Well, I’m back to waiting tables in a brewpub.
That’s not to say it was something I’ve been looking forward to, just that I’m no longer working behind a bar for the time being.
And that’s not to say it’s a tragedy. I’m currently making more money with fewer stresses than my previous particular occupation.
And (to fulfill the Comedic Rule of Three), that’s not to say it would be hard to find a place with fewer stressors than my last employment venue. A month after leaving, having just completed my training at the new place, I’d caught up with some now-former coworkers who remarked on how much healthier I’d looked. Though it could have been my brief stint of unemployment had left me with insufficient funds for alcohol. Boy, did I miss whiskey…
But now that I’m back to carrying drinks while answering idiotic questions and no longer making drinks while dismissing idiotic questions, I am finding myself suddenly reacquainted with certain aspects of the job I had found distasteful.
Take, for example, the muscle strain. My previous serving job required the use of a drinks tray for the carriage of even a single shot glass-worth of liquid. This was because the part of the floor that wasn’t that really thin, hard, industrial carpeting would turn to a freshly-resurfaced ice skating rink at the mere sight of a single drop of water. But they weren’t about to change it, because a) it would cost money, and b) that slick floor was so very easy to mop. The only logical option was to add a work requirement for the service staff. As a result, my passive-aggressive nature led me to using the largest-possible tray to transport a table’s water glasses, one at a time.
Conventional server wisdom (an oxymoronic statement as any) suggested using one’s less-dominant hand to carry a tray. For instance, a right-handed individual would support the bottom of a tray with their left hand, while using their more-dexterous right hand to stabilize it and shove idle-minded loiterers out of the way.
What comes from using your weaker side to carry a full tray of drinks (my record was 13 pint glasses without adding a second row, and the precarious nature of that arrangement did more to further the “Unlucky 13” superstition than anything that actually happened on a Friday the 13th) the full length of the restaurant, then using miniscule movements to keep your hand under the tray’s center of gravity as you unload said drinks so you don’t have to air out your pants later, for that first solid week is a severely sore wrist. When it persisted for a second week despite popping Advil and slathering on Biofreeze, I sought out a compression brace. This, coupled with a few more busy shifts’ conditioning allowed the muscles and tendons to heal and strengthen to where it didn’t bother me anymore.
This is one of many quirks of the business I am sure to document in my book once I (eventually) get to writing it. But for the sake of time and your attention span, I will focus on one frustration in particular: a guest’s inability to comprehend the value of a server or bartender’s time.
First, we have the ill-timed seating of party members.
Here’s the stage: A table set for six. The server assigned to the section in which the table resides has seen that someone has taken a seat at that table. It’s reasonable to assume the hosts are aware that Captain Ahead O’Schedule is present, for they have lain out the requisite menus for a quantity of people appropriate for the table.
The Captain is greeted by the server, who remarks that there must be more people coming. Captain declares in the affirmative, stating, “They’re on their way.”
This, for me, is always a red flag. I won’t worry if I’d heard “He’s parking the car,” or “They’re closing their tab with the bar.” That suggests imminent arrival, and I can do a quick check of my tables while I wait, if they aren’t visible five seconds after I’ve heard either of these statements.
But if you throw me a “They’re on their way,” I will cringe for the following is what ALWAYS happens, without fail.
The Captain will start with a water, because he doesn’t want to be seen as an alcoholic when his friends arrive and see he’s already consumed five Absolute Martinis, and he doesn’t want a lecture from his one Crossfitter friend about the dangers of processed sugar when he is seen with a Dr. Pepper. No, a glass of water is always a safe course of action. But not a bottled water, because then he’ll appear elitist. And not a water with a lemon, because he definitely wants to have those five martinis and lemon-garnished water conveys that you are comfortable forgoing alcohol and sugar for the evening, but not a drink with flavor.
The server is not concerned with his choice, only suppressing a deep sigh as he resigns himself to the fact that there will not be any money made on this table until Captain O’Schedule’s friends arrive. And if you ever find yourself in the Captain’s shoes, for the love of God, DO NOT request waters for the whole table. When you do this, your friends are going to arrive, find waters already available, and forgo any drink that costs actual money. Then you’re going to feel awkward when you’re the only one who ordered that martini, let alone five of them. The intervention, in this case, isn’t a possibility so much as a forgone conclusion.
Nonetheless, the server will fetch the water, understanding that it’s pointless to give his spiel on the daily specials to a table of six when only one is able to hear it. So the Captain will wait with his water for his friends. He’ll occupy himself with his phone, never actually calling or texting his as-yet-present tablemates, for fear of appearing needy. And why should he contact them? He sent a mass text to everyone that he had arrived and was getting a table for their party. The only further communication necessary would be either, “I just parked and am headed in,” or “I’ve been mugged and had to borrow a stranger’s phone to say I can’t make it tonight on account of the police report I must now file.”
With nothing to do for this table until it is further populated, the server will move on to other tables. He might ring in a dessert for Table 78, where Daddy has the kids tonight while Mommy invites her girlfriends over to watch some sappy chick-flick that came out when they were all still single. A refresh for 63’s iced tea. Another pitcher of light beer for the collegiate study group that’s not done any studying all night. Maybe help out other servers or the food runner, since all the tables in the section are good for the foreseeable next few minutes. And as he drops off a medium-rare ribeye at someone else’s table, he sees that Captain O’Schedule has assembled the Tardy Squad, so it’s time to take care of them now. The Captain first sat down twenty minutes ago, so his tablemates must have waited for his mass text to even consider leaving the house.
So now the server waits for them to sit the bloody-hell down before approaching. When that happens, he greets them as if happy to finally see them. Honestly, he was wondering if they were all just figments of O’Schedule’s imagination. He’s just about to regale them in an epic poem about the Chef’s specials when he hears the unmistakable chair-scraping of a table being sat in his section. But he can’t break away, not now that he finally has the Tardy Squad’s attention after they’ve spent an eternity simply saying “hello” to one another! No, he must push through this as quickly as possible so he may properly greet this new table behind him.
And in a perfect world, we’d all be empathic and able to recognize the need for efficiency in others. But no, they have questions.
- · “Why is this beer more expensive than Bud Light?”
- · “What gluten-free liquors do you have?”
- · “Could you send that large pizza out first as an appetizer?”
- · “Any way I could get that special in a completely different way from what you described?”
- · “Can I get the mussels as a side instead of fries?”
- · And my oh-so-favorite: “What’s good here?”
And of course, the Captain had to wait for them, so he insists they order everything at once so he needn’t wait any further. Never mind his compatriots have had minimal exposure to the menu options and must now make a selection under pressure. To cap it all off, the woman who told the table to go ahead and order before her still hasn’t made a decision when we’ve come back to her. And it usually is a woman who does this, rarely a man. Not trying to ruffle any feathers, it’s just a strange coincidence I’ve noticed. But children are always indecisive. I can’t see how, really, given their menu only has four things on it.
Meanwhile, the table behind, a perfectly kind and patient group of twenty-somethings on a double date, must wait for the server to finish with this malarkey before he can properly take care of them. Several minutes can easily have elapsed when he was supposed to have met them within forty-five seconds. The two couples have been penalized for the unspeakable crime of arriving together, on time.
When this happens to me, as a server, you had better believe I’m going to ring in the new table’s order before the bigger table. It’s a small, unseen effort on my part to make up for the inconvenience they’ve had to endure. Even delaying the Tardy Squad’s order by 30 seconds can cascade their delay, for all kinds of things happen in a kitchen. Another server could have rung in something between the two tickets. The kitchens may have been told by management to cook something on the fly, pushing back other orders. And if one person wanted their burger well-done, then the whole table’s food is gonna sit under a heat lamp until the grill has finished turning a perfectly good slab of ground beef into a hockey puck as per the customer’s request.
Perhaps best part is the Captain’s table isn’t going to notice the delay, being so engrossed in their own frivolous chatter. When this happens, I’m reminded of the proverbial tree falling in the forest when no one is around to hear it.
Those unfamiliar with serving might think, “Job done, right? You got everyone’s order in, and it’s fine now. You even struck an unseen blow for punctuality!”
To which I must clarify that the “unseen blow for punctuality” was really just more of my passive-aggressive tendencies. I know the Tardy Table won’t notice the delay, I just feel better for making them wait.
But it’s not the end. Any time unnecessarily wasted can cascade, especially when a server’s section is full. The Dad’s Night with the Kids table could find itself with a fussy four-year-old and have to leave promptly, or the Study Group might find itself in desperate need of Fireball shots. A busy server’s time is at a premium, and it can’t be wasted explaining how the economies of scale allow a macro-brew to be so cheap.
And all of this is kind of burying the lead: Why was the Captain so Ahead O’Schedule?
I am a cynic at heart, so I assume he got here twenty minutes earlier than they agreed upon and decided to grab a table. That’s well and good for you and your friends, but please remember that he got a water when he sat down for twenty minutes. So here’s a wake-up call: he just wasted twenty minutes of the server’s time.
My busiest night of record saw me ring up $1600 in an eight-hour period with a four-table section. That’s an average of $200/hour. (Granted, this was cocktail service rather than table, but I work best with hyperbole so just go with it for now.) So a twenty minute span of no orders means the restaurant could miss out on upwards of $15 in sales from a single table. By ordering a single martini he tried so hard to be seen without, he could have cut that potential loss in half. Basically, by being so unapologetically early, he have done financial harm to the business where within he currently sits, sipping his water. There is a proper place for him; it is called Outside and Out of the Way. Or at the bar, where no one will immediately question the five martinis you’ve already consumed.
On the other hand, I can appreciate being punctual. I, myself, am routinely twenty minutes early for work, simply to allow for the freak traffic patterns in my area. Although, part of it is that I left my apartment so I wouldn’t get sucked into another leg of my now-regular Netflix binges. Hell, that’s why I was always early at my last job, and I only lived a mile away.
But if he is just being punctual and his friends are late, what kind of shitty friends does this guy have to all keep him waiting? I would feel hurt if my friends didn’t take our appointed time seriously enough to make it on time. At least I might, if I had any friends.
But this is only one end of the Steps of Service Spectrum, and it is here I must bring up the subject of Campers.
Campers are the Ultraviolet to the Infrared of Tardy Squad. They’re not so far separated as to be a different class of people, but still straddle the thin wavelengths of visible light made up by perfectly normal, considerate customers. And Lord knows there are still some genuine whack-o’s in the VLF and Gamma ranges. But the big difference is that while the effect of Infrared on your skin is a surface burn, Ultraviolet can cause cancer.
For the uninitiated, a Camper is not a lover of the Great Outdoors. Just the opposite, a Camper will avoid going outside at all costs for as long as the restaurant remains open or they develop bedsores.
I’m not sure what motivates them, but something about having a table makes these people want to stay. I can have cleared off all their entrée, side and dessert plates, leaving only their empty water glasses, but they still have a very good reason for remaining seated in a bitter competition to see who can talk the other’s ear off first.
Last night I was confronted with a pair of them. And by “pair,” I mean two tables of Campers next to each other in the part of the restaurant that closes early. Both had paid and decided to sit for ninety minutes until I finally had to bring word that the restaurant was closing. Had they left on schedule, I and the other server responsible for putting all the chairs away could have been done and out the door, happily shoving beer down our own throats at a local watering hole which stays open later than we do. But no, we had to waste our and company time awaiting their departure because it would be inhospitable to move the chairs while they continued to sit in their cloud of ignorance.
The worst part is that there were two of them. If it were one, they couldn’t subconsciously justify their presence by seeing they weren’t the only ones there. And I can understand that. What I can’t understand is seeing that both tables are clear and you have seen me wipe down, reset, and sweep out under all the tables around you!
Strong as my feelings are, I’m not particularly mad at them. Sure, they inconvenienced me, but as I see it, if I’m still on the clock, that’s time not spent spending money while drinking.
No, my beef is with the campers in the middle of the shift. The ones who pay up and remain seated as the hive of a busy restaurant buzzes around them. And I saw the most egregious offender this past Friday night.
A group of three found themselves sat in my section around 6pm, just as we were getting busy. Upper-middle aged, I’d say, two women and one man. They weren’t particularly difficult, just a round of beers, and appetizer, and an entrée each. Total tab around $65, paid in full 1.5 hours into their stay.
They didn’t leave until 10:30. That’s 4.5 hours for a $65 check. Halfway through their 3 hour squat, they asked if they could order something, but it was only to refill their waters.
Using some rough math, I can confidently declare that I probably lost out on $30-40, just because they didn’t want to leave. I mean, at a certain point, just go home to hang out! Or a Starbucks, or something. Hell, make the night an anecdote and grab a room at that motel that charges by the hour. I won’t judge.
I understand that this is the service industry, and a certain level of hospitality is expected. But while they may be here to socialize, I’m here to make money. Should they not make way for the people willing to spend it?
That’s all I got for today. I could go on, but my laptop is running out of battery and I’m too lazy and comfortable to leave this patio chair in search of electrons. I would like to thank alcohol and my deep-seated rage for sponsoring this post.