It finally happened. After years of working in restaurants, last week I was out being social and I let the needs of my server become more important than my need to be served. The seed of servitude sprouted and grew a weed. It was Sunday night during President’s Day weekend. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant on a three-day weekend knows that the Sunday night is basically another Saturday night, so the restaurant has to be staffed appropriately. The place I was at did not staff appropriately. It was my neighborhood wine bar and I was there with friends to celebrate a birthday. It was hard enough for me to be there since they only serve wine and beer but when we walked in, the place was wrecked; tables overflowing with dirty dishes, the bar covered in glasses, the one waitress running around like a processed chicken with its processed head cut off. The bartender was in the weeds and people were crowded around him desperate for another glass of wine, myself included.
I waited patiently at the bar until he had time to take my order. As I stood there, I looked at the two-top by the window waiting for someone to take their order. There was food in the window that was on its way to dying. A nearby four-top had so many empty glasses on the table that they didn’t have any place to rest their elbows. I saw two people walk in and scan the room looking for a table to sit at that wasn’t dirty. My heart started to beat quicker. Part of the accelerated pace was due to the fact that I needed a Cosmo and my body knew it was only going to get prosecco, but the main reason was because I was feeling the stress that the waitress was under. Eventually, I got my two glasses of prosecco and went back to my seat. (I got two because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna wait that long along again.)
“This waitress sucks,” said one of my friends. “I ordered a panini like an hour ago.”
“She’s really in the weeds,” I said, defending her. “Has it really been an hour?” In my heart I knew it probably had been about twenty minutes and there was very good chance that the panini died a slow painful death in the window and had to be re-fired.
The sandwich finally made it to the table with a side of apology. As the waitress walked through the crowd, I watched people struggling to get her attention. It hurt me. I couldn’t take it any more. I excused myself from my friends and went to the waitress. “Hi, I’m a waiter at the restaurant down the block. You are so in the weeds and I want to help. What can I do?”
“Oh no, it’s fine. We normally have two servers but one called in and then we got slammed.”
The bartender looked at me and realized he knew me from the neighborhood. “Let me clear some tables,” I told him. “Or run food. What do you need?” They looked at each other for a second and then the waitress said, “You are an angel.”
“Where do you put your dirty dishes?” I asked. She pointed to a bus tub under the bar. “Got it,” I said. I fanned across the room and cleared three or four tables. I bussed the four-top and cleared the bar. Meanwhile, I looked at my friends who were giving me a “what the fuck are you doing?” look. I didn’t care. These people needed my help and I was there for them. We are all servers and we help each other, right? Right? They seemed appreciative. After the room was in good shape again, I went back to my table to finish my prosecco. I had done good.
Thinking back, I wonder if it was the right thing to do. Had I been in the weeds and someone offered to help me, I too would have been resistant. Or more like, “Sit your ass down, bitch, you’re in my fucking way.” I would have felt embarrassed that a customer was helping me. Maybe it was wrong of me, but my waiter gene took over and I simply had to clear some tables.
When I went to order another prosecco later that night, I thought it might possibly be on the house. It wasn’t. Maybe I overstepped the boundaries. Maybe they thought I was a presumptuous asshole trying to make them look stupid. It wasn’t my intent at all. I just wanted to help. Is that so wrong?