Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crapped Out on the Delayed Postage Front c2012 by Terry Everton all rights reserved

     This is a real good episode of These American Servers. It's a good story, funny and well-written. So it must be a guest post, right? Right! Thanks to Terry over at Working Stiff Review for this one.

 Barney came walking back into the living room from his kitchen holding a sandwich baggie and a bottle of cheap scotch. “I’m gonna teach that fuckin’ post office a thing or two about losin’ peoples unemployment checks, “ he announced.

 He took a pull off the bottle and his entire body trembled as he swallowed. I don’t think he’d been entirely sober since he’d been fired from the restaurant eight weeks ago. He handed the bottle to me and I had a tug off it as well. Nasty shit, but effective. Sometimes being a cheap drunk is the best you can do.

 The whole thing started with a psycho bitch on table 23. It was girl’s night out, and she and her friend had come in for dinner smelling of designer perfume spiked with an air of pretense. No big deal. I dealt with her kind on numerous occasions during any given shift. Pretend that they’re the center of the universe for a couple of hours and they’ll feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth, leave you a big tip and be on their merry way to torture some unsuspecting hormonal hard-ons at the club across the street.

 Everything started out just fine. After working their way through two overpriced Grey Goose cosmos apiece as well as a Brie appetizer and Caesar salads, they had both settled in to a nice glass of chardonnay while waiting for their entrees to finish cooking. The food runner delivered their food while I was telling a four top about the nightly specials. After writing the four top’s orders down, I turned to make sure everything was okay with the two resident princesses.

 “Ladies, is everything cooked to your satisfaction?”

 Crickets. Nothing. Silence so deafening a pin hitting the ground would have registered on the Richter scale.

 After standing there waiting for a response for what damn near seemed forever,she thrusted her plate in my general direction without looking at me and said, “This is absolutely, positively the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth! Tell your chef he’s lucky I’m giving him a second chance.”

 I resisted swinging at the softball she lobbed me regarding the history of what had been in her mouth. “I’m so terribly sorry, Madam,” was what I went with instead, taking the offensive Halibut Buerre Blanc with Haricot Vert Almondine from her and escorting it back to the kitchen.

 Now here’s the deal about sending food back to the kitchen. If we fuck something up, we’ll own it as the day is long. If your New York Strip comes out medium well instead of medium rare, it’s our bad and we’ll fix it no questions asked. Hell, we’ll even throw in a complimentary cocktail as an apology while we recook the damn thing. If, however, you order the escargot and throw a bitch fit when the chef sends out snails, then you basically deserve the taste of the dishwasher’s snot you’re enjoying with your chipotle mayo when the refire hits your table.

 Barney, our executive chef, was in the weeds. Dinner orders were rapid-firing out of the printer faster than the expeditor could get them hung and the entire kitchen crew was beginning to get that deer in the headlights look they wore when they found themselves knee-deep in the shit without waders on. The restaurant was full and we were on an hour wait, which meant the kitchen was walking the tightrope between getting everything out perfectly within a reasonable amount of time or crashing uncontrollably into the abyss of 45-minute cook times and pissed off patrons. It was the critical time you sometimes see in the back of the house when success depends on everyone working in zen-like cohesion, and the slightest unexpected curve ball can potentially capsize us toward comping copious amounts of food and giving away our profits just to keep people happy.
 So I wound up and threw the curve ball.

 “Hey Barney,” I yell over the kitchen chaos. “I need a halibut refire for 23 on the fly!” In restaurant linguistics, “on the fly” means I need the motherfucker as soon as yesterday. It’s the one phrase that invariably sends already-semi-stable line cooks over the edge and takes temperamental chefs to the brink of grabbing butcher knives and running through the front of the house with thoughts of slicing and dicing. On the fly orders cut directly to the front of the production line, meaning that the poor slob who’s already been waiting five minutes too long for his filet mignon gets elbowed back another half step, risking pissing him off as well.

 Barney looked up at me, sweat dripping from his eyelashes. “What the fuck? What the hell was wrong with it?”

 I showed him the partially-picked-at fish. “I dunno, man. Don’t hate the messenger. This chick says it’s the worst thing she’s ever put in her mouth.”

 Barney picked up the halibut, briefly examining it before slapping it back down on the plate, scattering the buerre blanc overboard and splattering onto his chef coat. “Goddamn puta madre! I’ll give the fucking bitch something to put in her mouth!” I write the refire ticket, hand it to the expo, and Barney works his pissed-off magic, getting the new entrée out in record time. The runner gets it to the table, and away we go for round two. As is customary, I wait until she takes the first bite before approaching her to make sure the second time’s a charm.

 “Madam, is everything to your liking this time?” Now, ninety nine percent of the time guests are satisfied with recooks. Whether it’s correcting a genuine kitchen fuck up, a server who ordered the wrong thing or placating a control freak who wasn’t going to be happy with the first thing that came out no matter what, the majority of customers are genuinely appreciative of the second effort and move forward with their dining experience from there.

 Enter the other one percent.

 The air around her was heavy with the whiff of pretense. “I’m not sure where you found your chef, but maybe you should send him back to Denny’s where he came from,” she huffed while holding the second halibut out for me to rescue her from.

 At this point I had to jump in and try and save the poor entitled bitch from herself. “Madam, may I ask what exactly about your meal that isn’t to your liking?”

 She sighed so heavily I was amazed she had any oxygen left to speak with. “My dog eats better than this, that’s what the problem is! You tell your chef I’d be embarrassed if I was him to let this sort of crap come out of my kitchen!”

  “Perhaps I could recommend something else that might be a bit more to your liking,” I suggested.

 Oops. Crossed the line on that one. At that point her face turned bright green, her eyes bulged from their sockets and her head began twirling uncontrollably 360 degrees round and round until it resembled a rickety carnival ride like the ones you find during the summer in the parking lots of discount shopping malls. She spat blood, dripped ooze and puked bile – all in my general direction. “Look here waiter, I know what I want and what I want it to taste like, and this isn’t it! Now you take this back and tell your chef to make me the halibut just like it’s described on your menu. And I don’t intend to pay for it by now, either.”

 “Yes, Madam. Right away.”

 I was about to enter Dante’s lost tenth circle of hell. I walked the second god-forsakenly awful halibut back to the kitchen and deposited it directly in the center of the ring of fire. I knew that the words which were about to exit my mouth were going to have potential brimstonesque ramifications, but I was caught in the purgatory between oh shit and fuck me with a pitchfork with no chance of redemption in sight.

 “Uh, Barney…I gotta refire on 23. She says it tastes like dog food.”

 It took two line cooks and a pantry chef to restrain Barney from going out into the dining room and introducing himself to the ladies on table 23. This was after he had thrown the second returned entrée across the kitchen, shattering the plate it was on against the wall. It was also after he had a meat cleaver wrestled from him and a rolling pin knocked out of his hand. The last thing I remember hearing as I was walking back out into the dining room was, “Tell that goddamn bitch I’m gonna send her out a halibut she’ll never fucking forget!”

 I was refilling the coffees on table 24 when it went down. Right after psycho bitch bit into her third halibut, she let out a scream while spitting her food out on the floor next to her table. I turned around and saw that she had stood up and was pointing down at entrée number three. “OMIGOD THERE’S SPIT IN MY FUCKING FOOD!” She proceeded to throw up over what was left of her food, sending the rest of the diners around her into a standing frenzy of their own wondering if they too had been nibbling on some wayward rogue phlegm. Psycho bitch’s girlfriend started crying and screaming too as her dress was covered in halibut vomit, and several surrounding patrons threw down their napkins on top of their plates in disgust and left without paying while the GM ran around trying to prevent the entire restaurant from going up in flames.

You’ve got to hand it to Barney; he was a man of his word.

 Since his dismissal, he had been calling me several times a week leaving messages on my voicemail stating his desire to get together so he could apologize to me in person. I knew better. What he was really doing was scrounging for juicy tidbits about the state of the restaurant, how the lawsuit with psycho bitch was progressing and whether he was going to be held financially liable for the thousands of dollars it cost the owners to buy off the other patrons that night to keep them from suing as well. Against my better judgment, I finally agreed to meet him one day after work after about two months had passed in the hopes that he’d stop calling me.

 When I showed up at his apartment he answered the door in his boxer shorts and a stained t-shirt. He hadn’t shaved in what looked like a week, and I couldn’t really be sure when he had last set foot in a shower. He was drinking cheap scotch straight from the bottle and was ranting and raving about how the post office kept losing his unemployment checks. Paranoia was closing in on him, sending him a little closer to the edge than he inherently already was.

 He took the plastic baggie into the bathroom, and several loud grunts later emerged with it filled with what appeared to be several freshly birthed turds. “Those bastards think they can go around fuckin’ with people’s unemployment money…Well, I’m gonna teach ‘em a lesson they ain’t never gonna forget, that’s for sure!”
 He opened a drawer in his coffee table and began rummaging around through the disorganization. “Fuck, I know it’s in here somewhere,” he grunted. After several more moments of random shuffling he announced, “Ah ha, found it,” and held up a lint-covered postage stamp. He licked it, lint and all, and stuck it to the poop-filled baggie. “I’ll be back in a sec,” he told me as he headed out the door to the street side mailbox that sat in front of his apartment complex.

 I sat there by myself, not entirely sure how to feel. So I did what any sane man in such a quandary would. I took another pull off the scotch bottle, lifting a silent toast to not having yet gone off the deep end entirely myself as well as to the regularly scheduled five o’clock mail pickup.

- Terry Everton

Monday, July 23, 2012

She Hate Me! ©2012 by Joe Sixtop all rights reserved

     The new restaurant had recently opened for business. I was one of the servers who opened it. Although lots of people surely disagree, I feel like I already know how to wait tables. When you start a new server job you kind of have to learn how to wait tables there. So for me, the first week or so at a new gig, there's some trial & errorness going on. I like to have what I'll need with me as much as possible, crap like inkpens, lighters, a table crumber if we're swanky, a server book and a wine opener. The powers-that-be at this company have some of their own requirements. They want dessert menus presented slightly before the clients have quite finished their entrees. They're real big on us dropping the check, in a nice presenter, when dessert is delivered or immediately after it's apparent that no more money can be extracted from the diners.
     So I'm thinking that I can carry all my printed-up tickets in my server book. I'll need another server book to use as a check presenter. And I guess I gotta carry a dessert menu around too. There's not enough room for all that in the shitty aprons we're supplied with. So, just experimenting, I tried something. I stuck a check presenter down my pants. It felt really good when I put it on "vibrate."
     You already know you can't put a check presenter on vibrate! I stuck it down the back of my pants. It's 9 1/2" by 5" ( get your mind out of the gutter about the dimensions of what's in my pants, I'm talking about the check presenter!) and the stuck-in-britches part is only about an inch of that. I got the idea from having seen, over the years, other servers do it, including at least two at this restaurant. It's not crazy comfortable and I'm not too hyped about the way it looks. I was just trying something to see how it'd work. If totally left to my own devices, I'd probably have abandoned the experiment after a couple of shifts, if not sooner.
     So it was a busy night at a new restaurant. I needed something from the salad side of the kitchen. I'd rung it in but several minutes had ticked by and I'd seen no sign of it. I spoke to our salad chef, Dee Dee, about it. She was completely unaware of my order. I expressed how seriously I needed it. There was some urgency in my voice and words but I didn't cuss or get all johnsonskull about it—I know better than to get on the bad side of the kitchen crew—and besides, Dee Dee Ramone (as I've affectionately dubbed her) and I are good work friends and totally cool. She hustled up and got my salad (or whatever it was) out to me with a quickness; I thanked her profusely and all was well.
     Several minutes afterwards I was pulled aside by Assistant Manager Renata. She accompanied her impressive scowl with a very unpleasant tone of voice. "Joe. Three things," she hissed. I was taken to task about the check presenter behind my back. I removed it. What's the big deal? Then she corrected me about the way I had my apron tied, a very minor point of procedure that I hadn't been made aware of in training. Then she told me, "I heard the way you talked to Dee Dee. YOU DON'T TALK TO MY COOKS THAT WAY! EVER!"
     What the fuck? I honestly feel like I didn't talk badly to anyone. I know I didn't cuss or level any personal attacks or anything. I'd stressed how seriously I needed my order (which had been properly turned in and was really important I get) and I make no apologies for that. I sought Dee Dee out later, to make sure we were cool. She was her usual jocular self, smiling and laughing. Everything seemed so OK between us, and has remained so since, that I didn't even ask about our earlier situation or mention Renata.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Haze Because I Care ©2012 by David Hayden all rights reserved

Back in 1995 I gathered up the courage to walk into a neighborhood bar and grill with my resume in hand and ask for a job.  I applied to be a buser, but the manager decided since my resume was relatively free of errors that I could probably handle being a server.  In the 17 years since I have worked for more lousy chains and swept more peanut shells of the floor than I care to remember.  I have also published a book on serving, write half a dozen or so restaurant blogs, have back-to-back best server awards, and as a result work at a pretty swanky restaurant.  I paid my dues in this industry to get to where I am.
This is why I always find a perverse joy in being asked to train some 20 year old student that my boss feels has “potential.”  My first instinct is to question whether this potential is horizontal or vertical, but I don’t make the hiring decisions.  My job is to turn this wet behind the ears rookie who was serving shots at a college bar last week into a professional server in under a week.  More importantly, I am tasked with bringing them onto the team as a respected peer.
In all reality I was probably cleaning up this new server’s cheerios off the floor of my station when I was their age, so my patience is worn thin by the thought of it.  I will train them because I will be the one cleaning up their messes in the future if they lack the necessary skills to keep up with us.  Earning them the respect of the team is a more daunting task.  This task is most easily achieved with a little hazing.
Now I know some of you are instantly turned off by that word and equate hazing to bullying.  I wouldn’t disagree with you.  I would also say that reaction is exactly the reason why it works.
Personally I have taken a fair amount of joy in watching a new server methodically water all of the fake plants in the restaurant.  It makes me smile to send a server back to grab the “left-handed squeegee sharpener” from a storage closet that doesn’t exist.  The facial expression of the restaurant manager next door has to be priceless when he is asked for a gallon of “beer gas.”  Nothing is better for team morale than standing around watching a clueless trainee try to empty the water from a coffee maker that is hooked up to the water line.  Maybe I am a jerk, but there is a method to my madness.
Two things happen after one of these pranks has been pulled.  The first is that the new staff member can demonstrate that they have a sense of humor and are serious about their job by coming in the next day.  The second is that the rest of the staff feels sorry for the new person that has been “bullied.”  That sympathy rids the staff of animosity and starts the respect building process.   
I’m not calling this a perfect system.  Neither is the system that led me to be training someone who feels classy because they have graduated from Boone's Farm® to White Zinfandel.  In a perfect world, I would have been a cute blonde so I could have “potential” when I was 20.  In the real world, I had to earn respect and so do they.  Even if it means bringing the bacon sifter down from the attic.

     Author David Hayden is a man of many accomplishments, not the least of which is being the first person in the history of the world to have multiple guest posts on These American Servers™! Actually, now that I think about it, that probably is the least. But he's got a new venture, his Restaurant Marketing Plan, which will be an invaluable resource for anyone who's got a restaurant (or really, anything) to promote and  the good sense to click on the link!