Sunday, February 13, 2011

Crying over spilled milk

Nobody's perfect.  We all make mistakes and messes.  For the most part, these messes are little more than an annoyance....unless you work in a restaurant.  I'm sure we've all experienced the lovely crashing sound as a server drops their tray which can sometimes be followed by a round of applause from unsympathetic onlookers.  Perhaps, some of you have had the lovely sensation as something hot or cold is spilled into your lap or even down your back.  Well, as bad as it is for you, you can only imagine how it is to be that poor server.  If there was a deep, dark hole in the middle of the dining room, we'd be in it.

I think there's not much worse than spilling on a customer.  The only saving grace in that instance is if you happen to be one of the lucky few who have an understanding guest, who just now happens to be covered in milkshake, water, or marinara sauce.  I remember the first time I spilled something.  I'd been working in the restaurant for about a year, but I was a brand new server.  I had a 6-top (for those not in the business, this means a table of 6 people) sitting at a round in a corner.  It seemed they were friends out for a leisurely lunch.  I was handing out their drinks before I took their lunch order.  They had all ordered the usual assortment of sodas, teas, waters and lemonades.  The lady in the back corner had ordered a Dr. Pepper.  Because of the way the table was situated, I had to reach across the table.  The day was hot and the restaurant was kind of warm, which if you can see where I'm heading, meant there was condensation on the glass.  As I was handing the glass across the table, the lady was grabbing for it.  I thought she had it and let go.  She didn't quite have a good grasp on the glass, and of course, with the condensation, it slipped, hit the table and promptly dumped over, right into her lap.  As the icy soda hit her legs, she hurriedly stood up, and I realized to my further horror that she was in white pants.  She excused herself to the restroom while I went to get towels, all the while praying that the roof would cave in and crush me, thus saving me from having to face that table again.  Alas, the building maintained it's integrity and red-faced I hurried back to the table with towels to clean up my mess.  I was one of the lucky few who had a very understanding table.  That fact alone may have been the only reason I came back to work the next day.  Most aren't so understanding.

As a manager, I had a young server come to me during a lunch shift.  She had dropped a pitcher of ice water on the ground behind the chairs where some guests were sitting.  The water splashed on the back of one particular woman and actually soaked her jeans and cotton t-shirt pretty well.  I immediately went over to the table to assist while the server cleaned up.  As I approached the table I was thinking to myself how glad I was that this was a water spill, and not something worse like hot soup or coffee.  That happy time was quickly cut short as I saw the faces of the people at the table.  You would've thought that some major injustice had happened to them...Terrorism by water spill!  Fifteen seconds after introducing myself, I realized that the party clearly saw this as an intentional action by the server.  My offer of taking care of the woman's lunch, as well as the two appetizers for the table was quickly shot down.  I was told point blank that it "wasn't nearly enough for what they'd been through".  In addition to my offer, they wanted me to pay for dry cleaning and/or replacement of the outfit.  At this point, I went back to being grateful that the spill was only water.  If it had been anything else, I would've potentially had a lawsuit on my hands. 

The most memorable of my spill experiences was again as a manager.  I had a relatively new server, we'll call him Greg. He had served before but you wouldn't think it by observing him.  He was pretty insecure and he tended to have extreme reactions to mundane things.  So when one evening, during a busy dinner shift, he came to me and told me that "the most horrible thing imaginable" had happened, I fought the urge to roll my eyes and patiently asked Greg what he was talking about.  He proceeded to tell me that he had spilled water on a young guest...TWICE.  A couple and their son, who was about 11 years old, were sat in Greg's section.  They had all ordered ice water.  Greg brought the drinks over on a tray and as he went to lift the first glass, dumped the entire tray of water into the boy's lap.  He did his best to clean up the mess and decided he would get them replacement drinks before alerting me of the situation. As he took the new waters to the table he experienced an unbelievable bout of deja vu.  Once again, the tray of water went right into the boy's lap.  As I heard this, I didn't know whether to laugh or hit him upside the head.  I did neither and went to face the table.  Not surprisingly, the parents weren't too happy.  But they didn't seem as evil as most, so I took a chance trying to lighten the mood by pasting on a smile and telling the boy he was a bit overdressed for a water park.  Luckily, they all laughed and I was able to salvage the remainder of their evening.

So, the next time you're out and you hear a tray come crashing down...don't clap.  Or if you happen to have a drink or two spilled on your head...resist the urge to tell rip off your server's head.  They will most likely feel worse than you. As our mother's always told's no use crying (or getting irrationally angry) over spilled milk. 

Thanks for reading.  And remember...tip your waiter!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up....

I've been working in the restaurant business for almost a decade. I've been a host, expediter, busser, server, trainer, bartender, bookkeeper, front-of-house manager, and kitchen manager. I've done it all...and seen it all. For years I've been coming home with stories that amaze, shock, and humor my family and friends.  These stories usually start out with, "You wouldn't believe what happened today!", and I believe some of the time, they don't.  But as the title can't make this stuff up.  Recently, I've been dreaming of writing a book about my adventures, though I've come to realize that I am not the most talented writer.  So, it's a blog that I write....for now.  Most of these stories are my own, and some I'll share from the lives of my friends and colleagues...and all are the honest to goodness truth.  So bear with me as I take you into the exciting life of a restaurant worker.  Hopefully you'll discover that dining out can be a bigger adventure than you previously imagined. 

Thanks for reading.  And remember...tip your waiter!