Tag Archives: restaurant

Y’all got Dr. Pepper?

I always think it’s funny when people from Texas visit New York and try to order Dr. Pepper everywhere they go. This isn’t something that I picked up on right away. It’s only after years of working at restaurants in the city, thinking it really weird that every once in a while I’d get those out-of-towners who asked me for a Dr. Pepper, as if it was just the most natural thing in the world, giving me looks of confusion when I’d respond, “Sorry, we don’t have Dr. Pepper.”


Dr. Pepper exists up here, but it’s not like you’re ever going to find it outside of a grocery store or a Seven-Eleven. It’s just Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if restaurants had more of a soda selection, but I don’t sit down at random restaurants and start asking for cream soda or something equally obscure.

You travel away from home, maybe you don’t know. I certainly don’t know. I worked at this touristy place for a few years and I was initially really confused when Southerners started asking me, “Ya’ll got sweet tea?” I’d be like, “Well, we have iced tea.” I didn’t know there was a difference. But I guess if you add sugar to iced tea, you call it sweet tea, and everybody just kind of expects it.

Whatever, it’s all just funny regional differences. But again, it wasn’t until I actually met some Texans that I eventually figured out that it’s a Texas thing, Dr. Pepper, that apparently this stuff is more popular than Coke is in the rest of the country. Which is crazy, to think that there’s an alternate reality out there, where everybody speaks the same language, right, but Coke isn’t number one, Dr. Pepper is.

I like Dr. Pepper. I can’t tell you exactly what it tastes like, but then again, I can’t really tell you what Coke tastes like either. But they definitely taste different. Maybe I’d like it if we switched to Dr. Pepper. Coke is great and everything, but I don’t know, I feel like a lifetime of cola has sort of dampened my ability to appreciate it anymore. It doesn’t taste like anything anymore, not really, it’s just sweet.

One time recently I had this couple sit down at one of my tables at the restaurant. The guy had this big beard and when I asked him what he wanted to drink, he asked for a Dr. Pepper is that Texas drawl. And I smiled and I said, “Sorry pardner, you’re not in Texas anymore.” And he kind of just looked at me, and his girlfriend or wife or whatever just said, “That’s OK, he’ll have a Coke.”

And it sucked, because I wasn’t trying to be a dick or anything, I was just trying to be friendly. Like friendly funny. Like yeah, I’m making fun of you a little bit, but it’s all good-natured, nothing to get upset over. That’s what I was going for anyway, but I don’t know, every once in a while I’ll play it back in my head. Was I coming across as a jerk? Was it my intonation? Was it the whole “pardner” thing?

Whatever, there’s one thing that I can totally appreciate about Southerners and Texans. Not once have they every asked me for a Pepsi. At least we can all agree on that. Coke, fine. Dr. Pepper, yeah, I’d be willing to switch to Dr. Pepper. But Pepsi? Forget about it. Whenever someone asks me, “Is Pepsi OK?” I say, “No, Pepsi is not OK. Pepsi is never OK.” And usually that gets a laugh, but I’m not joking, I’m actually trying to be a little bit of a dick, if only to get the importance of my message across.

Green olives, a lot of them

When I’m waiting tables, I try to tell myself to chill out, that whenever I find myself getting bent out of shape, it’s usually my attitude that’s the source of the problem. Like I don’t like getting bossed around, or I don’t like having to make an unnecessary trip into the kitchen. All of that stuff is my job, and if I can just suck it up and not take it as a personal insult every time someone asks me for a Diet Coke, I’ll get through the shift a lot happier, I’ll probably be genuinely more pleasant, all of that nonsense about well-being and inner-peace.


But every once in a while I can’t, and I feel justified in my anger. The other day I was in the dining room, and this party of four or five got sat at one of my coworker’s tables. I went over to get a drink order, which I’m happy to do, not only because it’s nice to help out, but because that’s a rule at our restaurant, that you have to go over and get a drink order even if it’s not your table.

For a while it’s a mostly painless interaction. Coke. Water. Coke. Diet Coke. But then I get to this lady at end, and she tells me, “I want a Diet Coke, and then I want lemons on the side, but a lot of them, OK, a lot of lemons, and also I want green olives, OK, and I want a lot of those too.” And then guy to her right was like, “Coke.”

But I couldn’t get past her order, because it didn’t make sense. “I’m sorry, you said you wanted lemons and … ?” and she replied, “Yeah, a lot of them. OK. A whole plate.” So I said to her, “Right, OK, but it was lemons and what else?” At this point I really wished I hadn’t had the misfortune of dealing with any of this. “Green olives,” she confirmed, “A lot.”

Like I said, I’m happy to help out, to an extent. But this was already getting a little crazy. And yeah, if it were my table, and I was maybe looking at a tip heading my way, sure, I’d probably be a little more inclined to accommodate crazy requests. But as it stood, this was just a difficult situation that I could tell wasn’t going end with me grabbing a few olives.

This was during the downtime in between lunch and dinner service, so even though the restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, the whole place was running on not much more than a skeleton crew of servers and managers. There was no bartender on duty, so I had to go behind the bar and fish around to find where they kept the olives. And then I had to skewer them on these little sticks. It was so annoying, all of this on top of their sodas, I had to cut up all of those lemons that she wanted along with her olives.

When I went to run everything out, again, it’s not like anybody was around to help me out, and so I had to make a few trips. On my first go, I had the drinks and the plate of lemons. I left the olives on the bar so I could come right back. When I went to set everything down at the table, the lady didn’t even give me a second, she was just like, “Excuse me? Can I get a plate of green olives? Like a lot of …”

And I just walked back to the bar, because I didn’t want to risk giving her a dirty look, something that communicated nonverbally, “Are you fucking kidding me lady? Do you see my hands totally full with all of these drinks? Can you give me more than maybe five seconds to satisfy your completely unreasonable demands?”

I came back and dropped off the plate of olives. There were three skewers with three olives speared to each. I didn’t even have a chance to set the plate down in front of her when she grabbed one of the skewers and started chowing down. Jesus Christ, I wanted absolutely nothing else to do with this table. What was wrong with this person? Why didn’t anybody else at her table tell her stop acting like a complete crazy person?

This took up way too much of my time, and I found myself immediately running errands for my actual tables. Maybe five minutes later, I had just bused like six plates and was heading back to the kitchen when the olive lady started waving at me from across a row of booths. She held up her empty plate and said in a voice that projected across half of the restaurant, “Can I get some more olives? A lot more, please.”And I just nodded, put my head down, dropped off the plates in the dishwasher, and I disappeared in one of the storage closets. I couldn’t deal with this. I was about to lose my mind over this lady asking for olives. And I didn’t want to do anything stupid, so I just hid. Hopefully her server would walk by the table soon enough and he or she could deal with these insane requests.

Because seriously, what the fuck? You want olives so badly? Is this because you’re crazy? Or are you just super cheap and you’re looking to get a free appetizer out of massive quantities of cocktail garnishes? I remember one time I had a similar experience where a customer kept asking for pickles, more pickles, a whole bowl full. Finally a manager told me,
“You know what? Tell her we’re charging her five dollars for pickles,” and of course the lady said no, but she was pissed, and she left me a shitty tip.

It’s not like you go out to a restaurant to eat olives. Just go to a grocery store and buy a bottle. Go to your house, make sure no one else is home to see what a lunatic you are, and have at it, eat the whole bottle. Drink the brine after you’re done. Everybody does crazy things, that’s fine, I’m not judging. OK, I guess I am judging a little. But leave the rest of us out of it, OK? I’ll get you a Diet Coke, I’ll run your food back and forth, I’m pretty malleable in terms of dealing with whatever you want me to do. But I’m going to stop what I’m doing to get you another plate of olives? Get lost, all right, you’re fucking nuts.

Happy birthday to my best friend, Gelo

I want to dedicate this post to my best friend, Gelo. Happy birthday, buddy. I hope this is the best birthday you’ve ever had in your life. I hope that it’s the best birthday that anybody’s ever had. If you could somehow combine all of the greatest birthdays ever experienced by any human being who’s ever lived, I’d give anything for your birthday this year to make that hypothetical super birthday seem like a day stuck in the waiting room at the dentist, a visit where you have to get all of your wisdom teeth removed, and unfortunately you’ve got an allergy to Novocain and laughing gas, and so the oral surgeon is just like, “Well, sorry, but they’ve got to come out one way or another.”


Gelo is my best friend. And that’s not a term I throw around lightly. He’s the bartender at the restaurant where I wait tables. I know that I have a tendency to exaggerate, sometimes, but I’m not even kidding you, not only is Gelo the best bartender in the restaurant, I’m pretty sure  the best bartender in New York City. This guy makes picture perfect cocktails sometimes when he’s not even paying attention. There’s a little printer that sits at the end of the bar, it spits out drink orders as the waiters and waitresses punch them into the computer. It can’t even keep up with Gelo. It’s like, before it even has a chance to finish printing the ticket, bam, the cocktail is already made, perfectly garnished, just exactly the right amount of ice.

For real, I’ve actually had customers get up and walk out of the restaurant when they found out that Gelo wasn’t working that particular night. One time this guy ordered a Manhattan, and after he took the first sip, he made this really pained face. Once he finished choking it down, he looked up at me in disgust, “Where’s Gelo? Who made this? Was it Sal?” And yeah, it was Sal. I pointed over to the bar and Sal made a friendly waving gesture. And please, don’t get me wrong, Sal’s a great bartender. It’s just that, Gelo’s the best bartender. He’s so far ahead of his colleagues in both proficiency and speed that even the second best bartender looks like he’s never learned to make a gin and tonic by comparison.

But he’s not just the world’s greatest mixologist, he’s also the best friend I’ve ever had. I was actually a little surprised when I found out that his birthday was today, because I’d always just kind of assumed that we were secretly long lost twins separated at birth. It’s the only way to really describe the bond that we share. Like, when I say best friends, yes, I mean it, he’s my best friend. But the English language doesn’t do justice in providing words even remotely capable of describing our connection. Maybe we’re not actual twins, but we’re definitely soul twins. Like we have twin souls. Soul twins can have different birthdays, I’m pretty sure. Sometimes I wonder if we’re not sharing one soul … you know what? It doesn’t even matter.

What matters is, Gelo, I’m seriously so lucky to have you as a best friend. The other night at work, it was really busy, I mean, the rest of us were busy, Gelo’s never busy, because he’s so good at his job. In fact, if you look at him sometimes, you might think, why is that guy the only one not running around like a crazy person? It’s because he’s already made all of the drinks. He does an entire team’s worth of work in like ten minutes. Anyway, he calls me over, I’m in the weeds, I’m having a tough time, and he hands me a cup, “Hey man, enjoy.”

It was a milkshake. I don’t even know how he had time to make me a milkshake, because yes, we have ice cream, but there’s no blender. Did he blend it by hand? Or did he sneak in a really tiny immersion blender? And it was the best milkshake I’ve ever had in my life. One sip, and time seemed to slow down around me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel trapped under a list of twenty-five things I needed to do at the same time. I just quickly organized my tasks and executed them without getting stressed out. Gelo, thanks man, that milkshake was so fucking delicious. If only I could be drinking it right now, but it’s OK, because knowing that I’ll get to carry around that memory, that first sip of the tastiest vanilla milkshake anybody’s ever had, it’s like, I’m content, happy in the knowledge that our friendship is the best best friendship anybody’s ever had. I hope you get everything you ever wanted for your birthday this year. And then I hope you look at the giftwrap, it’ll say, “To Gelo, You’re my best goddamn friend in the world. From, Rob.”

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.

Grinds in the coffee

I make my own coffee at home. It’s nothing fancy, just plain drip coffee. And while most of the time there’s nothing to say really, because it’s just a regular coffee machine making regular pots of coffee, every once in a while I’ll screw it up. My mistake won’t be noticeable right away, I’ll pour myself a cup and everything will look OK enough. But as soon as I add some milk, it’s like one of those trick pens that reveals a secret message, that it wasn’t just coffee that I poured out of the pot, but also dozens of chunky coffee grinds floating on the surface.


It’s just such a bummer, like I don’t even know how or why it happens, but it does. Not always, and not often enough that I’d consider really trying to figure out what’s going on, but just every now and then, like oh yeah, coffee with grinds in it, I almost forgot I’ve got to deal with this on a semi-regular basis.

I’ve got a bunch of theories as to what causes the grinds to make their way into my coffee, but they’re all just kind of half-thoughts, nothing conclusive. At first I had the idea that I wasn’t grinding my coffee fine enough, that after the water gets sucked up through the base of the machine, it then sprays over the basket of grinds, and since it’s all so granular and loose, it causes everything to spill out of the filter, into the pot.

So I started grinding my coffee very finely, holding down the top of the grinder until upon examination of the results, you’d never be able to tell that this dust ever came from something remotely resembling a whole bean. And nothing changed. It was still pretty decent coffee, for the most part, except that every once in a while it would still be polluted with grinds.

I don’t know what to do, or what to think either. I looked toward my various restaurant jobs to see if maybe the professionals were doing something that I wasn’t in preparing and serving large quantities of coffee. A quick tour of our coffee prep station gave me a few insights. Like, espresso is ground very finely, and you need a big espresso machine that shoots highly pressured water capable of breaching the tightly packed grounds. Drip coffee was looser, so everything could kind of make its way through the maze of bigger sized coffee crumbs.

This didn’t help at all, because like I said, I’d already tried both methods, and neither of them prevented the inevitable dirty pot. I thought back further, to the restaurant I worked at in high school. We didn’t grind our own beans. Everything came pre-ground in these vacuum packed bags. And everything worked, for the most part. The thing about this particular machine was the glass pots. Every once in a while, you’d brew a batch and a thin layer of tan foam would accumulate at the top.

“It’s the fucking coffee grinds!” my foul-mouthed but insanely good-natured boss Marcello would scream at us from across the restaurant, “You put the fucking grinds in the wrong fucking way and now there’s grinds in the fucking coffee! Throw it away! You! What are you looking at? Do something, lazy motherfucker!”

I swear, despite Marcello’s liberal use of the f-bomb, both in private and directly in front of all of his clientele, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked for in my life. But even his profanity driven work ethic was unable to prevent the occasional grindy pot of coffee.

And yeah, it’s not pleasant. But what are you going to do about it? Where I work now, you can’t see if there’s a layer of foam, and aside from sticking my fingers in each cup of boiling hot coffee, there’s no way to tell if what I’m serving is untainted liquid. Every once in a while, I’ll see a hand waving in the air from the other side of the dining room. I’ll walk over and a customer will be livid, “There’s grinds in this coffee!”

And trust me, I love my coffee, so I get it. But what are you really going to do? Because there’s no guaranteed solution. When it happens to me in my house, yeah, I used to sometimes wash out the filter and run the whole pot through the machine again. Or if I didn’t feel like going through that whole ordeal, I might skim a piece of paper towel over the surface, try to catch as much particulate without absorbing my entire cup.

But even that is so much more of a hassle than I want to endure. Now I’ll just suck up as much of the grinds as I can into the first sip, and swallow them as fast as I can, before I have to feel them on my tongue, or stuck in between my teeth. Because whatever, sometimes you get grinds in your coffee. Am I going to get pissed off about it? Or expend a bunch of unnecessary energy trying to fix a really minor inconvenience? No, it’s not a big deal. It’s a cup of coffee. Hopefully tomorrow it’ll turn out a little better.