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I Cater to Us

Aug 14 '12

The Golden Rule Still Applies to the Demanding Patron

How is it that people expect to be treated like their so important above all others when they go out to eat? My time is equally spent patroning bars and restaurants as it is working in a bar/restaurant/blues club. 

When I go out all I ask is that the server/bar tender doesn’t ignore me. Sounds simple enough, right? I think it’s an especially lax standard of expectation, with plenty of leeway. Waiting tables isn’t the hardest job in the world but it is easy to suck at, so every server still has to try. 

When I’m at work I like to make myself present to my tables. I don’t hide in the back unless I know that I’m not wanted. Looming servers are almost as obnoxious as vacant ones. I’m aware of timing, taking responsibility for food and drinks so that customers get them asap, even though I’m not the one preparing them. And when I’m busy, I mentally organize my duties into a routine of efficiency. It’s a three step system that should provide me and my customers the sense of being looked after and timeliness. It goes menu, drinks, food.

The most important thing to do when a customer sits down is drop menus. It let’s them know you see them and also gives you the chance to walk away and get back to the other five other tables already in dinner service motion.

Drinks allows you to say hi, get them started, and talk a little. Ask them if they have questions and they’ll feel you’re at their service. The bar tender will make your drinks and that will, again, give you time to do the next thing for someone else. 

Food may take up the most of your time. Sometimes you’ll bring the drinks and your table will say they’re ready but end up taking ten minutes going back and forth between the crab cakes or grilled salmon. Just don’t let it show that you want scream at them to choose already. 

Now, there is plenty of room for error in this system, and it is most likely to occur when someone at one of your tables believes he is given the rite to be demanding. There have been times when I’m listening to a table tell me what they’d like and someone at the table next to me will start tapping my shoulder, as if I had a conjoined twin who could take on talking to them while I write orders down. No you moron, you’re making my job more difficult by distracting me. Not to mention, it’s fucking rude! 

Or there’s the customer who sees me with a tray full of drinks, yet still want’s to order the entirety of their meal while I’m straining to keep the martinis from sploshing. Clearly I can’t write your order down when I’m preforming this circus trick, and no I won’t remember it. Some servers are good at remembering things. I’m ok, but my mind has like a four note capacity mental clipboard. I’d rather write it down. 

Another is the table of serial requests. Every time you bring them something, another person asks for something else. Still you’ve got to bring it to them. 

What these demanding people don’t understand is that from the point at which they reveal to me their lack of consideration and expectancy of audacious priority I  will only begin to avoid them. It may not make sense. Why abandon needy customers only to make them feel unattended? Because now, I don’t care about twenty percent from them. The ten other tables will hopefully make up for it. And also, I don’t like being ordered around. I’m a server, not a servant. There’s a big difference. If someone doesn’t respect how I do my job that’s their thing. I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that my way is damn good. Since I can’t stop and say, “hey, I know you’re ready to order, but I’ve got ten other tables here too,” avoiding them seems to be the only way to send a message. 

Jul 31 '12

A Bipolar Saturday

I’m back folks. I know, it’s been too long. Summer happened. Some serious sleeping and HBO Go watching had to occur for me to get back writing again. Really though, I’m glad it’s over with because I’ve had some serious gripes about working in the service industry lately. Last Saturday night was one of the most bipolar nights ever.

It truly felt as if my night was flip-flopping like a series of coin tosses. I went into work on a high note. It was Saturday and I was first cut. I didn’t have any plans for after my shift yet but the possibility of some Saturday night life had me enthusiastic to get in there and get it over with.

Upon arrival I learned that the new girl was running late. She didn’t get there till almost eight o’clock which meant what was normally a three waitress night started off with only two during our first rush. Our dining area seats thirty three tables, with four chairs at each one. That means between two people, each waitress is potentially responsible for sixty six people at once. Every last seat was filled by seven. I don’t even want think about the number of orders I had to take, waters to fill, trays of drinks to carry, leftovers to box, and so on. I was flying around like a maniac until about ten when the lights went down and the band started. I didn’t mind it too much. I got a huge boost in my turnover and the first few hours of the night went like feeding broom sticks to a wood chipper. It was just unexpected.

Of course, there were more surprises to come. I got to wait on the Heineken rep and his family. I knew there’d most likely be a nice tip at the end, since most beer reps like to come in and buy pints of their product for just about everyone in the place, and all of its added to their bill. All I had to do was keep them coming. At the end of the night I was baffled to see a one-zero-zero in the tip space. That far exceeded twenty percent! Definite heads!

Unfortunately, my elation didn’t make it to the end of the shift. I got swindled. Fucking traveler’s checks! I had a table of two gentlemen. One American, one European. They sat down together, both ordering the same beer at the same time. Hours later, USA asks for the bill. I print it and set it at the table. Moments later, I see a credit card. I run it, return it, and thank them. End of transaction. Maybe five minutes later, Euro dude comes up to me as I’m running off another bill. He tells me he wanted to pay for his tab. I told him his friend already covered it. He insisted I reopen the tab and let him pay for his beers.

Note: If you know you want me to make two separate bills, say something at the start of the night! I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know if you’re on a date, out on business, or if it’s friend’s birthday, in which case it may be awkward for me to ask you. I keep it old school. In fact, most servers do. If you sit down with another person to enjoy a meal and a drink in their company the two of you can work out who pays what yourselves. If you need me to do it for you, speak up!

So I go grab a manager to reopen the check. As the manager and I are doing this Euro dude tells us he wants to pay with a traveler’s check. I honestly didn’t think we accepted them, but then and there I am told by management I am wrong. The guy hands me a hundred dollar traveler’s check. I am told to treat it like a hundred dollar bill. My manger looks at it and points out it’s authorized in the wrong place. Euro dude says he has another one. A couple minutes later he returns, signs the check correctly, and I make change on a hundred. About twenty minutes later, I look at the check again and see it’s for $50. I pretty much gave the guy a free night out and an extra fifty bucks. At least my manager felt bad for not catching it himself and split it in half. I went from thinking the night was a win to a draw. It’s funny how the universe has a way to balance itself out like that. I can only hope it did the same for Euro dude.

Apr 30 '12

I made a little video about bathrooms in bars. Specifically the differences between men’s and ladies bathrooms. It was supposed to just be a photo essay but I had fun using the movie maker on my computer. Hope you find it educational.

Apr 23 '12

Won’t You Be My Neighborhood Bartender?

The other day it dawned on me that the best ways to find quality bar stories is to hit the beat of small dive bars not far from my house. This should be great! I’ll talk to bartenders, who I’m sure will have nothing but true alcohol induced gems to share. Stories of crazy bar fights, bathroom sex, and all the unexpected treasures of serving my area’s favorite bar flies. I brought my recorder and set out just before dinner time.

I started at the little bar on the corner, just a hundred steps from my front door. In the almost two years I’ve lived here, I just started frequenting this bar regularly this past fall. Inside I found a bartender I didn’t recognize and several guys sitting and staring at the news.

So your name is AJ?

Yes.

How long have you worked here?

Three years.

Is this your only job?

Uh-huh.

How long have you worked in the service industry?

Three years.

So you’ve only worked here.

Yes.

What is the best part about your job?

The money.

I can agree with that. What is the worst part about your job?

The people.

Can you recall a time when a customer was just totally rude to you? One that stands out.

Well, the rudest person I can think of wasn’t actually a customer. They didn’t buy anything so I tossed their ass. It was this person who tried to sell Bears equipment in here. When I told them they couldn’t do that, they gave me some lip. So I literally chased her out the door, swearing up a storm, telling them never to come back.

(Guy next to us): They can’t sell Bears jerseys at the bar just like AJ can’t sell beer in their living room.

What’s your all time craziest story from your years working as a bartender?

I don’t really have any that come to mind.

Yeah, I usually come in here in the evenings and I’ve never seen you here. Do you just work the opening shift?

Yes, I’m here six days a week from when we open at four till about eight or nine. But there are other bars that open earlier. I was solicited for sex one time, in exchange for one more drink. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The bar was so full, I couldn’t leave.

Did you know this woman? I’m assuming it was a woman.

No—yes. I had to cut her off. Well, I over served her. She was pretty much willing to do anything for one more drink. And I was like the biggest asshole in the world for not giving her one more drink.

Well that’ll happen.

I did have a girl try and go down on a guy in the bar one time. Right there where those two guys are sitting. (points to two seats half way down the length of the bar.)

So, right in front of you?

I was covering for someone that night. Yeah, and it happened more than once. That’s what made it so interesting. She was so fucked up. From my perspective she just kept diapering. If it would’ve been a day time shift I woulda closed the blinds and locked the doors. Most of the stories I can think of are from before I worked here. I’d be here drinking and the jukebox would be going. I’d always get girls to dance. This one girl, I remember, came in with her date or her boyfriend. She was all over me dancing, for half the night. Her date, he didn’t mind. I go up to the bartender and get another beer, and her guy’s sitting right there. I tell him. He offered to buy my drink and I asked him why he’d want to buy a drink for the guy dancing with his date all night, and he said, “because you just primed her up.”

That was about all I could get out of AJ. Plus I’d never met him, and even though he wasn’t doing much except refilling beers every ten minutes or so, I got the feeling I was getting in the way of that. He recommended I go see Melissa a couple blocks away. Great idea! I like Melissa. She knows some of the bartenders at my job. Hopefully she’ll have a better memory than AJ, here.

Lucky for me there was only three others in the bar when I got there. They were slow sippers and fixed on the episode of Wheel of Fortune on the flatscreen television. Melissa greets me with her genuine niceness and reminds me her wedding was the weekend before. I ask how it went. She shows me some black and white photographs. They’re of her sitting on a small Victorian looking white couch. Her white dress blends right in, and it’s perfectly spread over the seat cushions. She has makeup on but looks exasperated in the photo. “This is really cool,” I tell her. “Thanks,” I wish I were smiling, but I just couldn’t do it in every photo.” I order a Guinness and start asking questions.

How long have you worked here?

Two and a half years

Is this your only job?

Yes.

What is your favorite part about working at a bar?

At a place like this, all the people I get to know. The regulars.

What is the worst part?

(starts laughing) Actually the same thing. When you see the same people day in and day out they can really start to get on your nerves.

Do you have a night that stands out to you where you encountered the rudest customer?

Yeah, it was a couple years ago, and it was a night shift and it was packed. Three young men wandered in here, and you could tell, clearly it wasn’t there kind of place but they came in here anyways. They asked me for a specific beer and it was one we didn’t have. I told him, sorry we don’t have that. Then the next guy asked for something else. Again, sorry we don’t have that. And the next guy asked, and again, we don’t have it. It was Gray Goose, and at the time we didn’t carry it. And Red Stripe was the beer.

So what, get something else.

They were huffing and puffing and giving me this pissy ass attitude. Then finally, when they decided on something else, they hand me a credit card. We don’t take credit cards, we’re cash only. They started bitching about, “you didn’t have this and that, and now we gotta take out cash!” I told them, clearly you don’t want to be here, if you want I can take your drinks back and you can go.

That’s actually a little nicer than I would’ve done it. It’s not like you were singling them out on purpose.

Right, we just didn’t have what they wanted.

I hate people who go out and act like they’re so damn superior just because they drink top shelf liquor. What about regular occurrences that are just a pain to deal with.

We get a lot of homeless in here from time to time because we’re so close to the viaduct. There was one guy who’d come in here and he’d clearly taken flowers from someone’s flower bed. He ordered a beer but he only had two dollars, so he tried selling the flowers to the people in here. It had all the dirt and the mud attached to it still. I was trying to be really nice because I didn’t want to insult him, you know. He was so drunk he didn’t understand what I was telling him. He couldn’t get his head around the fact that I just wanted him to finish his beer and leave.

That’s tough.

There’s also this one guy who comes in here. He’s always clearly drunk by the time he gets here. He always insists on buying drinks for everybody. People don’t want to take drinks from people they don’t know that well.

Really? Not me.

Well he’s so pushy. He’ll keep insisting on it until finally people say yes just to get him to leave them alone. But then he won’t leave you alone because you just bought a drink from him. Now he wants to have a conversation with you. You don’t want to be mean to him because he’s a nice man, but really he just needs to put his money in his pocket and leave. Or he’ll put twenty bucks in the jukebox, and he’ll force people to go pick songs.

Wow.

He’s really generous for his money, but it’s totally obnoxious.

Are there any stories about this place that have been passed down over the years?

Yeah. It was Halloween, back when the Sox were doing good in the play offs. Everyone was in here watching the game. Some guy was over there. (The bar is a giant rectangle. She points to the side closest to the back wall of the room next to an ATM machine.) He was standing on a barstool, and when they scored he fell off and jammed his head on the ATM machine. There was blood everywhere.

Geez. I never have understood why people want to stand on tall unstable things when they’re drinking. Happens at my work all the time, too.

By now the place is starting to fill up with people coming to watch the game. I know Melissa has more stories but for now they’ll have to wait.

Apr 21 '12

25 Least Duchiest Bars In My Area

This was an article I enjoyed reading. Especially since it lists one of my favorite bars located just down the block from my house! The Corner Bar is the shit! The have a pretty descant jukebox and a snazzy video bowling game (but they used to have a bags game that was waaaay better) and the drinks are always affordable.

Check out this list and make note of it if you live in Chicago, or for the next time you visit.

Apr 17 '12

Ya shoulda listened to your waiter!

Apr 17 '12

I can’t stand it when people come in to have dinner and recreate their own version of the menu. The “sides” list does not mean you can pick and choose from it, however you want. It’s a list of extra food and it costs extra money. I had a guy a while back practically bully me into changing the menu so he could get a free rice and beans instead of just rice. After I told him I could not, because our rice and beans has pork as well, and thus costs more to make, he said the five words no server EVER wants to hear, “Let me see your manager.” Did he get his way? Yes, because that particular manager is a bitch. Which brings me to another point, managers need to have server’s backs more! Don’t make me look like the asshole when clearly the customer is on an unnecessary power trip. That shit makes me hate myself for working here, and hate you for being a little bitch. That’s all I’ll say for now. 

Apr 16 '12

I started and finished this series about a year ago and loved it. It’s addicting, funny, and well written, and definitely taps into the lives of us working in the service industry. Unfortunately it only lasted one season. But, wait, there’s good news too. You can watch the whole first season on Hulu.com.

Apr 16 '12

Only Tweakers Carry Box Cutters

  

Time for another outlandish story about working in the service industry. This was a few years back when I was still working at Italian restaurant number two. It was my boss’ birthday. He decided to host another open bar party with some friends and coworkers. It started towards the end of the dining evening. Then when the last paying customer was gone, we locked the door, set the ashtrays on the bar, and proceeded to smoke and drink, late into the night. My boss was so cool about this kind of stuff as long as you were respectful, never expected it, and helped clean at the end of the night. I have some good memories from working for him for the five years that I did. I’d probably have more if I wasn’t getting so blitzed all the time. We all were.

So on this night, my boss’ birthday, two guys show up banging on the door after we’ve turned off the front lights and bolted the door. Somebody went around from the back and talked to them. Apparently it was some guy my boss used to know years back. Someone he’d kind of come up with when he first started working as a chef. He was a little guy with blond hair and glasses. With him was this other dude. He was taller with greasy black hair and side burns, and he looked like he’d slip Rohypnol in your drink if you weren’t careful. You could tell, from the energy they brought to the party, they were tweaking on some shit.

I really wasn’t paying them any mind. That is until… I notice my boss who’d been standing behind the bar, lean forward on his palms, right up into the face of Rufie guy and say, “Get the fuck out of my restaurant,” in a calm and quiet manner. The guy must have thought he’s kidding so he said it again, “Get the fuck out.” His blond friend wasn’t around to back him up. My boss, who is Goliath compared to this guy just kept staring him down until he finally got up from his seat and walked to the back and out the door.

Now the fun had been sucked out of the party and I could tell it was time to go. Myself, my coworker KP and our buddy Gov all decided to leave together, out the back into the small parking lot. Gov troted off toward the dumpsters to take a piss, and KP and I continued to walk towards the street. That’s when we ran into Rufie guy. He was drunk and soar about getting kicked out.

“That guy is a fucking asshole and his food sucks,” he yelled at us. He was totally looking for a fight.

“Just ignore him,” I said to KP, looking him hard in the eyes.

Of all the dudes I know who crack off at the slightest drunken challenge, KP was the quickest. Thankfully, he just told the guy to fuck off. Still the tension was high. KP and I kept walking in our direction away from him, but the back and forth continued. Then Gov comes out around from the parking lot, walking right past Rufie guy, totally unaware of the spat that was taking place. The guy grabbed him across the chest from behind and whipped out a box cutter, putting it to his neck. We charged towards the guy. This time I’m yelling the loudest, “What the fuck are you doing? You need to go to bed.”

KP joined me, “Go the fuck home!”

Poor Gov didn’t move. The guy had this look of clarity come over his face, as if just realizing his own actions. He let Gov go and gave us one last, “Fuck you,” as he headed off toward the opposite direction. Not one minute later, a cop car drove by on patrol.

Apr 16 '12

Larry takes a stand against the “additional tip”. In my experience, when you add gratuity it’s a strong possibility that 18% is all you’re gonna get. Sometimes, if your table really likes you they’ll throw in an extra $5 or $10. Sometimes, if they’re foreign, they’ll tip on top of the entire total, including the gratuity already added. Bonus!