Sunday, July 8, 2007

Waiting tables

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070708/ap_on_hi_te/dine_and_dash

I would've KILLED for one of these things when I was waiting tables! (Although it wouldn't help with people who want their bills to be split up 800 different ways.)

But even more than that, I wanted some sort of handheld, PDA-like thing where you could input the orders table-side (or at least nearby) and transmit them remotely back to the kitchen or bar. That would've saved so much time... all that time spent waiting for one of the two computers when I was stuck, again, behind the server who (a) didn't work often enough to not need to look at and read the touch screen, like the rest of us who could put in an order without even thinking, literally; (b) often wrote her orders down wrong or couldn't read her notes without her glasses, which she'd usually forgotten; and (b) liked to chat with customers, the bartender, other servers, or sometimes just herself as she put her order into the computer. Meanwhile someone else is putting in an order from the 12-top at the other computer, and I had three to five tables who had questions, were waiting on drinks, wanted cappuccinos (*$#%*!!!!), or were ready to order, in addition to the table whose order I was waiting, waiting, waiting to put in!

I couldn't leave the line to deal with all the other demands, because (1) I'd just have to rejoin it again at some point for that same order, and that doesn't make any sense; (2) I would probably forget that I hadn't actually put the order in, and that is no good at all; or (3) I would end up having a bunch of tables' orders to put in all at once, which would in turn earn me (a) really shitty looks from nearly every guy in the kitchen* the next time I walked in; (b) continuous insults--lobbed at me in English, Spanish, and kitchen Spanish--for the rest of the night; (c) increased "flirting" (a.k.a. eye-fucking and half-hearted attempts to grab me as I sliced bread or made espressos in the servers' station), apparently as a measure of comfort, from Marcial, the head dishwasher; (d) increased getting-in-my-way-ness from Marcial, who thought it was high-larious to put away dishes reaaaalllllly slowly when we were all losing our shit**; (e) an angry lecture from Sam, the chef, about the evils of improper table timing, either yelled at me during some particularly frustrated moment when he was in the weeds and blaming it all on me (and when I was likely just as in the weeds as him..) or tersely directed at me, via "reminder" to all front-of-the-house staff, the next day in our pre-service meeting; (f) some serious eye-rolling, under-the-breath table-side (!) insults***, and undisguised hostility from Eddie, the food runner (who was amazing at his highly underrated job and who I did not want to piss off, because he stepped in to save me when I was getting my ass handed to me on a platter--unless I had fucked up timing my tables, in which case I was on. my. own.); AND (yes the sentence continues) (g) the joy of getting triple-sat all night long, either because my tables would simply all clear out--and thus become available--at once because they'd all been timed to get their orders at about the same time (thank you, me), or because my fucking bitch boss was hostessing and took pleasure in seeing me run, sweat, and plead for help, so she'd purposely try to sink me.

*The dishwashers, line cooks, sous chef, chef de cuisine--they ALL got in on the stinkeye action. Only the salad/dessert guy returned my gaze with sympathy. I thought at the time it was because he had a thing for me--turns out he was just closeted and knew I was ok with the gay.

** Then when we finally snapped at him, he would halfheartedly slam a stack of plates down, throw his hands in the air, and stalk back to dish with clenched fists, shaking his head and muttering to himself in Spanish. I was never sure whether he was joking or not--five minutes later he'd be back to grabbing me by my waist, calling me bonita, and asking me about blowjobs (in Spanish, of course--he was delighted that I could understand him). Crazy Mexican. I loved that guy. I'm not sure why.

*** He'd actually insult me while I was answering a diner's question! He had an uncanny ability to speak in a really low voice that was completely audible, but only to the server, while he did not move his lips. He would take off the top plate covers with a grand flourish, and the diners would crane their necks to see all that marvelous Eddie had brought out for them and would ooh and ahh about all that delicious food--at the same time expecting me to finish completely and satisfactorily answering their inane questions/tests that usually showed how little they actually knew about food or wine. And the whole time Eddie is standing there grinning at them, he's telling me what a shitty server I am! Asshole. I really miss him, actually. He's hilarious.

After about a year of this--NIGHTLY--I finally figured out that I just had to make a couple tables wait. They just had to wait. They would get their food when I said they could, and that was all there was to it. Although I definitely pissed a few tables off, I grew pretty adept at intuiting which tables wouldn't even notice. As I got better at timing my tables, Eddie started to respect me more (which is to say, some), and his wife, who was the hostess when my fucking bitch boss wasn't at the door, started cutting me some slack and sliding me some regulars, who often liked to sit and show off more than eat--in other words, the longer their food took, the happier they were, as long as I kept the martinis coming.

I got to know all the regulars' quirks and dutifully accommodated them as if it were my job--oh wait--and in turn the regulars began to request me every time they came in. In a joint like that, you want the regulars--they're almost always heavily invested in appearing to be regulars, which means they tip well so you remember them and their quirks, and then all their sycophant friends think they're fantastic because the girl who makes her living by remembering what kind of olives they like, in what kind of gin, shaken for how long, just brought everyone their favorite drinks before they even got their napkins on their laps. You want regulars because then all you have to do is look at the reservation book and you know exactly how your night's going to play out. There's no waiting around, wondering if your 10-top is going to make your night or if it's going to be a no-show no-call and totally bend you over. There's no small talk with new tables, trying to figure out what kind of people they are and what kind of dining experience they like, trying to help them enjoy themselves so much they come back the next night and spend $400 in your section.

Best of all, there are no fucking two tops. That shitty table in your section can sit empty all night and you won't care, you don't need it, because you're flush with four- and six- tops, everyone's drinking, everyone's getting three or four courses and dessert. No fucking two tops, except for your favorite regulars, the couple who lives in the area and has a boatload of money and gets the same wine every time and is quiet and unassuming and totally lovely and quick. They ask for--and take--your sincere recommendations, they drink their two glasses of wine each, and they go home. And you're free to tend to the rest of your obnoxious, demanding section without running back and forth to the kitchen because they decided they do want cream with their coffee, and could my wife please have a refill, but with half decaf and half regular? And, oh, yeah, could we actually have Irish coffees? And, ooh ooh, how about some Sambuca to finish up--don't forget the three beans, ha ha ha! Oh, and maybe a dessert to go? What was the name of that wine we had three hours ago (the cheapest one on the menu), again? Could you write that down for us? Oh, and how are your cappuccinos? We'll have two. [To the table next to them:] Yes, doesn't that sound delicious? Everyone in the restaurant should have one! Where should we go see a movie tomorrow? How do you get to the theater in Three Oaks? Wanna hear a funny joke?

THAT's the beauty of serving regulars: it's steady, it's predictable, and they don't want to talk to you. They don't want you to exist except to make them look witty and generous. Even when you've got a regular party that is a royal pain in the ass--special-order everything, and I'm not talking "no tomatoes" or "no croutons," I'm talking "not too much salt, but not no salt, you know how I like it," or "whip up that special Bernaise sauce I always get," or "bring me that steak that's not on the menu" or "let's stay for two hours past when everyone else in the restaurant has left, including the kitchen staff"--you can plan your evening, you know what's coming, you know exactly what they'll ask for. You don't have to ask them anything about themselves--they're too busy pontificating to their friends. You don't have to really listen to what they say, either: you know to order their lamb mid-rare when they request medium because they have no fucking clue what medium actually is and they'll be horrified when they actually get what they've asked for, the chef knows what all their vague requests mean and won't send you back to question them further, you know that they say they eat low-carb but actually want the croutons and the not-low-carb veggies and oh yeah dessert, you know that they want parmesan cheese with their bread and cracked pepper in their olive oil even though they've never actually asked for either, you know that they don't want you to even offer them bread, you know that they want to try each of your drink features, you know that they don't even want to hear about the drink specials. You don't have to figure anything out, you just have to do it like you did it before. And then you make some fat cash. (Or credit card tips, which you won't receive for another 3-5 weeks, if ever, but that's a whoooole 'nother story.)

Why am I writing about waiting tables when I should be studying for the bar, you ask? Welp, aside from the obvious procrastination factor, I have a sinking feeling that I may be waiting tables again soon....




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