I worked as a ice cream scooper during my senior year in high school. That was the extent of my knowledge of hospitality before I became a waitress this past October, after throwing in the towel — well, more like hand towel, if the size of the towel directly correlates to the amount you give — on searching for a real-life, big girl job.
There’s always been some oddly feminine connotation in my mind when it comes to waitressing, i.e. since I’m a woman, I’ll be good at it. Ha. Not so. That’s not to say that I’m a bad waitress, per se; it’s just that I don’t feel as intrinsically confident and awesome at it as I thought I would.
But here’s the thing: I’ve also had to endure some pretty awkward (and, shall I say…unique?) situations that I never thought I would encounter whilst serving a wide array of tapas to a bunch of middle to upper class Pennsylvanians. And these unexpected, sometimes uncomfortable moments have taught me how to roll with the punches a little bit more and that expectations never really steer you in the right direction. Serving at a restaurant is a whole ‘nother animal than what I thought it would be, and I think, for the most part, that’s a good thing. Here are some of the things that have made my experience so…special.
1. Eating snails. We do not have snails on our menu. Our menu is entirely Spanish cuisine. However, one night, one of our regular customers sat down in the bar area with a huge tub of escargot. This is something people do, apparently. I’ve never had the desire to eat smails — ever — but when presented with escargot as a challenge, I couldn’t say no. I’m a vegetarian and sporadic pescatarian, so I put snails on the same level as, let’s say, clams. Which means that I gulped, dug into the little shell with a toothpick and slurped down the little… snaily… body. It was semi-unpleasant, but I finally had my pseudo-Andrew Zimmern moment. Holler.
2. Dancing. And I’m talkin’ ballroom-style dancing here. I’ve been grabbed, spun, dipped and sent back on my way by more than a few customers. For the most part, I’m completely taken off guard, and sort of awkwardly wobble around while making terrible faces in response to whatever song my dance partner is humming into my ear. It’s a thing you just have to go along with, even though the man is probably 30 years older than you, reeks of some weird forest-y smelling cologne, and you’re not quite sure if what’s happening is appropriate patron/waitress relations. And I step on toes. A lot. But I have a feeling they don’t really notice.
3. The language barrier. Our whole kitchen staff speaks Spanish. So if I want to ask for bread for a table of three I have to yell “PAN PARA TRES!” in the chef’s general direction. I took five years of Spanish — all through high school and one year of college — but for some reason, I can’t dredge up words or string together a logical sentence. For example, on one of my first days, our head chef asked me “Como estas, Megatrona (my nickname in the kitchen)?” I answered, “Buena, y tu?” He started chuckling to himself, which confused me. Apparently, if I answer “buena” instead of “bien”, I’m effectively saying that I’m looking good/hot today. My second nickname is now “bien buena.” The cool part, though, is learning to communicate on a relatively daily basis with someone who doesn’t speak your language. In some ways, there is a sort of universal language of hand gestures and nods, but other times, you have to find creative ways to express yourself, and that’s what makes things interesting.
4. Youtube videos. One day, a customer came in and showed me a video of a monkey shooting a machine gun at a bunch of African soldiers after they let the monkey smoke some of their weed. I feel like there’s not much explanation needed here. It was weird, it related to nothing, and it was so, so great.
5. Watching people get drunk. It’s an odd experience to meet someone sober, watch them slowly lose hold of their faculties, and then realize you’ve enabled them to do so by providing them with all the alcohol they desire. I once had a table of eight people order seven bottles of wine. I know you can all do simple math out there, but that’s almost a bottle per person. By the sixth bottle, two people at the table were fighting over which was the “wine keeper,” and they ordered the seventh for dessert. It’s an interesting tango you dance with drunk customers — while they can become more inappropriate and raucous with every glass, you have to stay professional and accommodating, which seems counterproductive. If you can accomplish this gracefully, you deserve some sort of commemorative badge.
I guess the round-about message is this: find the things that are unique about what you do and appreciate them for what they are. Or just tell them to everyone you know and plead for either their sympathy or their laughs.
Are any of you Lovelies waitress? Share your stories!