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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

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.]


  1. I couldn't help but laugh while reading that last paragraph -:) and free stuff is always a pain! We just started serving small bottle of water on the plane, one bottle per person, but of course half the people want a second one and give me dirty looks when I say I can't ... You would think I denied them a spot in Heaven!

    1. Ohhhhh my god, I'm glad *someone* can laugh at that! That conversation, honestly, was pretty much verbatim. If you notice a restaurant is busy, sure, comment to your server about it, and then you'd sure as hell better follow up with, "We'll both have extremely boring and non-time-consuming Pepsi. No refills, ever. And we're both ready to order really simple entrées with no modifications. But only when you have time, even if that's in ten billion years."

      Normally, I wouldn't say things like that about my customers, but that was a crazy shift.

      And free stuff. Oh, shit, the free stuff people want. I could write a novel on it.

  2. Ahhhh, love this. I did the whole hostess deal for 5 months at work before I became a server, so I feel very entitled to bitch about how horrible they are.....oh, and I loved taking names at the door, because if people got shitty with me, I got shitty back. "yes sir, we do have tables open, but we only have 2 people who are seating tables right now"...."yes ma'm, but there was another party that came in before you so they will be sat first" :D