I recently watched the “climactic” restaurant scene in, When Harry Met Sally and while it could’ve inspired a racy post about “Women Who Fake it And Why,” I’m sorry to say that instead it conjured up a “Once Upon My Prime” flashback. When I was newly single, (between marriages) I immediately turned to food for help. Not eating it. Working with it.
“A cobb salad without any cobbs please,” said Goofy, Gangly, Glasses Guy who promptly looked at me and laughed heartily, his next phone call most likely to a comedy club, booking himself a stand-up performance. I smiled back (because that’s how you increase tips) but inside I was shouting, “Yeah, Mr. Original…That’s the third time I’ve heard that. Tonight!”
My first job in the restaurant business was actually as a hostess. I thought seating people would be easy and ringing up their checks would be okay too, even though balancing my own checkbook required taking a Dramamine for motion sickness. I even learned to tolerate being called the “Hostess with the Mostess” from male customers and perfected my “Splenda” sweet voice when I took names down and chirped, “five to ten minutes and we’ll call you,” even though I knew damn well it would be more like thirty.
There were a few troublemakers who no matter where you started to lead them, were already looking around to sit elsewhere. It could be the best booth in the house with an ocean view but nope… “The food always tastes better on the other side of the restaurant!” was their basic philosophy. I had this one well-dressed couple, (obviously a special night) with the guy insisting he read in a newspaper review that he should ask to sit in “The Back Room” because it was more intimate. He kept turning to his femme fatale date, desperately trying to impress her with his experienced ways, boasting,”Wait till you see it back here.” After politely trying to deter him from where he wanted to go, I finally acquiesced, leading him and his lady directly through those back double doors to . . . sit in the restroom. And Bon’ Appetitoilet!
The biggest break-thru (for my mental health AND my lungs) came when the “No smoking” law was finally enforced in California. I can’t count how many diners I played musical chairs with when the tobacco stench drifted over the imaginary line from the Smoking Zone into the Non-Smoking Section. Whose brillant idea was that anyway? Probably the same genius who decided that handing out little light-up, vibrating pagers would make customers feel like important doctors. “It’s blinking,” whined most elderly folks at the hostess stand, “Our table is ready!” I would then have to explain that only when it loudly buzzed, scaring the Bruschetta outta them, THAT’S when I would seat them for their meatloaf dinner. Geez, and who goes OUT to order something their mother force fed them at home?
Customers aside, my main problem were the female food-servers. They were so belittling and patronizing with me. Probably because my job wasn’t as physically demanding, yet they still had to split their gratuity with me at the end of the evening. However there was power, prestige (and vengeance) in being the first one to greet (and size up) guests in a restaurant. I easily learned who the regular, obnoxious customers were and intentionally sat them in a few certain witch’s stations. “You have a bad cold, smell like Essence of Wet Gym Sock #5, or you leave pennies as tips? Right this way, please! After that, these catty girls warmed up to me and even taught me the ropes so that I too was promoted to be… horror of horrors…A WAITRESS! (there was no politically correct job titles then)
As a waitress, I was disorganized, impatient, clumsy, and in short not very good at all. But I really, truly tried to please because that was my nature. The best part of the job was the people watching I did. It’s amazing to me how many couples sat down, the woman ordering “just a dinner salad, please” for her whole meal and then either nonchalantly picked off her male companion’s plate the entire time or waited until he got up and wolfed down his portion when he wasn’t looking. Women…just order food for God’s sake! You came to a restaurant presumably to eat, right?
The other typical occurrence would happen when I asked someone how their meal was, and they would answer, “Oh, it’s okay.” Guaranteed – – something was wrong with it! Either these customers were not assertive enough to speak up or they were actually frustrated writers who would leave a War and Peace commentary on the back of their check in red sharpie, for my manager to read. But either way, I didn’t have the time to stand there and pry out of them what was unappealing, so most often I’d just smile sweetly and say, “Well that’s nice, enjoy,” and get the hell out of there. But once I had this one woman who moped over her uneaten Chef Salad, making occasional grief-stricken faces. Finally I demanded, “Is something wrong?” “Well,” she bemoaned, ” I have this really Big Salad (she must’ve seen Seinfeld!) and only a teeny, tiny little bit of dressing.” Okay, please! Just ask for more Ranch, but don’t sit there and memorialize lunch.
Here’s the thing – – if your meal is only “okay,” a waitress cannot read your mind about what to do to make it “Really Great!” Please state exactly what is wrong so it can be fixed WHILE you are still eating it. We don’t bite (or spit!) you know. I always laughed at the customers who cleaned their plates and then wanted to send things back. “Gee, our management is strange that way,” I’d tell them… “they won’t let me take things off the bill that visit your GI tract!”
I’ll never forget when I did a brief stint in a family-style restaurant where the owners still had us wear these strategically cleavage-baring tops. Being busty, I got accustomed to the husband’s (or the father’s) lingering glances and even a few with what they thought were witty euphemisms as they’d place their order and inquire, “Wow, are melons in season?” But one day a family sat down and after they placed their order of scrambled eggs and ketchup (yep, surprised how many people did that!) I felt the head of household’s eyes leering down my blouse, non-stop. As Dad ogled me, their little boy kept handling (and knocking over) all the condiments; the glass salt and pepper shakers, the syrups and the sugar packets, you name it. Suddenly the mother yelled, “Okay you! You can look at those things all you want, but don’t even think about touching them!” The husband jumped up so hard, his knees banged the bottom of the table and silverware rattled. He and I exchanged knowing, “inside joke” looks and he left me a $20 bill that morning.
TOP TEN TIPS FOR THOSE GOING OUT TO EAT TONIGHT:
1. Be decisive when I come around. Before you order, don’t look charmingly confused and ask me if I can tell you what Aunt Beatrice just ordered. Who the hell is Beatrice? Along the same lines, don’t ponder aloud, “Gee, is everyone really getting a full meal?” Who cares…just order what YOU want.
2. Please don’t bring your favorite OCD friends and think they’ll be interesting table-mates. If someone NEEDS to have their toast dotted with butter 5 times (true story!) they’ll be Toast in our establishment.
3. If after only five minutes you’re going to nag me, “Where’s our food?” Be prepared to be told sweetly, “Why, in the kitchen, of course.”
4. In a classy restaurant, leave the children who crash into my tray, blow straw wrappers, and gargle with the olive oil at home! Unless you’re planning on ordering our special Ritalin appetizer for your little Shrimp Cocktail!!
5. If you’re going to be a regular customer, please consider tipping.
6. If you pay with a gift card or a coupon and the meal costs you nothing, please consider tipping.
7. Just point if you can’t pronounce something on the menu. Don’t suavely say, “I’ll have a side of rototiller instead of rice.” I’ll never figure out you mean ratatouille.
8. Don’t be so cheap that you tell me your child never eats and so you’ll just share your entrée with them. This is actually fine until you start politely requesting (one item at a time, within the course of the meal) A. side of tomatoes B. some grated cheese, C. a little lettuce, D. shredded carrots and E. a fork. I see what you are up to . . . You’re creating a salad!
9. Honestly Dads…don’t pinch a waitress on her derrière and then look the other way, chuckle, and pretend it was your toddler son.
10. Dieters…don’t ask a waitress to warm up your Jenny Craig frozen dinner and bring it with the rest of the table’s food. And No, I don’t know “how many points” a premium slice of cheesecake is. Probably too many my dear Weight Watcher, and I betcha a slice of cheese is a better choice.
And finally, if your dinner is really taking a ridiculously long time to make its appearance, chances are great that another server stole your entree from the warming counter and is now serving the hot goods (in more ways than one!) to her own impatient customer! But as consolation, bend over and I’ll be glad to pinch you on your own butt while confidently rattling off the ingredients in our Molten Lava Cake.
There – – wasn’t that infinitely more stimulating than reading about women who pretend to have an orgasm??