Tag Archives: Waiting Tables

Grass-fed beef

The other day at work, one of the customers asked me about our hamburgers, specifically about the cows the meat came from. “Are they grass fed?”


“Yes,” I told her, immediately. My answer surprised me. It was one of those instances where my mouth acted totally independently from the rest of my body. As soon as I answered in the affirmative, I came to terms with what happened, which was, a word escaped my mouth that had no business being spoken in the first place.

Because the real answer should have been, “I’m not sure about that. I can find out for you if you like.” But no, in that split second before I had a chance to start a thought process that would involve me explaining my lack of knowledge of the hamburger’s potential grass diet, my tongue and my lips decided to ambush the chain of command. I just said yes, so much easier than having to force a whole dialogue, finding a boss, asking if the cows ate grass.

Maybe my mouth has its own brain, maybe it thought out what that conversation might have looked like. Me, walking over to the kitchen manager, the guy multitasking at the window, processing orders coming in, constantly moving, talking to the chefs, garnishing the finished products, I’d interrupt him with a question, “Hey, uh, boss, uh … are the hamburgers made out of grass-fed beef?”

And he’d look at me, only for a second though, because he really does have a lot going on. But he’d only need a second, to give me a look of both confusion and anger, like, are you seriously coming to me with this bullshit right now? The most diplomatic thing he would do is to tell me to ask someone else. So I’d have to hunt around the kitchen, everybody moving, busy, too busy for crazy questions about grass.

Or maybe he would know. I guess I shouldn’t rush to judgment, just assume the answers to questions I myself don’t even know the answers to. It’s a little arrogant to think that this question is completely unanswerable. There has to be a diet these cows were being fed, and maybe it was grass, and maybe the kitchen manager knew.

But it didn’t matter, because I had already told this lady that, yes, they were grass fed. I briefly considered walking back from my impulse response, something like, “Wait, I don’t know why I said that, I apologize. I’m actually not sure. Let me go find out for you.” In retrospect, yes, that’s exactly how I should have handled it.

But again, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t even have time to consider my answers. And besides, the minute I said yes, this lady’s face lit up. It was an expression of genuine pleasure. Whatever was going on in my head, there was something equally powerful at work inside of hers. It was like she was picturing herself on the farm, all of the cows were eating as much grass as they wanted. And in between bites, they looked up to her, they said, “Moo! Thank you for only buying grass-fed beef. Our lives are so much better than our grain-fed cousins. And it’s all thanks to you!”

She repeated, “Really? Grass-fed beef?” And I was locked into my decision. My head nodded up and down, “Yes, grass-fed. And we grind the meat here.” Which was true, we do grind our own hamburgers. Hopefully just by throwing out additional information, I was somewhat elevating the overall truth of the entire conversation, like if you look back at everything I told her, you’d say, well, he only made up about ten percent of the information. So I started talking about the seasoning, all of the stuff about which I was positive.

She ordered the burger, and I did the only thing I thought would have avoided any potential problems: I passed off the check to another server, and I steered clear of that section of the restaurant until she left, crossing my fingers the whole time, hoping that she wouldn’t bring up the whole grass thing to anybody else.

And, as far as I know anyway, I got away with. In fact, maybe those cows are grass-fed. After writing this whole thing out, I’m realizing that I never bothered to follow up with anybody. I could have waited until the dinner rush died down, looked for the kitchen manager when he appeared not to be juggling twelve tasks, “Hey boss, I’m just curious, do we serve grass-fed beef?”

But I don’t know. And I don’t know why sometimes I can’t just say that I don’t know. I’ve got to stand there and make up easy answers, just lying to people’s faces.

Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite

I hate it when you go out to a restaurant and all they have to drink is Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. That’s all we serve at my restaurant. The royal triumvirate of boring sodas. It’s like I can just picture whoever started the place, they’re considering all of the locally selected ingredients for each carefully plated dish. And then right after they finish planning the menu, one of them says, “Oh wait, we forgot to go over beverages.”


The other guy goes, “What do you mean, like soda? Just get Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite.” And that’s it. It’s like there’s no imagination at all, not even the possibility that you might branch out even a step into the wider world of soft drinks.

And this isn’t anything against Coke. It’s great. I hate Diet Coke, but whatever, that’s not a fight I’m willing to pick, because people love Diet Coke, and so yeah, not my cup of tea. I do love Coke Classic. But I love cheeseburgers also. It doesn’t mean I want every meal to be a cheeseburger. Nor do I want every drink I have to be a Coke.

I just don’t get it, because there are so many more interesting sodas besides Coke and Sprite. How did we wind up as these two being the standard? It’s like ice cream, you’ve got vanilla and chocolate. Hot drinks, it’s coffee and tea. And for soda, you’ve got whatever flavor Coke is supposed to be and then lemon-lime.

You ever go to a restaurant and ask if they orange soda? Or Mountain Dew? You won’t even get a response right away. The waiter or waitress is just going to stare at you for a little while, to communicate as passive-aggressively as they can, are you kidding me? Are you seriously asking me if we have orange soda or Mountain Dew? Of course we don’t. Of course we only have Coke or Sprite. What the hell is your problem?

I know this because I’m a waiter, and I can’t stand it when people waste my time, “What kind of soft drinks do you have?” And what do I do? I don’t want to be a dick. I don’t want to be like, you’re an idiot, we only have Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite. But that’s all we have. Sure, I can mention unsweetened ice tea, I can throw in seltzer, but that’s it, everybody’s left deflated by the interaction. I don’t know what you were expecting.

But why is artificial orange flavor that much different than artificial lemon and lime flavor? Why is it socially acceptable to have a brown or a clear carbonated beverage in front of you at a restaurant while a green or a neon yellow one would make it look like you snuck out to Pizza Hut to order a soda to bring back to the table?

Cream soda, root beer, grape soda, Dr. Pepper, there are so many alternative soda flavors we could add to the standard restaurant drink menu to make everything more interesting. But no, you’re lucky if you go to a restaurant that has ginger ale.

Every restaurant by me, they proudly serve at least forty-five craft beers on tap. The wine gets its own telephone book sized menu. Bourbons, scotches, spirits, hold on, let me get the liquor manager to come over and give you a history lesson on single malts vs. blends. But soda? We’ve got Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. It’s not fair. I love soda. I would love to have some variety when I feel like enjoying a sugary carbonated beverage.

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.

Advanced wine service: wine lists, decanters, tasting notes

In the year and a half or so that I’ve been working at this current restaurant, I’ve learned a fair amount about wine. About our wine list at least. Definitely the popular wines that we sell, the stuff that we serve by the glass. Everything else, well, it’s probably from California, or near California, and if you ask me about the year, I’m pretty confident that it’s from sometime between 2009 and 2012.


Around six months ago, when I really started becoming familiar with at least the basics of our wine list, I had this mistaken idea that I actually knew something about wine, like in a more general sense. I got tricked. By working day in and day out at my restaurant, I just sort of started to absorb these random wine facts. It was totally unintentional, almost like osmosis.

And so I’d be out at a restaurant and I’d hear a familiar phrase or word used to describe a wine that I kind of thought we maybe had at our restaurant, and I’d be like, wow, I’ve got this. But that false sense of knowing what I was talking about would unravel as soon as I’d look at the wine list, bottle after bottle of something that I’d never heard about, and then whoever I’d be with would see me studying the menu intently, maybe they’d throw me a wine question. I’d just have to pull something out of my ass, “Hmm, yeah, this is definitely very … oaky. Uh … dry. Yeah, classic … uh, that’s definitely a classic California … you know what? I think I’m just going to have a beer.”

I’m at the point now where I’m at least somewhat self-aware of what’s going on, that even though I don’t know much about wines, like I said, at work I can deftly maneuver our list to the point where, when mixed with my natural ability to bullshit about pretty much everything, I can at times give the impression that I actually know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine.

Which isn’t to say that I’m immune to occasionally showing my true colors. Like the other night, I had this party of four, and one of the guys went straight for the wine list. I saw him looking way past the typical cheap stuff, and so I got a little nervous, prepared all of my nonsense qualifiers in case I was questioned, “high acidity, very tannic, old-world style,” but he didn’t ask me about anything, he just pointed to a bottle and said, “This one.”

When I got to the computer to ring it in, I noticed the price, it was like over a hundred and fifty dollars. So I started freaking out a little, I mean, I serve wine on a nightly basis. I rarely if ever make a mistake handling the bottles, but just knowing how much this stuff cost, just imagining me having to go to my manager and be like, “OK, try not to get mad …” it was enough to put just the right amount of added pressure into the mix to make me overthink the situation, to do something unnecessary.

For some reason, I thought, OK, this is an expensive bottle of wine, I should decant it. Decanting a wine is when you pour a whole bottle into a decanter, a large wide-bottomed glass jar with a thin spout for pouring. I think that the idea is to allow the wine to react with oxygen faster, or something, I don’t really know, and I couldn’t tell you if it actually did anything besides showing off to the rest of the restaurant that you ordered a bottle of wine worth decanting.

Anyway I got to the table with this heavy glass piece in addition to the bottle and four glasses. The uncorking went smoothly enough, which, if I were going to make a huge mistake, I would have expected it to be here, the cork not coming out right, or me splashing a little as I popped it out. But it was fine.

Then I started dumping the contents into the decanter. And as soon as I did, I realized, there are four people here, that’s basically the entire bottle of wine in four glasses. Why am I decanting this? I’m pouring it into a receptacle that’s then going to be immediately emptied.

I looked at the host and said, “So, should I pour now or do you want me to let it breathe for a little while?” And he was polite, he didn’t try to make me feel bad or anything, but it was obvious that he realized just like I did that this whole process was a little awkward. “No, you can just pour.” And so I poured, four glasses, grabbed the empty bottle and the decanter and disappeared into the kitchen.

Halfway through the meal, the guy ordered a second bottle, and I knew I’d just pour straight from the bottle this time. But he didn’t leave it to chance, telling me, “and don’t worry about the decanting.”

And so yeah, like I said, he was nice. I’m probably making a bigger deal out of the whole situation than it actually was. But it was a humbling experience, a reminder that, just because I might get away with pretending to know what I’m doing ninety-five percent of the time, I need to always be prepared to confront that other five percent, those times when it’s obvious that, just because I can name three glasses of Cabernet, I really don’t know anything about wine.

At your service

I work in a pretty busy restaurant, and there are tons of managers, everybody’s in charge of me. “Rob, come over here and do this,” or, “Rob, go over there and do that,” and whatever, that’s my job description I guess, server, servant, and I can already hear the, “If you don’t like it, get another job,” rebuttals, which is fair enough, I mean, I could always just leave. But I’ve left restaurant jobs before, it’s always such a pain in the ass showing up at a new place, trying to make a good first impression, starting over somewhere else from the bottom.

Waitress carrying dirty plates in restaurant, rear view

And yeah, I don’t necessarily like complaining, but every once in a while it’ll just build up, all of those little interactions at work, constantly getting micromanaged by people that you see every day, only at work, this cast of characters in my life that serve no other purpose than to direct me from point A to point B.

I have a lot of energy. At work, I don’t even necessarily try, but I move around the restaurant pretty quickly. Some kitchen manager will ask me to grab a stack of plates and move it from here to there, and I’ll do it, I get it done without breaking a sweat. And that’s doesn’t even really bother me. It’s when these little orders and commands start to pile up, when I feel that, regardless of how fast I get something done, there’s no end to little chores and constant directions.

“Rob, go get me a stack of plates. Rob, go fold this pile of linens. Rob, get me another roll of printer paper.” After a while I start to feel like, the faster and more efficient that I complete every one of these little tasks, all I’m doing is making more work for myself. Restaurant bosses hate to see their employees standing idle for even a second. And so, as soon as I open up my mouth to start small-talk with a coworker, a manager is guaranteed to show up, to interrupt me midsentence, “Rob, can you make sure that the silverware is polished?”

Yeah, I get the argument that there’s virtue in work. Sure, I have this picture in my head of me marching around the world putting my best foot forward, giving everything that I do one hundred percent, just for the sake of giving it my all, a testament to my admirable work ethic.

But on a day-to-day basis, especially on days where I’m not really feeling it, where I wish that I didn’t have to still be waiting tables at a restaurant, running around, the expediter is telling me to back up ice, and on the way to the ice machine, a customer stops me in my tracks, he lifts up his soda glass and, in between bites of food, he says simply, “More Diet Coke,” and on my way to get his refill, I’ve got another two people in the kitchen looking directly at me, “Is anybody backing up ice?” obviously you just asked me to back up ice, obviously I don’t have the ice, why are you forming it as this general question? Why don’t you just give me a second and I’ll back up ice?

Yeah, on days like that, it’ll get to me, the ceaseless busy work, the realization that, the faster I move, the more work I’ll ultimately have to do. And for what? A few dollars an hour? That’s what really bugs me about restaurant work. The house isn’t even paying me a living wage, and yet they’re acting under the expectation that I’m to work under their absolute obedience, the customers’ absolute obedience, everybody in the restaurant is my boss, but the only ones contributing to my making a living are the people who, after they’ve settled up with the house, maybe they’ll throw me a tip. Probably. Almost definitely. But still, maybe. There’s always the potential for a maybe not.

And so what can I do? “Boss, I gave table thirteen excellent service, but they didn’t leave a tip.”

“Oh well, better luck next time. Can you throw these boxes away?”

So some days, and I hate doing it, but I’ll drag my feet. It’s super passive aggressive, and I doubt anybody’s really paying attention enough to even realize that I’m upset. But that’s the only real control that I have over my day, to just take it a little easier. Because it’s not like if I work really hard they’re going to let me then chill out for a second. No, it’s right back to work, there are always a million things that need to be done, no way that I’ll be able to do everything, and so I might as well just catch my breath, walk a little slower, try to keep those negative thoughts out of my head, just doing my best to be in a better mood.