Theme IV, Money: Stories from Food Service

By Alyssa Matesic

Having failed to acquire a summer internship, the first thing I did when I returned home to Texas was apply for waitressing jobs. After scoring one job at a local brunch restaurant, I figured I could handle an evening gig at Dave & Buster’s too. My double shifts had me on my feet 12-15 hours a day, four days a week, making anywhere from $5 to $25 an hour depending on tips. Money and exhaustion aside, I gained some serious respect for servers and some unusual stories.

1. The time a guy thought his $2 tip would get me to call him. No server wants a table full of teenagers or college students, which is something I now consider every time my friends and I go out. But I approached the four guys — probably seniors in high school — with the same smile and “Hey, how y’all doin’ tonight?” that I gave every table, setting their beverage napkins ritualistically next to each of them. Only one looked up at me, and I could tell he was a bit starry-eyed, which was flattering. They didn’t give me much trouble and left decent tips (all split checks), though Shawn was particularly proud of his, drawing an arrow from his name to the tip amount. He left his number at the bottom of the receipt. Yes, his $2 was about 20%, but still not interested.

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2. The time a woman thought the booth was a changing station. It was the end of the night, I was the last server in the dining room, and I was praying that no one else came in so I could go home early. After stepping into the kitchen for a moment, I returned to see a family of five, with two strollers, seating themselves. While taking care of them, I completed all of my closing duties: wiping down all of the tables, sweeping, restocking. Just as they were finally getting up to leave, I watched the mom take her baby to the next booth over, strip its dirty diaper off and set it on the table, then clean and change her naked baby on the seat. That being said, I had to do some extra scrubbing while questioning the civility of humanity.

3. The time a man argued with me over nonexistent Styrofoam cups. We have exactly one kind of cup at Dave & Buster’s: plastic. After this man’s table ordered drinks (by his table, I mean the mostly empty one, because only five of them showed up for a 20-person reservation), I brought them out in our signature plastic cups. He was shocked and appalled, declaring that they can’t drink out of plastic cups and need Styrofoam ones. The following exchange went something like this:

  • “I’m sorry sir, I checked with my manager and we only have these cups. We don’t have any Styrofoam to-go cups.”
  • “You’re saying you don’t have any Styrofoam cups?”
  • “No, sir. I checked with my manager.”
  • “But we can’t drink out of plastic cups.”
  • “Well, these are the only cups we have, sir.”
  • “You’re saying in this entire restaurant, you don’t have any Styrofoam cups?”
  • “No, sir, we don’t have any Styrofoam cups. I checked with my manager.”

He huffed, and they had me serve them drinks in Barbie doll Dixie cups they had just bought from Party City.

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4. The time I broke down over having to split a check. I was assigned a 13-top table (restaurant jargon for “13 people”) and terrified of it, as big tops are always more trouble. But it was going smoothly until they asked to split their check 11 ways. I had trouble remembering exactly who ordered what drinks and what drinks went with which entrees, so I did my best and asked them to let me know if their bills looked wrong. When I went back to the computer to run the credit cards, somehow all of the totals were different from the ones I had just printed.

I asked my manager for help, and it took us about 15 minutes to sort out the problem, during which an angry guest approached at the servers’ station (always a nightmare), yelling that he had somewhere to be. We settled his check first and when I returned to the table to give out the rest of the checks, the other 12 guests were standing in an annoyed rage, all approaching me at once with their hands open for their receipts. Since they weren’t sitting in their seat numbers anymore, I was struggling to determine whose receipts were whose, until one person angrily snatched all of the bills from me and said she’d sort them out. Overwhelmed, I backed away and had to take a 10-minute break in the bathroom to cry it out.

5. The time I was blessed. A pleasant but demanding family with thick African accents gave me a few strange requests, the biggest being their insistence on eating with our plastic to-go silverware. The mother was overly thankful and always used my name when addressing me, which was nice, but a little discomforting. When I served their meals, she asked me when I had last eaten. After explaining that there was no dinner break, she threatened to speak with my manager.

I thanked her for her kindness, smiled, and let them continue their meal, though I noticed the woman leaning against the wall seeming to be in pain. When I later returned their check and thanked them for coming in, she asked me to come close to her. She took my hand and held eye contact, mumbling quickly about thanking the Lord for all that he has given us. She mentioned that she had suffered some brief cardiac problem earlier in the meal and that the Lord had taken care of it. She continued blessing me, the meal, and my future for over three minutes, holding my hand while I nodded in blind agreement.

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We would block out the signature, but there are no letters in here.

6. The time I got a $100 tip. I was serving a 10-person birthday party, a combination of two couples and their kids. With drinks, appetizers, entrees, desserts and power cards (for the D&B arcade), they quickly racked up the bill and were entirely pleasant to me throughout their meal. When it came time for the check, the two husbands debated on who would pay (always an awkward position for the server). One of them worked at D&B corporate, meaning he would be charged nothing for the bill. But the other man insisted, winking a bit at me when he handed me back the final receipt. I thanked him as much as I could without feeling awkward and my faith in humanity was partially restored.

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