Or, perhaps, it’s just programmed somehow into our brains by 96.5 FM. One waitress noted out loud in the stifling and busy kitchen, "It’s getting hot in here," and about seven of us, all performing random tasks at the time, responded (flatly, absent-mindedly, without looking up), "… so take off all your clothes...
  • Sometimes, IndyCar commentary makes me giggle. "Conway is now inside Andretti," "he just plowed into the back of that guy" (they really like to say "plow" a lot), "you never suspect that he's going to come right on top of you," "we're going to see some action between these two… or perhaps three…"
Commentator:  "And when you hit those curves, your whole body can feel it!"  Me:  "huehuehuehue"
  • Why do customers ask for modifications to their orders as if they're mad at the food?  "I'll have the chicken Caesar salad, and [eyes bulging, neck vein popping out] NO CROUTONS."  Geez, lady, sorry.  I didn't know that croutons, like, burned down your house that one time.
  • A first (and second) for me:  In the last week, there've been two tables who have not only stiffed me, but they didn't leave enough cash in the check presenter to cover their bill.  Do I go to Kohl's and offer only $30 for a $32 shirt?  No, I don't, and you wouldn't, either.  Get your shit together, people.
  • On a happier note, a huge thank you to the couple that tipped me $20 on $35 today with the note, "Congrats and good luck!"  I doubt you guys read this blog, but that really made my shift.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Waitress anxiety dreams

I thought I'd perhaps evolved beyond stress dreams about waitressing, but I still ended up having them while I was at my cubicle job, and I discovered last night that I'm still highly capable...

As you can see here, they never really go away.

Every time I fitfully logged into unconsciousness last night, there I was:  Staring down my section at a TGI O'Chilibees look-a-like, where three tables have been waiting for ten minutes to be greeted.  Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a high school boyfriend I haven't seen in ten years walking in with his parents (despite the fact that he lives in California now) and requesting my section.  It then suddenly hits me that I took a table in another section hours ago and forgot all about them; they're probably starving and covered in cobwebs by now.  No one has food, I just got sat again, people are glaring at me, and my high school boyfriend is so chatty I could punch him.

Instead of developing a hernia, I wake up, only to go through it again a few minutes later (after getting my cat to move, because she usually sleeps on my head).  At one point, I even got up, walked around, had some Gatorade, looked at Reddit... and then I tried to sleep again.  I tried to conjure up dreams about my adorable fiancé, puppies, clouds shaped like Mick Jagger, eggplant (why eggplant?  Not sure, but it sounds like a very passive and peaceful object).  But, no, I later woke up to the sound of a neighbor using a tablesaw after dreaming that I couldn't put any guest orders in because I hadn't been trained on how to use the computer system.  Blimey.

Oh, and quick update:  Like I suspected, we were overstaffed on Easter.  I had three tables all night and was sent home after only a few hours.  And I still made more money than I did for my double shift on Saturday.  No wonder I have nightmares about it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oh, Great -- Easter

I don't have warm, fuzzy feelings about Christianity.  Not even for Peeps... they make me sick.

I do sincerely wish a happy Easter to my Christian friends.  Have merry celebration with your loved ones. Or even a dirty homeless guy.  Bake a ham, even though Jesus was a Jew and probably wouldn't touch that hunk of glazed-yet-dried-out pig meat with a bed 13 feet long and six feet wide (uh... Deuteronomy 3:11, der). Whatever floats your boat.

I'm not bitter. 

I was kicked out of some form of Catholic Sunday school (CCD:  Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, key word "doctrine") at the age of... what, seven?  Thank you, and you're welcome.  One of the best things my parents ever did was to not send me back to that story-telling hour.  Or, really, story-yelling hour... heh, amirite?

Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, I'm talking about you.  And that's a ridiculous name for a pretty building.  Talk about being full of yourselves.

The actual "best" things my parents did for me were to... well, get together, and whatnot... and to give me a pretty awesome sibling, get hired as teachers so they could devote themselves to public service while keeping the same hours as their school-aged kids (and stayed home during summers, which was really cool), and encourage work ethic so that I don't become a broke-as-shit waitress at 29. Oh, wait.  

They actually did teach me about work ethic and money, but I'm having some trouble figuring out why I've been so terrible with both for the last few years.  I was doing okay-ish until I was about 26.  

My favorite Bible verse, an excerpt from Ruth (1:16):  "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  Thy people shall be my people."  

To me, that means loyalty to family and friends, unconditional and gracious love, enduring commitment, etc. Home is where the heart is.  Preferably with more than one bathroom.  And help those you love when they need it.  

(Yes, I am an atheist who happens to have a favorite Bible verse.  I think it's important for atheists to read the Bible, know it cover to cover, interpret it, and discuss it as a text of religious allegory.  That might be my English degree speaking.)  

I had requested off today -- in fact, my name was like the second one on the page in the "request off" book, six weeks ago -- and I didn't get it, so I'm working in a couple hours.  So now, my current and future family are having a fun weekend without me.  

As I was telling this to my friend/co-worker yesterday during our slow Saturday shift, some other waitress butted her nose in and said, "Seniority takes place with request-offs, too."  First:  I wasn't asking for your input from across the kitchen.  I was talking to my friend.  Second:  That's fucking whack, if it's true. Seniority should never, ever play a part in requesting a day off to see my family for the first time in a long time, especially considering I've worked every Sunday since I started, and the first few people to request off didn't get their wish.  Third:  Everyone knows that you get high before you come to work, Miss Nose-Butt.

Who goes to a restaurant on Easter Sunday?!  Not once, when I was a kid, did we deign to visit a TGI O'Chilibees on Easter.  Easter was usually spent at a grandmother's house (both of whom were extremely Catholic), eating a ginormous homecooked meal (yeah, lots of ham), tugging at my uncomfortable church outfit, and searching for plastic eggs in the backyard in hopes of finding an egg containing coins.  In all my memories of Easter -- dipping eggs in dye and painting them, attending standing-room only Mass, and having to wear pantyhose -- going to a restaurant doesn't come to mind.

This had better be worth it, unlike yesterday, where I made $43 during a 7.5 hour double shift.  That's not even minimum wage, guys.

Last night, I had a table of eight people (two children) who were pretty easy and semi-friendly, except for one woman, who I'll assume was not filled with the glory of Holy Week.  I asked her if she'd like for me to box up her food to take home, and with her face buried in her phone, she briefly shook her head.  She didn't even look at me.  Her husband said to her, "Why don't you say, 'no, thank you?'"  

Now, cupcake, here's a lesson on life -- and, perhaps, marriage... when your husband has to comment on your attitude and manners in public, you should try to remember how you had the maturity to get married (and have kids) to begin with.  And then work on it.

When I asked her if I could take her finished dish out of her way, she didn't even respond.  Didn't look at me, didn't say anything, didn't provide any body language.  Her husband rolled his eyes at her, took her plate, and handed it to me, and I thanked him.  

Their bill came to $50.32.  I received a fifty dollar bill, a quarter, a nickle, and a penny.  $50.31.  Not only did I have to pay a penny out of my pocket for their bill, but because I tip out based on my sales (to the hostesses, bartender), I paid almost a dollar just to serve them.  Their bill was more than I'd made the entire day.

Romans 15:1:  "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Customer Jokes That Make Me Want to Waterboard Someone (With Memes)

But I'll still laugh my ass off, because I need the tip.  Just the tip.

1. “I didn’t get any dinner!” or “I obviously hated this! Haha!” when the plate is licked clean.  My typical reaction in front of the table:

I am happy that you enjoyed your meal, but I only appreciate this joke when I'm the one that cooked, served, and ate the meal with you (e.g., my friends and family). Otherwise, you're just giving your waitress a two-second heart attack, because she'll think something is really wrong at first.

2. Me: “Can I get you anything else?” Customer: “A million dollars?  Teehee!”  Really, you're going to tease your waitress about giving you money?  Excuse me while I get a can-opener for the worms and whoop-ass we have in the pantry.

Sometimes I think the customers that tell this "joke" might actually mean it, though, because they usually turn out to be shitty tippers.  If you're serious about needing that million bucks more than I do, then maybe you shouldn't be going out to eat?

3. “The computers are down? So everything’s FREE, right?  huehuehue”

Happened to me when I waitressed in a Mexican restaurant:  Not only am I in the weeds, but our computer system just froze and died at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday.  Now we get to transcribe orders to the kitchen/bar, hand-write all the checks, add items up, calculate taxes, manually charge credit cards on something that resembles a Victorian-era sewing machine, and respond to this joke from every table.  (People who are cashiers:  I really feel for you when a barcode won't scan.  I know you folks hear this a lot, too.)

4.  When I place the bill on the table:

I'll then say, "It's free with every meal, sir."

Just... seriously, people, don't joke about not paying your damn check.

5.  "The food is great!  You're a good cook!  Oh, you didn't cook it?  *chortle*"  Oh, let's laugh about how my skills are limited to smiling and ponytails.  Now, this one would be cute if I didn't find it a bit condescending.  I actually am a good cook (and I have references, what up), but the customer here is, in a sense, dumbing me down to an employee who simply brings the food from the kitchen to the table.  And that's when I kinda feel like this:

(In other news, I had a fun evening:  softball practice with some former co-workers, including my fiancé, and then a great dinner.  It was a nice day off.)

Gumming up the Works

Free-dessert day totally kicked my ass yesterday.  What tees me off about being in the weeds is not the fact that I’m so busy that I’d probably shove my own mother out of the way to get to the beverage station, but it’s the fact that, most of the time, being in the weeds is preventable.  And, typically, someone else’s fault.

I was in the weeds yesterday because whoever was seating tables in my section has never heard of the concept of staggering tables, or what I like to call pacing.  This is when those hosting in a busy restaurant will time how often they seat tables in a fashion that (a) doesn't overwhelm the servers by double- and triple-seating them constantly, and (b) doesn't cause thirty orders to go back to the kitchen at the same time, which creates an intensified state of havoc.   

You don’t perform a juggling act by throwing all three balls in the air at the same time, right?  Right.  Take note.

My section last night was four tables -- two booths for four people, and two booths for two people.  It seemed like whoever was seating my booths would look at my section and think, “Sweet.  Four tables open.  Let’s seat all of them right now.”  And then, boom, I’m slammed.  They did this to all the other servers, too.  (And, thus, they did it to the kitchen.)  They didn't stop to think, “Hmm, all those tables belong to the same person,” or “I wonder why the kitchen is so backed up?” 


It was a seemingly never-ending cycle, because four tables that are sat at the same time typically want their free dessert, the bill, and their coats at the same time.  Then I have four tables open again, each getting up and leaving all within five minutes, and then boom -- again, all four would get sat simultaneously.  I tried to pace my tables on my own as much as I could during their service (e.g., put orders in at different times, try to suggest a leisurely coffee with dessert to only certain tables, turn one or two tables over faster than the others) to try to get them to leave at different times, but I was unsuccessful.  The fact that all guests received free dessert today with the purchase of any menu item only gummed up the works even further.

(Pausing writing to take a phone call from another server who worked last night.  ... He and I have now been bitching about this for the last 45 minutes...)  Okay.

It is absolutely not worth it to be so busy -- long ticket times for food, being so overwhelmed that you start to screw up, etc. -- if it means the customer gets sat five minutes early.  They will wait in the lobby for that extra five minutes, and then they’ll get better service from a server who isn’t ready to blow his/her brains out and an organized kitchen that’s turning out hot meals efficiently.  

And hell, if the seating is staggered, that means we as individuals won’t feel as busy, the kitchen will run smoother, etc. so we could maybe even spare the time to occasionally go to the lobby with appetizer or cocktail samples for those in line.  Another restaurant I've worked at executed this beautifully by employing a waitress for this at peak hours during wait times.  That way, the customers won’t feel like they’re just waiting, if that’s what the host is so worried about.

I know it must be nerve-wracking to be in the lobby around all these people who are staring at you while waiting to be sat.  But get over it, because you’re pretty much ruining peoples’ lives here.

My facial expression last night.  All night.

As for the other way that being in the weeds is preventable… now, customers, I’m addressing you.  I adore most of you, and I want you to have a wonderful dining experience with quality food and a charming server.  But sometimes, you need to go with the speed of fucking traffic, here. 

I greeted a table last night when I was at my most slammed, and they commented, “Wow, you guys are so busy!”  I then immediately assumed that they say stupid shit like that all the time.  They're probably the kind of people who say, "Oh, you got a haircut!"  Is... that a complime-- how do I respond to that?!

...or they're just on this gal's level.

Me, smiling:  “Yes, we’re pretty busy tonight."  I list the drink specials.  "Can I get you folks something from the bar?”
Table:  “You look like you’re pretty swamped, yourself!”
Me:  “Oh, you know.  It’s good exercise, haha!  Would you care for a sangria?”
Table:  “Gosh, we didn’t realize that so many people came out for free dessert…”
Me, thinking:  “And if you’d shut the fuck up, I’d be a little more productive and a little less out of my damn mind right now...”
Me, talking and smiling:  “Are we ready to order drinks?!”  For the love of god.
Table:  “Oh, yes!  Yes, we are.  [I poise to write what I hope is a drink order that takes three seconds.]  I think I’ll have a margarita.  Well, I don’t know.  Sarah, are you going to have a margarita?  I’m not going to have a margarita if you’re not going to have a margarita.  Maybe I’ll just have a sweet tea?  Bill, what are you having?  Are you going to get the margarita?  Now Mom, you should just have water.  Just get a water.  [Customer looks at me.]  She can’t have caffeine or sodas.  She has high blood pressure, you know.  Actually, the doctor said she can have wine every once in a while, but she probably won’t tonight because…”

[I keep smiling as I literally chew off my own tongue.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just tell me.

This is a great talk segment featuring veteran food servers, some current and some former.  A few work in fine dining, and some work in dive bars.  They discuss what it’s like serving customers in a restaurant, and I can relate to everything they're saying.  I recognize a couple of the people on this Q&A from their blogs.  And then at the end, they press a duck, and the end result looks amaaaazing.  So I want some duck with sauce simmered in cognac and grilled asparagus with hollandaise, like, right now.

One thing mentioned in the Q&A is something I’d like to write about today:  I need to know if your food tastes like shit, and I need you to let me fix it.

You would not believe the number of times I've gone to a table when they're two bites in with their meal to ask how everything is going, and one of them is like, "meh," but they won't let me do anything about it.

Me:  "I'm sorry, is there something wrong with your ribeye, sir?"
Customer:  "It's a little underdone.  But it's okay.  I can eat it."
Me:  "Are you sure?  I can have the kitchen put it on the grill a bit longer."
Customer:  "No, it's okay.  I can deal with it."
Me, again:  "... are you sure?

Dear Customer: 
Dining out is supposed to be a good experience, not something you have to "deal with."  I want to make things as fantastic as possible for you.  Because I can't afford to go out to eat very much myself, I try to assume the same of others and make sure they have a good time with good food.  Don't be afraid to hurt my feelings, because I'm not the one that cooked it.  It isn't rude to complain or send food back to the kitchen, depending on how you do it (this will suffice: "My steak is a bit too rare, could you please have them cook it longer?  Thank you," or "I'm sorry, I thought I said no onions... could I get this remade, please?"), and no, we're not going to spit on it if you do (this isn't the movies), unless our employees feel like getting fired and/or arrested.  

You've just made me extremely nervous about the tip that I'm going to get from you, because you put a problem that I could've resolved officially out of my control.  Plus, now I have the added stress of knowing I have a customer who isn't truly enjoying his meal -- believe it or not, that really sucks for me, not only because I want you to have a good experience, but also because now I'm going to spend the next hour subconsciously trying to make it up to you and wondering if I should get a manager about a meal you refuse to be happy with.  


Another pet peeve is when I ask the table how everything is, and they say it's great, but they later complain to a manager that their pasta was too salty or some shit, and I of course get a crap tip.  Apparently, I'm supposed to be clairvoyant to all things culinary.  Do you want me to take a bite from your entrée before it leaves the kitchen, or am I to divine the quality of the dish by osmosis?  Don't pick out the tomatoes you didn't want -- TELL ME, and I'll get you a new dish in a matter of minutes.  How am I supposed to fix it if you don't tell me?

In my cubicle job, things like this didn't happen.  When you're a technical writer, your drafts end up back to your inbox with glaring signals of what you're doing wrong in the form of handwritten edits, usually in red pen.  There's no guess-work or confusion on what you need to do to correct something.  Faced with the anonymity of the sheet of paper and editing marks, people can really go wild with criticism.  With restaurant customers and the fact they know the server handles their food, it's much different... but it shouldn't be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thanks, WebMD. You always make people feel better.

I haven't been feeling well -- headaches, dizziness, racing heart, shakiness, and my hands are so swollen that my engagement ring is cutting off circulation.  This is the third time this month that I've experienced this.  It makes me nervous to drive a car, carry a tray of food, and stand for long periods of time, so I missed work today.  I know I need to get a blood panel or something done, because I seem to be lacking in some kind of nutrient, and I know I'm not pregnant.

WebMD is telling me I have multiple sclerosis.  So that's what I'm going to worry about today.

I had a dream last night that the happy hour gang from my cubicle job came in to see me at the restaurant.  They were pretty cool guys, and I try to see them when I can.  The people at the restaurant... well, I wouldn't enjoy socializing with most of them, because they're like, 21.  Newly 21.  Ick.

The director of the cubicle happy hour crowd was one of my favorite people there, despite being about as high on the totem pole as one could go.  He's a Radiohead fan that once asked me why he was the one that had to sign a certain form.  I said, “Well, you’re the VIP of this project, so to speak,” and he signed the form while muttering, “Balls."

(Hi Steve.  Nice sweater.)

The best thing about that job, hands down, was that we had a softball team in the summer.  It was basically my only exercise all year, aside from using a stapler every day, and it's also how I got to know my now-fiancé.  My name was still put on the list this year, and I'm really excited for practices to start on Thursday.  All I have to do between now and then is rock out my free-dessert double shift tomorrow and concentrate on feeling better.

It's a little weird to see people from my old job.  I've gone to a couple of their happy hours over the last few months and have seen random former co-workers at the restaurant (it's a pretty high-volume place for this town, so this is a weekly occurrence), but it's always a little awkward.  Each time I see someone from the cubicle farm, they make sure to tell me all the latest gossip (there have been some doozies lately) and about who else has quit since I did.  The awkward part is when they ask me what I plan to do.  "Well, I'm waiting tables right now," "Yeah, but what are you going to do?"

I'm doing it, dude, which is code for "What the hell?"  I'm waitressing, trying to get my affairs in order, planning a wedding, and writing about all of it.  And maybe, someday, I'll get a job that befits my education and your standards.

Ugh, I can't get this ring off my finger.  Sorry Scott, it's not you, it's me and my swollen manhands.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Twilight Zone

The whole "showing off the engagement ring to people" thing is getting awkward.  My hands are covered in more and more burns and abrasions with each day from kitchen work, so while my ring finger looks like I took a BeDazzler kit to it, the rest of my hand could get me mistaken for a leper.

So anyway, I had a weird night.

We have this regular customer that kind of sucks.  His name is Tim -- yes, he comes in so often that all the servers know his name.  His full name, actually.  Sometimes he's there twice a day.

Unfortunately for him, some servers dislike him so much that they'll refuse to wait on him.  I've seen how, occasionally, all servers in the sections adjacent to his table will refuse, and the general manager (who schmoozes with the guy all the time) will be stuck doing it.

I've waited on Tim a few times now, and really, he isn't that bad.  He tries to get free stuff, he has very specific food orders, he's a bit condescending, he's a racist, he's reportedly wealthy (a quick Google search told me that), and he's a poor tipper (we're talking, like, he leaves pennies).  He's also a bit idiosyncratic:  On his way to his table, he grabs a huge stack of beverage napkins, spreads them over his tabletop, and polishes all his silverware.

He reminds me a lot of Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets.  A lot.  But Tim would never be able to make it with Helen Hunt. 

The first time I waited on him, one of the other servers said to me, "Don't put up with his crap.  Seriously.  Just go up to him and say, 'What do you want?'  The guy's an asshole.  Don't bother being nice or anything."  And, well, I didn't do that.  I was nice to the guy at least, and I got a 10% tip, which I was actually excited about, based on things I'd heard.  I told that server about it, and he said, "Wow!  You must've impressed him.  I usually get like fifteen cents."  Well, I wonder why.

One thing during that first encounter, though, is that Tim requested a free item one of the managers had promised him, and I said, "No problem, I'll just have to talk to a manager about that."  He asked which manager was on.  I told him, and he scrunched up his nose and said, "The colored man?  No, ask another one."  I was shocked at what he said, so I told my "colored" manager about it, expecting fisticuffs, but he just laughed hysterically.

So I waited on Tim tonight.  I braced myself as I went to greet him, and I ignored the voices of the other servers ("oh god, you have to serve that jerk," "give him shitty service," etc.).  I did what I always do and treated him like any other customer, just as I did the first time.  His order came out correctly, the general manager came over to schmooze per usual, the food was complimented, etc.  The only thing I did differently this time:  He always requests real butter with his entrée instead of what we usually use, so I went ahead and brought a bit of real butter for the bread basket as well.  He said, "Oh, that's a good idea," and seemed pleased, as if no one had thought to do that before.  Huh.

He paid with a credit card, and after he left, I went to clear the table, lifting the cover of the check presenter slightly to discreetly peek at the credit card slip.  Sweet, another 10% tip on the original bill.  No sarcasm there -- I was satisfied with the two dollars, considering what it could have been.  I went back to the kitchen to close out the table on the computer and grabbed the credit card slip, this time opening the check presenter fully.

And a $5 bill fell out.  What the... that's a 33% tip, even more considering he had a coupon for a free appetizer, which brought the bill to around $12, so I then held in my hands a 58% tip.

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, staring at the check presenter with my mouth open, and the "to-go" gal asked me what was wrong.  "Tim just left me a $7 tip!"  I shit you not, about six people stopped what they were doing.  Their reaction was a little like this:
"Get OUT!"
I'm still shaking my head about it.  If he makes a habit of this, I hope he requests me.  I'd be happy to get him the real butter for his bread basket.  But don't expect me to "Helen Hunt" him.

A text with my friend and co-worker, who had the night off tonight.  He's a friendly person who's rarely sarcastic, so you can kind of get the reputation Tim has.  (Friend's name and Tim's last name blacked out.)

Then, however, I got stuck with a table outside my section because the customers requested a different server, saying she was rude and ignored them.  That server?  Yeah, she's one of the most positive people I've ever met and a great waitress.  As customers, they were demanding, messy, and certifiably insane.  For example, this happened:

Husband customer:  "Could I get the pecan pie for dessert?"
Me:  "Sure, coming right up."  I bring the pie to him.
Wife customer with Crazy Eyes:  "We didn't want that.  Don't you remember when we changed our minds and said we didn't want that?"

... What?

Oh, and then they tipped me 89 cents.  Looks like Tim evened things out for me -- thanks, bro.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Son of a doctor's touch, a nurse's love"

Sometimes the things written about dead people make me laugh.  I only kind of feel bad.

Taken from an obituary:  
“While her light finally gave into the wind that gives flight to all our journeys, there will always be a glimmer left behind by what she stood for.”  

The... fuck?  What in the hell does that mean?  I got lost at "gave."

If there is a heaven, I wonder if there’s an orientation process with optional celebrity meet-and-greets.  You sit down with a jaded, tired-looking administrative clerk of some sort, and after the explanation of altered dimensions, assurance of eternal reunion with beloved family and friends, and probably a lot of paperwork, they ask if there’s anyone special you want to see that you couldn’t during your lifetime. 

“Uh, sure,” I’d say, and the clerk sighs and clicks her pen while I think out loud.  “JFK might be cool.  What’s the statute of limitations – like, is Marie Antoinette still here?  I also wanna meet Davy Jones.  Well, and pretty much every dead musician ever.  Ooh, hey, does the 27 Club throw any parties?  Can I go to one?  Those’ve gotta be ragers, and I don’t have to care about my organs anymore.”

I'm almost positive that the tone of this post is due to the overwhelming amount of Jeff (and Tim) Buckley and Elliott Smith on my playlist lately.  

Also, I burned my hand at work.  Despite being newly engaged, I find myself taking a picture of my hand for a totally different reason today.  This burn hurt so badly that I was actually in tears.  Dominant hand, too.  I'm starting to really resent bread ovens.

However, I'm also feeling a little morbid (which I usually try to combat with humor) because a customer collapsed with a seizure in the restaurant last night, and paramedics carried him/her out on a stretcher.  I really, really hope that the customer is recovering well and that his/her family is doing okay.  And I wonder if we comped their bill?

I wasn't in the room when it happened; in fact, my section was on the other side of the restaurant.  I don't know who their server was.  I didn't even know there was an ambulance at the building until my own customers asked me about it.  

This is not the first time, as a waitress, that I've seen a medical emergency at a restaurant: 
  • My cousin/best friend used to work for a metro ambulance service.  He has said that they made at least five stops a week at the local Red Lobster because, apparently, people can pretty much "out of nowhere" develop an allergy to shellfish.  First-hand, I experienced this when I took a boyfriend to dinner for his birthday about 15 years ago; he ate shrimp, per usual for him, and an hour later I was in a hospital waiting room, trying to comfort his grandparents while he was getting medicine to treat anaphylaxis.  He now carries an EpiPen with him when he dines out.
  • Speaking of EpiPens, I had to administer one to a customer when I did my brief stint at Olive Garden -- an act that I know I could've been sued for, but the woman's eyes were so watery and swollen at that point and her nose was running so much, I didn't care.  She was on the floor in the ladies' room and motioning to her handbag a few feet away, slurring, "Epehpengh, Epehpengh."  Fortunately, there were instructions for use on the EpiPen packaging.  I popped it into her thigh, through her jeans, and called 911 from my cell while holding my hand to where I'd just basically stabbed this woman.  By the time the paramedics arrived, the swelling in her face had gone down a bit, and she was able to speak a little easier.  
I then did this for about a week.  The whole thing traumatized the crap out of me.  So HEY, people with allergies:  Pesto is made with pine nuts!!
  • I was breezing through a shift at Outback once when a customer was taken to the hospital.  She had -- get this -- torn her esophagus while eating.  Her entrée was a rack of ribs.  The rest of her party actually stayed and finished their meals, plus celebrated a birthday for one of them, while she was getting treatment at a hospital.  They were completely nonchalant, like it happened all the time.  
  • Three times now, I've seen other servers get carted away in an ambulance.  Two of those times, the servers slipped and hit their heads; one of those servers was pregnant at the time.  The last one was just a few weeks ago, and I don't entirely know what happened to her, but she quit the restaurant shortly thereafter.  

So... yeah, shit happens, it seems.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Customer Mystique

I had a lot of fun yesterday.  News of my engagement had spread through the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, and the ever-chattering workplace, so by the time I showed up for my dreaded free-dessert-day double shift, just about everyone knew I was getting hitched.  I was greeted by "ohhhhhhhhmigawwwwwwwwd!"s, tackled by hugs, and peppered with excited questions from nearly everyone I work with.  Some of those gals are living proof that even the most seasoned, rough-around-the-edges women can be subdued down to "(girly gasp) oh how preeeeeeetttty!" when looking at an engagement ring.

Photo credit:  My shitty iPhone 3.

So, I got to be feminine for a day.  :)  Thank you, Scott, for the excuse.  And for asking me to be your wife! That was pretty awesome of you.  I think I'll do a bang-up job.

Even my customers were getting a kick out of it.  Thank you, my tables from yesterday!

Today's topic is psychology.  Maybe more specifically, sociology?  I'm not sure yet.  

A lot of what goes into my tables as a waitress is psychological.  I didn't have to deal with this at my cubicle job, because if someone snapped in a meeting or something, I'd just stare at them.  Literally, the only time someone ever demanded something from me at my cubicle was when the director of bench testing asked when a guidance would be ready.  "Should be ready before lunch," I replied, glancing from my computer screen briefly to give him a nod and a tight-lipped smile.  "Oh, okay, that's great.  Thanks!" he said, and shuffled away after an awkward pause.  (For the record, I think there's a prerequisite 500-level course called The Awkward Pause in every engineering Ph.D. candidate's itinerary.)

But with waitressing, it's like... here, I'll put it this way:

You've got a bad back, so you go to a chiropractor.  The chiropractor fixes your back, but then all these other joints (your knees, shoulders, ankles) start to ache because they've been working with support from a damaged core this whole time, and they're now surprised, somewhat confused, and are using muscles and tendons that they hadn't been using before.  So your back feels great now, but for some reason, your left shoulder is bothering you.  That's because your left shoulder isn't used to your back being aligned; it had been over-correcting for the issue this whole time.

Waiting in a chiropractor's office.  This has actually become kind of a regular thing for me since that accident.

This is what it's like to deal with a table where, just the second they come in, everything is wrong.  "I don't like this booth, give us a table," "Your drinks are too expensive," "But it's on the menu, why don't you have it?  It's on the menu," etc.  (P.S.  You initially requested a booth, I don't price the drinks, and I don't write the menu and/or control the products that run out that day.  Yell at the people who built the booth, created the drinks, and ate all the food.)

You kill the absolute shit out of them with kindness, while thinking all your raging thoughts.  Smile, smile, smile.  This is the "fixing the back" part.  Get them their food; people are happier when they have food.  Have a manager visit the table to charm them.  Smile until your face falls off.

But then, it's the little things that help the surrounding joints that may ache due to the initial correction.  Say that you and a manager helped appease the customers by comping a meal off their bill.  And that worked for a while, but while inspecting the bill (obviously), the customer flares up again:  "This isn't right," they say, wagging the bill inches from your face.  Take a breath and explain it.  If that doesn't help, then for Christ's sake, get a manager again.  You're not paid enough to have to deal with that.  

Here's some stuff I've learned about the psychology of restaurant customers, in a nutshell:
  • If you're a server and you get true-blue double-sat (i.e., two tables are sat at one time in your section, so you have to somehow greet and get drinks and food orders for both tables within like thirty seconds), take a deep breath and bring a bread basket to one table, and get drink orders for the other table first instead.  When people have carbs and butter in front of them, they won't notice that they have to wait an extra minute or so to be properly greeted.  It's just a lot better to bring some food with you when you say "I'll be right with you folks," rather than be empty-handed.  
  • They feel more comfortable when you have a clean, happy, fresh appearance.  I go to the restroom a few times during my shift to touch up my makeup, dab sweat from my forehead, and wipe any smudges from my uniform.  I give daily attention to my skin, hair, and fingernails.  I'm not girly by any means (despite the engagement ring), but this is stuff I have to think about now.  
  • They love an honest server.  "Are the fried pickles good?"  "Oh, they're great.  I actually don't even like pickles, but I really enjoy them fried!"  They love a kind server, especially one that can anticipate the needs of children.  They love a funny server.  "Could I get a tall Stella Artois on draft?"  "Sure."  Then while delivering the drink, "'STELLLLLLAAAAAA!'"  

  • Note:  Don't use this joke on people under 30.

  • Knowledge the crap out of that menu, and sample any item you can.  Offer personal notes to a dish that interests your table.  Which sounds better to a customer?  "Yeah, the prime rib is pretty popular," versus "I love our prime rib -- it's slow roasted in-house all day, so it's very tender, and the way it's seasoned really adds to the flavor."  I also tend to get better tips when a customer orders a menu item, and I say, "Good choice.  Actually, my dad gets that sometimes when he comes in to see us." (I'm actually always honest about that.  I'll tell guests if a dish they're ordering is a favorite of my dad, my cousin, my fiancé, a regular customer, etc.  I don't blow smoke.)
  • On the same note of knowing the menu, I once got a $20 tip from a man who was on a low-carb, low-calorie diet, just because I told him the specs of a menu item.  A few weeks ago, I described a dish to a couple in the same manner and received both a large tip and a job offer elsewhere. Customers really respond positively when you're not only confident about the menu but can suggest items for any request.  
  • My tips increase exponentially if I'm joking around with a customer and lightly touch them on the arm (wrist area). This is most successful with men over 50.
  • Talk about the weather to your guests.  I'm sure there's some sort of point in the barometric pressure index where people want to visit a restaurant, and then customers like to talk about it.  It seems lame, but really, you develop a connection with your customers if one of the first things you say is, "Care to warm up with some potato soup or coffee?" or "Wow, gorgeous day out, right?"  
  • If something goes wrong with the meal (a guest doesn't like the food, the steak is too rare/too well, it's too spicy...), apologize.  I know you didn't cook it, you didn't handle it, you put the order in correctly, etc., but apologize.  Do all of that, and then get a manager, ASAP.  Customers are very easily charmed by getting a manager visit.  

I'm sure I'll think of more little "tips and tricks" of restaurant insight into the brains of customers and how to make customers happy, but that's all for today.  Thanks for reading.  :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guys. GUYS.

Notice anything different?  Aside from looking exhausted due to many occurrences of "would you like fries with that"?

My boyfriend, Scott, proposed to me last night and put a ring on my Truckasaurus man-fingers.

Lana and I have a lot in common.  Really, my hands are fucking huge.

So Scott's gonna make an honest women out of me, and that requires some work on my part.  I've gotta get my shit together, because I don't want him dealing with any of it.

The first thing on the list is getting rid of my stupid house.  The second thing on the list is signing everything away on the house... and with these meat-hooks I call "hands," that should take like nine years.  (My hands are ginormous.  And now one of them has a ridiculously large and pointy ring attached to it, so... don't make me punch you.  Seriously, this flashier-than-I-expected ring turned my windshield wipers on while I was driving home tonight, and my hand was nowhere near the lever.)

Huge hands + huge diamond + huge left hook.  Just tempt me.

The third thing is to finish up with my bankruptcy, which unfortunately could take months.  I just have to do my part, submit my documentation, and show up when I need to.  The bankruptcy fees are paid.

The fourth thing is to plan a wedding.  ...What.

Scott has this deluded theory that all women have been planning their weddings since they were five years old.  I am not one of those women.  As a child (and... actually, this is all still accurate), I was more concerned with setting up little villages with my G.I. Joes in my mother's garden, building a fort in our backyard trees and bushes, acing the crap out of any sport I could join, and how far I could ride my bike outside the neighborhood boundaries my parents set without getting caught.

Who's got four thumbs and intentions for marriage?  These dorks.  

People talk about weddings as if it's the best day of a woman's life.  What?  No, dumbass.  Do I want the best day of my life to happen so early on?  When I'm currently working in a restaurant (so the newspaper will say, "The groom works in IT in medical device research and development, and the bride graduated from Purdue University with honors but is a waitress at TGI O'Chilibees")? The best day of my life has to be when I'm in some kind of torture device (a.k.a., a corset attached to some tulle, a thousand buttons and hooks, bobby pins poking at my scalp, and heels high enough to make my feet bleed), greeting random people with their unsolicited advice on marriage, shooting furtive and hopeful glances at the buffet in vain, all while trying to look like the prettiest female that ever existed?  No, weddings absolutely suck.  I'm going to have one, but I'm not going to be enthusiastic about it.

Marriage is going to be great.  I have no problems with that.  Scott is awesome, and I'd marry him right now, standing in a swamp and wearing a potato sack.  The wedding, however... the expectations of a wedding will stress me out a bit.  And then there's logistics.

We both own homes by ourselves.  I will be moving in with him at some point.  That isn't too scary in itself, since I have very little furniture.  All I care about is my piano and my cat.  Thing is, my cat is practically bulimic, and Scott cares about things like stains.  I haven't really cared too much about stuff like that because... well... I've been dealing with it for ten years with this cat.

It's okay, Micky.  Mommy still loves you.  Scott will learn to love you, too.  Even if you ruin his carpets.

Another thing:  I drink, and I smoke.  Scott does neither.  He's perfectly fine with me having a cocktail after work, during dinner together, or out with friends; "you deserve it," he says.  He looks the other way when I step out for a cigarette occasionally and laughs when I get embarrassed later for smelling like tobacco.  However, I just spent almost four years living with someone who smoked and drank as much as I do, and in my own home, I just do what I please inside of it.  This part could be a rough transition.

Typing is getting difficult, because holy shit, this ring is heavy.

My silly fiancé.
Bottom line, though:  I'm engaged to marry a wonderful man.  I hope I can do everything for him and our families that they could need or want.  Scott -- I love you so much, you're absolutely adorable, and I can't wait to be your wife.