Tag Archives: waiter

Don’t mess with Greg’s coffee

I was with my friend Greg last week, waiting on line at a Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. “And can you leave like an inch or two of space for milk? Please? Thank you,” Greg asked the barista. And I saw it, I saw how everything went down, the polite request, it was almost like he was afraid to ask, like he was really trying to communicate how he didn’t want to be a pain, if he could just get a little less coffee. And then the please and thank you, all very, very timid.


“Here you go Craig,” the barista handed him the cup of coffee. I could tell by Greg’s face that something wasn’t right, and seeing as how there was only one aspect of that coffee that could’ve gotten him upset, I guessed that just by holding the cup, that he could feel the weight, he could tell that something wasn’t right.

My initial instinct told me that the cup was probably filled too high. Maybe some of the hot liquid leaked out of the top hole on the cover, a dead giveaway that the container had reached maximum capacity. But then again, it could have been almost comically under-filled. Maybe instead of one or two inches of space, there were four or five.

I think back to my customer service days. I hate to admit it, because it’s something that I can only really describe as a serious character defect, but a lot of my interactions with customers and guests were directly influenced by the fickle nature of my mood. Sometimes I wouldn’t feel like going to work and waiting tables. And I don’t know what it is, because it’s not something that I want to have happen, but every once in a while, someone would ask me a perfectly reasonable request, like, “Can I get some extra ketchup, please?” and my internal reaction would be this automatic, “Go fuck yourself. I hate you.”

And of course, I don’t want to be that guy. That’s just not a nice way to live. And if you want to be employed as a waiter or a barista or whatever, you can’t be that guy. You’ll get fired. But on an especially dark day if I just couldn’t get my better nature to wrest control of my actions, I had a choice, I could just not get them any extra ketchup. I could say, “Sure, coming right up,” and then disappear for a while. Or I could take a really long time, watch for that customer to flag down someone else, and then right as he’s in the middle of asking that person, “Hey, could I get some extra ketchup, please?” I could show up in mid-sentence, “Here you go, sir,” make it look like he’s the one being really annoying.

This is all terrible, awful behavior, and I hope that nobody thinks that I’m condoning it or trying to make it OK. And it’s not like that’s something that I did, certainly not often. But yeah, I’d be lying if these thoughts weren’t a part of my underlying consciousness, that there’s something in me, and I’m sure in a lot of service industry workers, that just don’t want to, they don’t want to do anything, even if it’s a perfectly good-natured request, it’s so easy to slide into this almost comfortable pit of bitter entitlement.

Anyway, Greg took his coffee over to that little table by the side where you put your milk and sugar in and, it was just as I’d initially suspected. That coffee cup was filled all the way to the top. By the time Greg managed to get the lid off, there was coffee splashing down everywhere. He couldn’t even lift it up without spilling even more, and the cardboard container was already stained, becoming visibly warped by having so much hot liquid poured over the outside of the cup’s lip.

His face said that he was pissed, but I didn’t expect what happened next. I thought, maybe he’d try to take a big sip, which he did, but it was too hot to really get down a good gulp. And there was still the mess to deal with. I thought maybe he’d shake his head back and forth a little bit, try to make eye contact with the barista, give him a really nasty look. Of course the barista wouldn’t be looking. You don’t want to engage too much. The key to being passive aggressive is to focus on the passivity. That way if you get called out, if some guy that you screwed over confronts you, you’re not giving him anything like eye contact or any other sort of ammunition to further provoke a fight.

And I said it already too, that Greg’s a pretty cool guy, very polite, hardly confrontational. But that same thing that’s in me as a waiter, that same voice telling me to tell random people “fuck you” for asking for ketchup, it had to have been in Greg too. And sometimes you just can’t hold it back. Sometimes you know you shouldn’t do something, but you do it anyway.

So Greg went right up to the counter and screamed, “Hey!” and the barista looked up, and Greg splashed the whole cup of coffee right on him. And I’ve got to say, it was a perfect shot. Obviously you can’t go for the face, because that’s a hot cup of coffee, and you’re looking at burns, at legal action. No, it was right in the middle of this guy’s thick, green apron, right where you just knew there were enough layers of apron and black t-shirt and undershirt to absorb a lot of that heat. But it was a big cup, a venti, and so now this guy was soaked. And maybe it wouldn’t scald him, but there was probably a burning sensation, or at the very least, a really uncomfortable feeling of being very hot and wet.

And we just walked out. Nobody said anything, no manager came running after us. Because what were they going to do about it? What would I have done if I were in that barista’s position? I have no idea. It felt really good at the time, to have been there, to have witnessed what surely felt like such a release, just taking that “fuck you” and returning it right to sender, but without actually having to have done anything, no guilt afterward, no regret.

Because there would have been regret, if that were me anyway. Even now, a week later, I can’t help but thinking, what if that guy really did just make a mistake? What if he was really busy, and meant to leave that extra inch, but for whatever reason, he forgot? What if he’s just so conditioned to filling those cups all the way up, that it’s not even a conscious decision anymore, that it’s more muscle memory than anything else? And yeah, he made a mistake, but it’s a mistake. And now he’s got to, what, ask the manager for a new apron? For a new black t-shirt? What if they didn’t have any available? Would he have to go home, leave his coworkers short-staffed? “And why did he splash you? What did you do to piss him off?” the manager might ask, suspiciously.

No, I can’t, I couldn’t, it would have been too much. And I was expecting something out of Greg, an apology, maybe just the slightest expression of remorse, but nothing. I’ve seen him like once or twice since, and it’s like it never happened. And I don’t know, man, there’s something of that in me, definitely, and I’m pretty sure Greg has a little bit of it too. What else is inside? Aren’t you just a little bit sorry? What if he got him in the face? In the eyes?

Hopefully they left a decent tip

The other day I was at work waiting tables. Even though none of the servers pool tips, we still have a system in place where we rely heavily on each other’s support. One aspect of this codependency involves greeting the customers that have just sat down. Officially, it’s supposed to be within thirty seconds, the party gets sat, and the nearest available waiter or waitress has to do the whole, “Hi! How’s it going? Can I get you something to drink?”


It’s a good system, because you can’t be everywhere at once, and it’s nice to know that if you get stuck in the back wrapping up a bunch of doggy bags, for example, that the rest of your customers aren’t going to be left out to hang, waiting for someone to show up, slowly steaming, thinking all the while of how somebody is going to pay for this, it’s going to be the server, it’s going to be reflected in the tip.

But it goes both ways. Every once in a while you ask if they’d like to start out with a drink and you get ambushed by a, “We’re actually in a rush, we’ll give you everything right now, we’re ready, we’re really hungry.” And then you’re committed, you can’t be like, “Well, you see, I’m only here for the drink order …” people hate that nonsense, going to a restaurant, trying to figure out who does what. It makes sense that I just take over, do what I can, try to help out wherever possible.

Like I said, I found myself in this situation the other day, an older couple, they were definitely from out of town, they were hungry, and in a rush, so they gave me everything. Fine. I took their order, I went to put everything in the computer, and then I proceeded to get the drinks ready. The man wanted a Coke, and the lady wanted and iced tea, “With lots of ice, and extra lemon.”

Our restaurant has these sixteen ounce glasses, and our ice machine spits out ice in giant chunks. The glasses can only really hold five ice cubes, but this lady said extra, and I wanted her to see that I was paying attention, and so I kind of put a sixth one on top and then softly hammered the whole thing in with the back of the ice scoop.

I approached the table with the plate of extra lemons balanced on my forearm, and just as I set down that glass of iced tea in front of that lady, she says to me, “Didn’t I tell you that I wanted a lot of ice?”

And my job is not to give people attitude or anything like that. Even if it was, this wasn’t my table, we don’t share gratuity, and so this wasn’t even my money on the line. Really, all I had to do was drop these drinks off and that would have been the end of my interaction with this man and woman. But I couldn’t process this lady’s question to me, even though it wasn’t a question, it was just a little dart of sentence flung into my neck with a decorative question mark dangling at the end.

I didn’t have time to smile and be professional. I shot back, “More ice? There are six giant ice cubes in that cup. That’s the most ice that can fit in that glass.” And she looked a little shocked, I was a little shocked, I mean, she was definitely pushing buttons, but rarely in the service industry does button pushing actually result in a server pushing back. That’s not allowed.

I realized my mistake. Even though the ice was just as she asked, again, it’s not my job to push back, it’s my job to take all of that bullshit and smile. And like I said before, this wasn’t even my tip on the line, so now I not only started to worry about a rudeness complaint possibly heading my way, but I began to feel bad that I was negatively impacting the amount of money that wasn’t even going into my pocket.

Maybe half a second passed before I abruptly changed my entire demeanor. I put on the most sincere smile I could manage, I said to her, “But I’m happy to get you some more ice. I’ll be right back.” And I raced back to the kitchen, hoping that I could get this lady some more ice before she even had a minute to think about what I’d said and how the whole situation could have been handled differently.

Thirty seconds later, I had two more cups filled with ice, another twelve oversized ice cubes, in front of her. I finished our interaction with another ridiculously sincere smile, and then I disappeared, hoping that all would have been forgiven, that maybe they wouldn’t have even noticed my micro-outburst, those two or three seconds where I forgot my place, where I was, who I was talking to. Hopefully they left a decent tip.

I used to love fountain soda

I worked at this restaurant a few years ago that didn’t really try that hard to live up to the standards of good hygiene as outlined by the New York City Department of Health. When I first started working there, sure, it was an old building, and yeah, you’ve got to expect to put up with a certain amount of filth as a New York City resident, but some corners of the place represented more of an insect sanctuary than an actual establishment where people paid money to be served food.


But whatever, the money was decent enough that I was able to put the grossness out of my mind somewhat. And there were perks to working there, like free ice cream, free soda. I love drinking free soda from a soda fountain. I’ve always wanted my own personal soda fountain, ever since I was a freshman in high school, on the first day of class, I had this history teacher that told us there were a few water fountains located throughout the building that dispensed Arizona iced tea or Coca-Cola instead of water, and, being the naïve and gullible idiot fourteen year old that I was, I bought the lie completely. When I eventually found out that I had been fooled, I could never shake that insatiable thirst for an unlimited amount of free soft drink.

And even though I’ve yet to meet anybody with their own personal soda fountain, working at this restaurant was the closest that I’d ever come to having that dream realized. Regardless of the bad moods of certain customers, or how crazy the kitchen became during an especially chaotic dinner service, I’d always be able to sneak in ten seconds or so to fill up a Dixie cup with a mouthful of Mountain Dew, or root beer, or orange soda. (I never touched Pepsi, not even once. I’m a Coke man through and through.) That’s all I ever needed, really, not a whole serving, just enough for a satisfying mouthful.

That’s the problem with bottled soda, you have to drink the whole thing in one reasonably timed-out sitting. Unless you have access to your own soda fountain, of course, you’re not really able to get just a sip of soda, with the perfect amount of carbonation, at just the right temperature, whenever you feel like it.

But after a few weeks, people started looking at me funny every time I went in for a drink. “Don’t you guys like soda?” I’d ask nobody in particular, wondering if my coworkers were super health-conscious, or maybe diabetic. I just couldn’t figure out why, apart from serving it to the guests, I was the only one making any use out of our soda fountain.

Finally one day another waiter pulled me aside. He said, “Hey Rob, you must really like soda.” And I said, “Of course I like soda, who doesn’t?” But he continued, “No, it’s just that, you must really, really like soda to be drinking so much out of that machine. Don’t you ever think about why nobody else touches it?”

And yeah, like I had already said, I did wonder why nobody else was indulging in what I had considered one of the only benefits of being a full-time waiter at a pretty mediocre Manhattan tourist-trap. “I just figured that, I don’t know, you guys are all watching your weight?”

“Please,” he went on, “And you never notice the busboys dumping all of that bleach down the drain in the morning?” Yeah, now that he mentioned it, I guess I was at least partially aware of the bleach. But up until that moment, I’d never questioned it. “They put the bleach down because the pipes are all moldy and clogged up, but they won’t pay anybody to replace the system. You ever catch a whiff of that barnacle smell when the ice bucket gets low?”

But it got worse. “Come here,” he brought me over to my precious, precious soda fountain and winced as he lifted up the cover behind the Seven-Up label. Right underneath the surface of what looked like such an inviting piece of machinery was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen: dozens upon dozens of cockroaches, little medium-sized ones, frightened by the sudden exposure to light, running around in ribbons of brown as they made a ridiculous effort to slink back into the shadows.

“The syrup leaks. This machine is a piece of shit. There are roaches everywhere.”

And yeah, that did it for me. I’m sure that most other restaurants and fast-food places have to have better standards of cleanliness, but I’m not going to lie, it’s still a little hard to drink fountain soda. It’s one of my all-time happiest pleasures that’s been irrevocably ruined by that one motion, my coworker lifting back the curtain to reveal the disgusting innards of a poorly kept up soda machine. What a dump.

Ketchup? Ketchup?

The dinner rush started earlier than usual last night, and I found myself running around the restaurant at a more hectic pace. At one of my tables, I had a middle-aged couple enjoying some cocktails, and while I was busy on the other side of the floor, I saw another server drop off their food.


While I had like three or four other things that I needed to take care of at the same exact time, I made a mental note to swing by, to see if this guy might not need any ketchup for his burger. Normally I’d just drop off ketchup automatically, but he didn’t order fries, the burgers come fully dressed, and for whatever reason, my restaurant encourages us to ask, “Would you like ketchup?” instead of just setting out some ketchup.

Excuses, excuses, I know, I know, I should have just had that ketchup out there anyway, just in case, but I was running some food, and when I tried to sneak over to my two-top, another table flagged me down and started handing me dirty plates. So I had to clear everything off, I had to run into the kitchen and set everything down for the dishwasher.

And then on my way back out to the floor, I have to pass by the window, like I said, it got pretty busy, Sundays are always busy, but not usually this early, not all at once like this. I had to run the food. I just hoped that my guests over at table thirteen were enjoying their meals, that if the man did need ketchup, that he’d be able to wait the extra two minutes or so that it would take me to run these plates out.

But just as I set them down, the floor manager got my attention, he was standing across the restaurant, pointing his finger to the side, mouthing out something about I don’t know what, exactly, I can’t read lips, but he was clearly trying to communicate. “Rob,” he leaned in when I walked over, “Table thirteen is pissed. They said they service is lacking, generally, that the guy needed ketchup and mustard.”

Again, I’m willing to take some fault, some. It never hurts to bring out ketchup. At most places, it’s not even questioned. But like I said, our burgers come dressed with three different types of sauce, and he had coleslaw instead of fries. And for real, I was only late by what at the most could have been maybe two, three minutes tops, however long it takes me to do two laps through the kitchen and back out on the floor.

Nope, this guy only needed two minutes to somehow grab a manager’s attention, to complain not only about the lack of ketchup, but about my service in general. And yeah, maybe I wasn’t a hundred percent on top of the game, but I thought things were going fine enough. Just minutes before, the lady had asked me for some extra tonic water for her cocktail. I brought over an unopened bottle and popped it for her right there, she even said out loud, “Wow, what a nice touch, thanks.”

But if there’s one thing I’m taking away from over a decade of waiting tables, it’s that you don’t fuck around with people’s ketchup. The lack of ketchup on a table has a way of turning normally pleasant and sane people into ruthless lunatics. Nineteen times out of twenty, if I’m running a burger or a sandwich to a table, chances are that before I even have a chance to fully place the dish in front of a customer, they’re already bombarding me with that one-word question:

“Ketchup?” That’s it. Just, “Ketchup?” like a tick, like it’s rattled off instinctively, no, “Please,” no, “May I have some,” or “Can you do me a favor and bring me some.” It’s just, “Ketchup?” And chances are, there’s probably already ketchup on the table. I’ll put down the plate, they’ll say, “Ketchup?” I’ll motion toward the ketchup, but it’s like they can tell, they don’t even have to look at the ketchup, they’ll just say, “More ketchup?”

And so, yeah, I’m in the awkward position right now of trying to defend myself when I clearly understand how important ketchup is to the majority of American diners. I don’t even know why restaurants put any effort at all into their food. At my place it’s something like twenty bucks for an in-house ground chuck steak burger, on a freshly baked bun, blah, blah, blah, stop talking and go get me even more of that sugary tomato syrup to pile on my meal.

Yes, I’m sorry I messed up by not getting this guy his ketchup right away. I am. But I was only like two minutes late, I already said that. This man found it necessary to complain to a manager. Like let me see if I can’t get this waiter in trouble because I don’t have my five ounces of ketchup. Worse, when I went to walk by the table a few minutes later, this time the guy was talking to one of the hostesses. I stood there for a minute, until the hostess interrupts, “I’m sorry you had to wait for your ketchup, but I’m not a manager, I’m a hostess.”

And so I stepped in, “Listen sir, I’d like to apologize, I’m really sorry that …”

But he cut me off, his mouth full of hamburger and ketchup, “You know something? The service here is really lacking. I had to wait a while for this ketchup,” at which point his wife interjected, “He’s been waiting for this ketchup!” and the man continued, “I can understand if it’s Saturday night or something, but it’s not, it’s Sunday, it’s not hard, your job’s not that hard.”

That’s when I kind of just froze, I deflated, I was totally defeated, this man looked me in the eye and told me that I’m not very good at my job, a job that’s not that hard anyway. And I’m not a bitter guy, I strive to find happiness in my daily routine, but here I am, I’m almost thirty years old, I’m waiting tables at a restaurant, and I have this man making an effort to find two people he thinks are in charge of me to complain about my performance.

What are you trying to do, what’s your end game? I was nothing but polite, smiling for you while I took your order and brought you your drinks, are you trying to get me fired? Is that your goal? You want to set an example to all of the waiters and waitresses out there, look, if you don’t get me my fucking ketchup, I’ll complain, I’ll get you in trouble?

I had a very strong urge to do something stupid, to slam my fists down on the table and tell him what’s what. But I didn’t. I just kind of blankly looked at him and told him, “Well, I certainly apologize,” and then I walked away, delegating any other tasks to my coworkers, doing whatever it was that I could to not have to interact with them for the rest of the night.

And the manager swung by table thirteen again toward the end of their meal, to continue the apologies for my incompetence, to offer them a free dessert (which they eagerly accepted.) I don’t know. I made a slight mistake. These two went in for the kill. I’m trying to get past it, but man, there’s still that urge, that desire to take the burger out of his hand, chomp off a bite and tell him to fuck off. Seriously, if I’m ever at a restaurant, and there’s no ketchup, I’ll just eat the burger. I’m a big boy. I’m not going to cause a huge scene. Man, I could complain about this forever.

Let us bow our heads in grace

Bless us, Oh Lord, for these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive, which we ordered forty-five minutes ago, which, it really shouldn’t be taking this long. Lord, did the waiter not understand me? Lord, did I not enunciate clearly enough? I did say medium-rare, right? Lord, please look after the less fortunate, the restaurant workers, those that can’t seem to do their jobs right. God, please guide the kitchen staff. Steer the grill man’s spatula in the right direction, make sure he’s not pressing down on the beef, robbing it of its juiciness. Because I will send it back, heaven help me.

Well, it’s about time. Do you mind bringing it back in five minutes or so? My family and I are right in the middle of grace. It’s just that we’ve been waiting here for the better part of an hour. Yes, it has been an hour, I’ve been timing the whole thing. How am I supposed to know when you entered it in the computer? You could have forgotten. You probably forgot. I don’t care, I don’t believe the timestamp on that check. It’s trickery. It’s a deception.

You see kids? This man is lying. He’s doing the devil’s work. Father, deliver us from Satan, his trickery, his lies, his forty-five minute cheeseburgers. Lord, I pray thee, also show mercy on this poor, misguided waiter. Deliver him from evil also. If it is your will, help him to understand the importance of timely service, of a friendly smile.

You can go, seriously, just bring it back in five minutes. Please. Lord, why must my family and I always be tested with the most incompetent servers? What are trying to tell me? Truly, your plan is mysterious. Your ways, the way you work, more mysterious yet. Give me a sign, oh Lord, grant me this one request, enlighten me to the road ahead. Is a twelve percent tip too generous for a job thus far not well done?

Has it been five minutes already? All right, just put it down, thanks. Wait, kids, don’t dig in just yet. Honey, please, in a minute. We haven’t finished saying grace. Lord, we thank you for this bounty, from thy bounty, our bounty, this cheeseburger, these fries. We thank you that our food has finally arrived. We ask you to bless the ketchup which we are about to pour, to make sure that whoever married the condiments last night, that they didn’t just dump fresh ketchup from the container into an old ketchup bottle. Not like that one time, where something must have fermented overnight, exploding when we opened it up. Oh the mess! It must have been a punishment, some sign, something. Did we mention your ways, the mystery? Yes, the mysteriousness.

Lord, I asked for my burger medium-rare, not medium. Is it too much to ask for my burger to come out the way I asked? Is this because of something I’ve done? Are we not saying grace for long enough before each meal? Is cooking a burger really that hard? Aren’t these things timed out? Is this because I shouted your name in vain last month? Are we still stuck on that? It wasn’t my fault! That idiot shot a nail through my foot with a nail gun! What would you have me say? I’m sorry, but in the heat of the moment, “gosh darn it” didn’t feel like it was going to cut it.

Heavenly father, I apologize, I beg you, cool my ungodly temper, teach me compassion. Allow me to enjoy this slightly overcooked beef patty. Show me how to forgive the staff, that idiot cook, that lazy waiter. The ketchup looks great. Please, grant me easy digestion, bestow upon me the time and space available after dinner to order dessert. If it suits you, please look over my waffle-cone hot fudge sundae, make sure that they haven’t run out of pistachio ice cream again. Lord, I beseech thee, we thank thee for these thy gifts. Oh, Lord, we thank thee. In the name of the father, the son, the holy spirit. Amen. Dig in!