I’m assuming many of you reading this are familiar with the TV sensation Kitchen Nightmares. In case you are not it can basically be summed up as British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey yelling at cooks and taking off his shirt a lot. It’s rather entertaining. The restaurant industry is ripe with nightmarish happenstances. I’ll have you know they’re not exclusive to the back of the house. In fact some of the most horrid scenarios occur in the front of house; in clear view for everyone to see. Besides the obvious nightmare of the large party that doesn’t tip here are my top five server nightmares.
1. The Spill That’s Your Fault
Waitress’s are well known for their remarkable ability to balance. Witnessing us in action can compare to the sublimity of The Cirque Du Soleil. Some of us can carry three drink glasses in one hand and a large water pitcher in the other. Some can balance stacks of plates on our forearms. And let us not forget about those large trays we balance so gracefully across the restaurant floor. If you think they look heavy, it’s because they are. A good server is never to drop ANYTHING! Yet we are not plate running machines. Alas, we are human. There is no greater tragedy for a waitress than delivering several glasses of Merlot to a group of women only to spill it all over an uppity lady’s white blouse. Mortifying. “I’m sending you the dry cleaning bill”, is a line I’ve heard once or twice in my many years of serving. What can one do at this point but apologize and hold back tears?
Or how about the even worse tragedy of the overzealous server attempting to balance too many plates on one tray only for it to result in almost slapstick routine as steaks tumble to the floor. Now, not only are your customers upset about having to wait even longer for their food, the cooks are upset that they have to remake it and the management is contemplating charging you for the wasted product.
At this point the only reasonable option is to take the rest of the night off as it only gets worse from here. Servers operate on an extremely regimented schedule. While our time management skills are impeccable, one hitch in the plan can throw us off for the whole night. If we drop one thing we drop ten more, burn someone with coffee and forget to put in your dessert order. Our nerves get the best of us and we feel everyone’s eyes on us so we hide in the bathroom stall for a bit and maybe do a bit of crying. But these horrors don’t compare to number two on my list of blunders…..
2. The Customer Who Vomits
Anyone who’s been in the industry for more than a few months has experienced this catastrophe. You know the scenario. It’s the day of some big sporting event or a Kenny Chesney concert when a big group of boisterous twenty-something’s saunters in for a much needed fix of fried food and ranch dressing. They have clearly been drinking but not at your establishment and you’re unsure of whether to continue serving them as they immediately order a round of lemon drops. You want a good tip so you buckle. And then….no, no, no! The 110 pound girl in the Browns jersey turns a pale shade of green and projectile vomits in a way reminiscent of Linda Blair all over the table and, gasp, the carpet! While her friends begin to comfort her, you consider quitting in realization that you will inevitably have to clean this mess. Then the smell hits you. It’s obvious the nice people sitting in your booths are affected by the odor as well. Their disgust will have an impact on your tip. Why not just take the apron off right now and walk out the door? Because, unfortunately you have bills to pay, maybe even college tuition, so you call forth the dishwasher (probably the worst job to have in a restaurant) and begin to clean. The smell induces nausea in you and you think to yourself how could it have come to this? Situations such as these are the reason servers are well known to have vices. Seriously, is it that difficult to make a run for the bathroom? But I’ve only just begun.
3. The Customer Who Smells
As a general rule, servers are more intimate with the public. We will compliment your blouse, gently place our palm in-between your shoulder blades as we laugh at your terrible jokes and even hug you if the situation warrants such sentiment. Congeniality is our strong suit. It’s how we make our money. We have to be around people all day, we have to move in closer to hear your drink order in the midst of a noisy and bustling restaurant, it is genuinely appreciated that the majority of Americans have a keen understanding of hygiene and the need to apply antiperspirant. For those among you who don’t possess this knowledge WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!
Those of you who work in the higher end restaurants are less likely to come across this but those of you working somewhere that features bogo burger Mondays, $1.00 taco Tuesdays or a breakfast for $2.99, know very well what I’m talking about. The homeless guy or nursing home escapee walks in and, to your dismay, the host seats them in your section. Now not only do you have to walk in their general direction, you have to endure the stench, which could be anything from a combination of rear end and unkempt armpit to feces to mothballs, as you take their order. And why is it that these are the people who want to strike up a conversation the most? All we want to do is get away. I’ve thought about refusing service to the exceptionally smelly as their stench travels and lingers. People are trying to eat. We don’t want to make them ill. Unfortunately it is socially unacceptable to tell someone that they smell, so these people often become weekly regulars on specials nights. Why are there no public service announcements on the importance of hygiene? But wait, there’s more….
4. The Drunks That Forget to Pay
This is one of the worst possible scenarios. A big group of young people are sitting in your section, drinking pretty heavily. You’re pleased by this, as the price of their check is increasing with every round. You’re joking with them, just having fun with the table and expecting a carelessly large tip. Then, as you walk into the kitchen to grab another table’s mozzarella sticks, the unthinkable happens. They somehow manage to sneak by the host and skip out without paying. At this point, the manager gives you this look as if to ask you why you didn’t tackle them on the way out. He or she is most certainly contemplating making you pay their $200 bill even though they can’t legally do that. And you, well your damn close to regurgitating those French fries you snuck earlier. It is the worst feeling. Even though you were helpless in the situation you are most certainly going to be blamed. I’ve learned in my years in the industry to watch the drunk tables like a hawk. As a result this doesn’t happen very often. When it does, though, it is horrible.
5. The Litter of Children
We’ve all experienced the customers who can’t/won’t control their children. The little monsters are screaming, breaking every crayon you give them and crushing crackers into the carpet. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love children. They are precious. But no one likes an unruly child. Parents please, when you dine out remember that someone has to clean your mess when you leave, so at least make an attempt to clean up after your children. Also if your baby is screaming bloody murder, there is no shame in soothing him outside of the restaurant, so as not to disturb the other customers. You wouldn’t believe how many parents I’ve seen make absolutely no attempt to soothe their crying child, opting instead to let the child “cry it out” in the highchair of a crowded restaurant. I simply don’t understand this behavior.
That is my rant for the day. As you can see a server’s job is not easy and at times can be hellish. So let us show our appreciation to waitress’s everywhere. Thank you and have a good night.