One Time at Bennigan’s…

I love my Mammaw Lillian. I don’t necessarily love being 22-years old and living with her in a suburb of Houston, but this is the path I am on. In an effort to save money so I can move to New York City, I’m living in my grandfather’s former bedroom and blasting Madonna and Broadway musicals in an effort to pretend I’m in my own studio apartment. Soon, I will start my new job. After a few years of working in restaurants as either a busser, food runner or four unfortunate weeks as a dishwasher in high school, I am now taking the extraordinary step of wearing an apron for a living with my first ever serving job at a chain restaurant across the street from the mall. Bennigan’s has some serious expectations when it comes to menu preparedness and I must take three tests before I am allowed on the floor. Every night for two weeks, I sit on Mammaw’s couch and she quizzes me with a set of flash cards that have every single ingredient for every single dish on their extensive menu. By the time I take the test, she knows it better than I do.

“Mammaw,” I yell as I run into the house after acing it. “I passed! I got 95%!”

“Oh, baby, I knew you could do it. I’m so proud of you!”

She pats both of my cheeks with her hands, slightly harder than is comfortable and gives me a hug as if I had just passed the bar exam.

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” she tells me. “Want me to make a chocolate pie to celebrate?”

She doesn’t wait for me to respond because the answer to that question is always yes. She heads to the kitchen and gets out her rolling pin and creates the most amazing dessert without looking at a recipe. It’s about a thousand times better than the brownie bottom pie from work that I know all the ingredients to.

At the restaurant, we are encouraged to have “flair” so that we can express our individuality. Flair can be anything from a bandanna to a button to a pair of suspenders, but one night, when I see Mammaw sitting at her sewing machine, I have an idea.

“Can you help me make an apron for work?” I ask her.

“Of course. I have big ol’ bag of fabric in that closet right there. You wanna get it down for me?”

Inside the bag are dozens and dozens of scraps that maybe someday will be part of a quilt. I find a piece that speaks to me and we spread it out on the dining room table. It’s floral with hints of pink and purple which would be awful as part of a quilt, but will be perfect as an apron that will set me apart from all the other servers at work.

“Now, go get me your apron so we can use it as a pattern. This’ll be easy.”

Watching her with my apron and then cutting the floral fabric, I flash back to when I used to stay with Mammaw as a kid for a couple of weeks at a time in the summer. That’s when she first taught me how to sew. On one visit in about 1978, we made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls together. Andy was never quite finished and he spent the rest of his doll life only semi-clothed. He now lives in a box in my parent’s attic, still half naked and his face not fully embroidered, but we worked on our dolls for a good two weeks.

“Honey, can you thread this needle for me?” she’d ask. “I can’t see it.”

My eleven-year old eyes and nimble fingers deftly threaded the needle and I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t able to do it herself. Mom and Dad would come to drive me back to Victoria at the end of my visits. I always hated saying goodbye. I’d sit in the backseat and cry because I was so scared it would be the last time I would see her. She was my world when I was a kid and now over twenty years later, I’m here again sitting at her sewing machine. The two of us examine the apron and within twenty minutes, I have the best possible piece of flair for my new job.

“Everyone is going to be so jealous of my apron,” I tell her as I tie it around my waist, so happy to finally be a waiter.

A few days later, I’m at work when Mammaw and her church friend Irene show up for lunch and sit in my section.

“You see that apron?” Mammaw says to Irene. “He made it all by himself.”

“Well, we made it together,” I add. “And a couple of other people want one too, so I told them I’d make them one.”

“Oh, it sounds like you can start your own business. I’m so proud of you.”

Mammaw is always proud of me. The two of them look over the menu, but I notice that Mammaw’s look is purely cursory, seeing that she knows it just as well as I do.

“I think I want the Oriental Chicken Salad,” says Irene.

“That does sound good,” Mammaw tells her, “but I don’t think I’d like the crunchy fried onions.”

“Oh, are there crunchy fried onions on it?” Irene asks me.

“There are,” Mammaw answers for me. “And mixed greens, red cabbage, scallions, mandarin oranges, tomatoes, fried chicken and a peanut dressing.”

Irene looks at me for confirmation and I nod my head. Mammaw Lillian knows her shit. They eventually decide on the Oriental Chicken Salad for Irene while Mammaw orders the Monte Christo, which we both always thought sounded so delicious when we studied the menu together. The tip they leave me is by far the best one of the day. It’s almost as much as I made on my first day on the floor when I walked with sixteen dollars.

When I get home, I go through the bag of fabric to decide what to use for my first custom apron orders. “No two will be alike,” I had told my coworkers. Deciding against any of the floral pattern that my own apron is made from, I come across a small snippet of red and white gingham that I hadn’t seen since 1978 when Raggedy Ann and Andy were at the sewing machine. I decide that every apron I make will have at least one piece of this fabric, an homage to Mammaw and her sewing skills and also that she is the one who drilled this restaurant’s menu into my brain. Periodically, she checks on my work, approving each cut and stitch and by the end of the night I have two aprons that will soon be considered the most awesome of flair.

The next morning, Pamela and Tim are thrilled with my work. They each pay me five dollars and for the rest of the day, whenever I look at their aprons and catch a glimpse of that red and white gingham, my heart swells with love for Mammaw.

Living with her is only temporary and there are times I can’t wait to be out from under the watchful eye of my grandmother, but I hope the six months I plan to spend with her will permanently imprint all of my memories about her. I never want to forget her laugh or how she talks on the telephone or how she always balances her checkbook with a calculator and then does it again manually just to make sure the calculator was right. As an adult, I know I’ll never have it as good as I do with her, living with someone who truly enjoys caring for me. When I get my own apartment, there won’t be anyone there to make a chocolate pie or to lovingly pat my cheeks to the point of slight discomfort. And when I get another restaurant job, there will not be anyone as good as Mammaw Lillian is when it comes to using flashcards to memorize a new menu.

This story is part of what I hope will become my second book.

An Open Letter to the Girls Who Can’t Tip

Dear Grace, Sophie and Sophia,

I am writing this letter on behalf of your awesome waiter (Rachel). You remember Rachel, don’t you? She’s the one who served you guys and then in return you left her a little note and an origami lotus flower. The reason I am writing this instead of her is because Rachel’s job probably prohibits her from discussing on social media about what goes on at her restaurant. Or maybe Rachel is simply a mature human being who doesn’t bother sinking to your depths. Lucky for you, I am not prohibited from speaking about it and I am also 100% immature.

Allow me to refresh your memory as to what you wrote in your note:

Dear Awesome Waiter, (Rachel!)

We couldn’t leave a good tip because we don’t have enough money. Please except (sic) this origami lotus as our condolences.

♥️, Grace, Sophie, Sophia

I will ignore the fact that you don’t know the difference between “accept and “except” and just chalk that up to good ol’ fashioned stupidity. I also question your use of the word “condolences.” I don’t think it means exactly what you think it does. In addition, I would like to point out that you added the word “good” to your note when describing the tip which clearly implies that you know a folded up piece of paper with a tiny heart drawn on top of it is anything but a good tip.

Girls, what the hell was the note and origami for? You know it isn’t going to help Rachel pay a bill and she certainly isn’t going to be able to tip out a portion of it to her busser. The only reason you left the note was to make yourselves feel better about stiffing a server who you claimed was “awesome.” Rachel doesn’t want your note. In fact, I venture to say that 99.9% of servers don’t want it.

Here is what we do want: a tip. Something that spends. And if you go into a restaurant knowing you don’t have enough money to leave a tip, then please do your server a favor as soon as you sit down. Tell your server you don’t plan on tipping. I know, I know, it takes a lot of courage to be this open and honest with your server, but isn’t it more fair? Maybe Rachel could have spent her time getting more lemon wedges for another table instead of for your cheap asses. Servers live on tips and if you’re not going to leave one, we should have the option to ignore the hell out of you. Sure, we’ll still bring your food and fill your water (one time) and bring the check, but we’d rather do that for someone who might appreciate the service. Leaving an apologetic note at the end of your meal is cowardly and you know it, girls.

Grace, Sophie and Sophia, I hope you see this. And I hope that someone you know sees it too so they can tell all of your friends how cheap you are. No amount of folder paper flowers or little drawn hearts is going to change the fact that the three of you are exactly the kind of customer that so many servers dislike. Grow up and tip. Or at least be honest with your server. We don’t have time for this bullshit.

Mustard and mayo,

The Bitchy Waiter

What’s Your Worst Server Nightmare?

It’s been a minute since I have written about the one thing all servers share, no matter what kind of restaurant they work in or how long they’ve been wearing an apron: server nightmares. Once you work in a restaurant, you can be certain that server dreams will forever be a part of your life, just like herpes or glitter after a very unfortunate crafting accident.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting the new girlfriend of my brother. As we were getting to know one another and I shamelessly plugged my own blog, she informed me that she too had been a server years earlier. She wore the apron for over a decade, so waiting tables was still in her blood and subconscious. I didn’t get close enough to know for sure, but I can only hope that the smell of waiting tables had long since been washed off her skin and out of her hair. The topic of server nightmares soon came up and she informed me of the worst one she has ever had. Unlike mine, where the restaurant is as big as the eye can see and the kitchen is like a mirage that’s always out of reach, her’s involved a menu that was written in Sanskrit.

“Damn, this girl’s smart,” I instantly thought. “My brain isn’t complicated enough to create a menu out of Sanskrit.”

“And the menu had sixteen different sizes of orange juice,” she said.

My blood turned cold at the very thought of people pointing to a menu that was written in a forgotten language and then having to decipher which size orange juice they wanted. “How would you memorize all those sizes?” I wondered. And where or where do you store all of the the glasses for that? Think about what your sidework would be like if it was your job to stock the sixteen different kinds of orange juice glasses. It makes me shudder.

The topic of conversation turned to other things, but I eventually steered it back to the sixteen sizes of orange juice and we began to come up with what the sizes would be called. We got through about five sizes, but then that night, as I laid in bed unable to fall asleep, I began to come up with the remaining eleven sizes of this nightmare orange juice scenario:

  1. Micro mini
  2. Teeny Tiny
  3. Venti
  4. Kinda small
  5. Teacup
  6. Medium-ish
  7. Mid-Range
  8. Toddler
  9. Orange
  10. 6-9 Months
  11. 7 3/4
  12. Life Size
  13. Regular
  14. 36 x 30
  15. Double D
  16. Todd

Surprisingly, I did not have a server dream that night. Maybe by actively embracing the horror of sixteen different sizes of orange juice and keeping it solidly in my consciousness, I kept it from seeping into my subconscious that night. Besides that, a Sanskrit menu and sixteen sizes of orange juice is Betsy’s horror show, not mine. The next time I have a sever nightmare, it will be my  familiar mile-long dining room with a kitchen I can never reach. That’s my own personal nightmare and I’ll let Betsy keep hers.

What about you? What’s your server nightmare?

The Reality for Servers on Valentine’s Day

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Cupid sharpens his arrow readying it to puncture the left ventricle of the heart which is where all the love is stored. Restaurant servers are also preparing, girding their loins for one of the busiest days of the year. The 14th of February falls on a Friday this year which is a bit of a disappointment for servers. We like it better when the restaurant is inexplicably crammed full of lovebirds on a normally slow Tuesday night instead of a Friday night when the restaurant will be busy anyway. Most couples have a pretty good expectation of what their Valentine’s Day will be like, but servers also know what to expect on this day of romance. From restaurant to restaurant, it’s the same thing every year, more regular than Old Faithful after a spoonful of organic psyllium husk.

Without fail, a server somewhere in the world will be asked to participate in a marriage proposal that might involve dropping a ring into a glass of champagne or carefully placing it onto a flourless chocolate torte to be served at the precise moment when love is in the air. Coordination is key for this to go off without a hitch. When cued, the server will be expected to forsake all their other tables and shine the spotlight of love on this most important of couples. If the one doing the proposing is nervous, the server is twice as skittish, because in addition to keeping track of the orders of seven different tables and how many fried artichoke heart appetizer specials remain, they are also tasked with the responsibility of keeping track of a ring in their apron that is probably worth of 1 to 3 months of their customer’s salary. If the answer to the popped question is yes, the server will immediately assume the role of engagement photographer so Instagram can be alerted to the big news. If the answer is no, the server gets to turn the table over more quickly than anticipated.

Servers can also expect to see at least one lone regular who comes into the restaurant every week to sit at the same place and order the same thing. Upon arrival, this person will realize two facts: the menu has fewer choices, but is more expensive and there is no place for a single person to sit in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. This person will begrudgingly sit at the bar and order their usual prosciutto pizza only to have it arrive in the shape of heart confirming that going to a restaurant alone on Valentine’s day is no fun. When they ask for the bill, it will come with two Hershey Kisses because the bartender thinks it’s cute.

Finally, somewhere there will be a server who will witness the most disappointing Valentine’s Day of someone’s life. A woman will enter the restaurant carrying a glittery, plastic rose with flashing LED lights and her face will already show the finest wrinkles of disappointment. Minute by minute, those fine lines will turn into fissures of discontent and the server will watch it play-by-play. When her date announces he’s not in the mood for champagne and orders a beer instead, the romance sheds a delicate layer of hope. When he refuses the “Steak & Lobster for Two” and instead orders the fish and chips and a burger so they can split it, all hope is lost. Still the server will persist, convincing them to order the strawberry shortcake dessert garnished with gold leaf. By the time the woman receives a red teddy bear that says “I Wuv You” and her date asks to split the check, the romance will have shriveled up and died on the vine.

At the end of the night, the couples will all go home for obligatory love-making while the single folks will go home to either bask in their single hood or wallow in it. Servers will reset the dining room, polish the silverware and sip their well deserved shift drink as they count their tips. You can keep your roses, your candy, your stuffed animals, and your sentimental Hallmark cards full of mushy expressions of ever-lasting love. We servers will always look at Valentine’s Day as the shift that fills our hearts and aprons with the one thing that will always be there for us: money.

Servers DO Want Rocks For Tips

I guess I’m an ungrateful, repulsive asshole who wouldn’t know gratitude if it came up and tickled my taint. A couple of days ago, I posted a photo on ye olde Facebook page that brought people up in arms. It was a photo of a tip someone named Kim left her server at Golden Corral. The bill was clearly visible as $35 and the tip consisted of what appeared to be two dollars and a rock. The rock was hand-painted, presumably by Kim. I thought it looked like an arts and craft project from a 10-year old’s art class at summer camp that some unlucky parent would obligingly hold onto for the rest of their days, ending up dusty on a shelf next to a wonky-ass ceramic ashtray and a picture frame made out of popsicle sticks. I mentioned that no server wants a freaking rock as a tip, but apparently I was wrong.

Comment after comment poured in from servers who claimed it was “adorable” and “touching” and “sweet.” Someone even tracked down the original photo’s Facebook post and found that the server who received the rock as part of her tip, Linda, was also appreciative of the rock. Apparently, it made her day.

Servers shared their stories of when customers had left them sweet gifts and surprisingly, plenty of other waiters and waitresses have also received rocks as tips. I was shook.

I am sorry. I’m sorry for thinking that a rock is a bad tip. I would like to go on record and say that from this day forward, I think every customer should be leaving rocks as tips. The bigger the better. Did your waiter manage to get you in and out of the restaurant in record time so you could get to a movie? Give him a painted rock! Did a waitress refill your water glass a total of seven times, never once letting it fall one inch below the rim? Give her two painted rocks! Did a server give your 12-top perfect service and separated all of the checks and then sing happy birthday to you? Roll in a fucking painted boulder for that server!

And servers, when it comes time to pay your rent, you load up all those rocks in a wheelbarrow and then you dump those rocks at the feet of your landlord and make sure they see how pretty they are. Surely, they will jump at the chance to own a ton of stones because who doesn’t want more rocks in their life? Put those rocks in safe deposit boxes and save them for your children! Write them into your wills!

After so much pushback about the painted rock, I thought maybe I simply didn’t see it for its full potential so I asked an art expert for his opinion. Dr. Blarney S. Tone is a professor of art history and one of the country’s leading geologists. She looked at the rock and gave me this appraisal:

The delicate brush strokes are similar to those seen in the early work of Leonardo DaVinci. It’s also abundantly clear that Kim has studied the works of Jackson Pollock and Keith Haring. As for the stone itself, it appears to be of the Paleozoic era. I am particularly impressed with the artists’s use of the Sharpie. Very impressive. Should this piece go onto auction in the international art community, I would expect to see bids upward of $100K. The server who received this exquisite work of art should be very, very grateful.

So there you have it. I was being a jerk thinking that no server wants a rock as a tip. To Kim, and every other server who appreciates the gift of stone, I apologize. I may be a bitch, but I can certainly see when I have misspoken. It takes a big man to admit when he was wrong and it takes an even bigger man to carry a pile of rocks to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread.

Woman Wants 30 More Minutes Before Evacuating Restaurant

There was a terrorist attack in London on Sunday when a man stabbed two victims and was then shot dead by undercover police officers. I’m not going to get into the details because this blog tends to focus on other horrors such as waters with lemon that customers don’t even drink or servers who get a 10% tip even after the service was absolutely fucking perfect. What I am going to focus on is a video in nearby cafe where someone, presumably a British woman named Karen, had a shocking response to a police officer who came into the restaurant to tell them they needed to evacuate the area.

Police Officer: There’s been a terrorist incident down there. We’re closing everything down.

Woman: Just give us half an hour because people have to eat.

Police Officer: Madam, a terrorist has just been shot dead just down there. Got a possible IED vest on, which is a bomb.

So let me understand this: even though a man has been shot dead, literally down the street from the restaurant and he’s wearing a vest potentially covered in bombs, this woman is still going to ask for thirty minutes so she can finish her damn baked beans and Earl Grey tea? Who does she think she is being so needy, selfish and oblivious to the situation around her, an American? Lady, take your crumpet, wrap it up in a napkin and get the fuck out of there. It’s literally the chance to walk out on a check without paying for it while also possibly saving your life. Take the advice of the nice officer who is holding an automatic rifle and stop being so bloody tiresome. Grab your mate and scurry on outta there. He was nice enough to call you “madam” rather than “slag,” so be thankful for that.

Maybe it’s the cafe owner who was worried about watching her profits all walk out of the door, but I can’t imagine any customer choosing to stay over the word of a police officer. If anything, it would make me think this owner is a little bit too desperate for her own good.

Here I was, thinking that the only people who were that self-involved when it comes to dining out were sitting in Applebee’s in the United States, but this video proves that every country has their own version of this type of person. How do you say “Karen” in British?